Big businesses and corporations in particular spend a large amount of money on designing and implementing IT processes and the tools to support them. They do this to improve the consistency and quality of their IT service delivery and to reduce the overall IT costs. And as IT becomes a larger and larger part of the delivery of business services, the delivery of IT services becomes a more and more important part of business success. But small businesses cannot afford to invest the same amount of time and money as big businesses and corporations. Hence the question needs to be asked, can small business afford to ignore big business IT processes?
I would suggest that they do so at their own peril. More and more big businesses and corporations are using IT to allow them to cost effectively target the smaller end of the market traditionally serviced by small business. If small business is not using IT as efficiently and effectively as possible then it is only a matter of time before some larger business comes along and takes over their market.
So what can small businesses do when they do not have the funding that big business has? Well what I am not advocating here is that small business go about implementing IT processes and tools in the same way that big business can and does. This would be a long and time consuming process that would not provide sufficient value to justify the effort. What I am suggesting is that small business examine the way they consume IT services and fix the problems with their IT service delivery by looking at the processes and tools that big business use, and then finding a solution that fits the small business budget.
For example, the ability to be proactive rather than reactive with the way you go about IT support. The cost to a business of being reactive instead of being proactive in their IT support can run into the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. The IT bill alone is likely to run into the thousands to resolve a serious IT service problem. But this does not take into account the cost to the business of the IT service not being available. This could be as small as paying someone to sit around and do nothing (and perhaps paying them overtime to catch up) to missing out on a large tender through missing the tender deadline or not showing the professionalism required.
Thus, small businesses should be looking at cost effective ways they can turn their IT support into proactive support instead of reactive support. How can they do this? One thing that big business does is to monitor their IT infrastructure for signs that something is going wrong and then schedule work to fix the issue before it becomes a major IT issue. The tools to monitor your IT infrastructure are now available at a per unit cost right down to monitoring only one computer, bringing this technology well within the budget of small businesses. A small investment in this type of technology could result in large improvements to the IT services provided to the business.
Another area that big business focuses on is control over the work that is done in delivering their IT services. The old saying goes that you cannot manage what you do not measure. However, most small businesses only measure their IT by the costs that occur when they occur. Only having a focus on minimising costs could be setting up the small business for a major failure in the future, or could lead to a missed opportunity to expand the business. Once again the tools are now available at a cost effective level to track your IT work and measure its effectiveness. For instance, the cost of a ticketing system to track IT work is now available at a per user basis right down to one user minimum.
Of course, tools are not the silver bullet. Implementing a tool does not guarantee a fix. The tool is just one part of the business system that also needs to include process and people. The key to developing and implementing good processes is not hiring a very expensive consulting firm to do it all for you. The key to developing and implementing good process is to understand the people who are going to use the process and tools and then develop the process to guide them. A good process will not tell an IT expert how to do the technical aspect of their job. What it will do is ensure a consistent and measurable approach so that the work can be managed and improved over time.
It is also important to target the main areas of concern. This will ensure that the business gets the most value they can from their investment. If you are not sure how to do this yourself you should seek help. But this does not mean you have to hire an expensive consultant from a large consulting firm. These days there are many ex-corporate employees with the experience and knowledge to help you, that are running their own independent IT businesses. You can seek someone who fits within your budget.
And what about the people aspect. Small businesses often cannot afford to hire their own IT support person. And even if they can, one person cannot deliver expertise in all areas of IT. Few small businesses could afford to hire enough IT people to cover all the areas of IT expertise that they need to thrive as a business. So what can a small business do?
The first step is to create an IT strategy and budget that matches and supports the business strategy and budget. This will provide you an understanding of the short and long term goals you want to achieve with your IT spend. Then this will allow you to work out what IT structure to put in place to achieve these goals. Some IT services might best be provided by hiring a part or full time employee. However, more and more IT services can now be fully provided by IT businesses outside of your own, often reducing the business risk from your IT spend. But these decisions can only be made for the benefit of the business if they meet the goals of an IT strategy that has been designed to fit with the business strategy.
So, as you can see from this short discussion, there are many things that a small business can do to enhance the value that IT services can bring to their business that were once only in the realm of big business. Thus, it is vital that small business take advantage of these provisions before big business takes advantage of them.