Combine all the belt-tightening in a down economy with an increasing shift toward the cloud, and you might think IT isn’t as relevant today to small business as it was just a few years ago. But in fact, IT is a critical component to driving success, especially given the growing number of malware and other threats, an increased reliance on mobility, and adoption of more consumer devices into almost every business.
“Not investing in IT infrastructure or applications is a mistake,” says Terence Hall, communications coordinator and senior network engineer at BDPA New York, a nonprofit organization for professionals in computer science and IT. “There can be a large expenditure for maintaining IT, but many companies are now offering lower-cost solutions for SMBs. And if software licensing is an issue, open-source software is a great solution.”
Mark E. White, principal and CTO at Deloitte Consulting LLP, agrees: “Most, if not all, businesses need information technology because it’s an enabler to their business — if not a competitive weapon.” And while you might not need data centers or seem to have the funds, there are smart and cost-effective ways to leverage IT.
Leverage the Cloud
Leveraging cloud sources might mean streamlining IT, notes Hall. But it also means small businesses will find IT more accessible and cost-effective. White agrees that a trusted public cloud provider is an ideal consideration, allowing you to experiment with little risk.
“The cloud has created an opportunity for a CIO or head of IT to do some research and experimentation on a small scale, to try it out first,” explains White. “While large corporations might be able to deploy pilots and prototypes and other research projects, small enterprise very seldom has that capacity. Cloud services let SMBs seek innovation through experimentation.”
Cloud services let you “plan big, start small, fail fast (if the business realizes it’s not for them) and scale soon,” notes White.
View IT as an Investment
The challenge for IT decision-makers in small- to midsized businesses can be convincing management of the critical importance of technology. “Small businesses don’t always appreciate the value of IT as much as they should,” says Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst based in London, Ontario. “In what is possibly the most pervasive and damaging form of modern-day myopia, they often see technology as a cost and not as an opportunity.”
Smaller organizations need to jump on the IT-as-investment bandwagon as solutions are becoming simpler to implement and more cost-effective, says Levy. “Organizational size is no longer an excuse for limiting IT investment, as companies that deliberately hold back on using technology to drive their business forward will be outcompeted, often by even smaller, more agile organizations that have adapted their culture accordingly.”
What IT Looks Like Today
A well-functioning small business IT department today should be looking to maximize its staff. For instance, Levy notes that transitioning email and messaging from a manual labor-intensive server to a cloud service will free staff to work on other more innovative business solutions. IT might use a cloud solution that lets a sales force operate seamlessly via smartphones and tablets.
The typical IT department these days is also dealing with the growing challenge of “bring your own device” or the consumerization of IT, notes Hall. Managing the deployment of personal devices can provide cost savings. “This can benefit companies by eliminating the need to deploy BlackBerrys or other mobile devices, thus saving money — if those personal devices can be managed to protect company information,” says Hall.
IT is just as relevant today as it was yesterday — if not more so. Small-scale experimentation, embracing the cloud and adopting smart and secure mobile services to streamline communications can all help your business remain productive, protected and competitive.