Making the most of your business technology

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

Establishing the strategy for your business technology

Business technology allows small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to increase productivity, manage expenses and carve out a competitive edge. As a result, creating an effective small business technology strategy is a critical management task.

Establish a modern IT strategic planning process

A modern IT strategic planning process is different from approaches used in the past. The new mode is business-driven, flexible and revised frequently. The pace of technological advancement is very fast in today’s digital world, and plans need to be very agile to keep up.

Business strategy must come first

Start your planning process with a clear understanding of your company’s strategic plan. Does the plan call for a digital transformation, improved customer service or expanding your product line? All of those goals require a specific response from your IT solutions. Start thinking of the IT and business strategic plan as one. The IT strategy is simply the operations portion of the overall business plan.

Don’t try to do detailed long-term planning

Focus your plan on a 12 to 18-month timeframe. You may find yourself revising the plan even before the end of that timeframe. You can address issues in the two to five-year time timeframe in much less detail. You may want to think of those longer timeframes in terms of objectives and goals rather than set in stone technology terms. Given the fluid nature of the technology industry, don’t spend too long in a planning phase. Further, be sure to incorporate measures into the plan to track success.

Include key components in your strategy

Make sure that you review the types of technology currently available to SMBs. Here is a list of the most important technologies that you may want to address.

Mobile capabilities

Mobile websites: The world is moving to mobile communications. Research shows that approximately 56% of consumers visit leading U.S. websites using mobile devices. Therefore, the first priority should be a website that is mobile friendly. Mobile apps: Mobile apps give SMBs benefits far beyond a mobile website. Customers feel more connected to your organization and you can communicate with them on a more regular and personal basis. New platforms are available to allow non-technical people to create apps, removing the need for outside developers in many cases. Mobile payments: More people are using mobile payments using apps such as Microsoft Wallet. If your customers are moving in that direction, consider mobile credit card readers.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation is a business technology that is now within reach of SMBs. Applications such as Microsoft Office 365 offer productivity improvements that weren’t possible in the past. In fact, with capabilities such as scoring leads and automated marketing campaigns, some SMBs have been able to delay building out a marketing department.

Working in the cloud

Cloud computing is supporting a wide range of business technology. Companies are moving to the cloud to lower costs and scale operations quickly. Another advantage is having access to more storage and computing power than they may want to install on-premise. For example, an application such as secure file sharing is an easy and secure way to utilize the cloud. SMBs are also taking advantage of SaaS software, including options for collaboration and business intelligence solutions to improve operations. Cloud providers are an important resource for SMBs who want to take advantage of the cloud. Look for providers who have sophisticated network monitoring capabilities and who can provide good cybersecurity for all your operations, including email.

Rounding out the strategy for your business technology

Every SMB needs to use technology thoughtfully. Business technology represents an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd—in a crowded competitive world—without depleting your monetary resources. When you take the time to create a business and customer-focused technology strategy, you’ll position your SMB for success.

Maximize your business technology with software training

You can bring in the most sophisticated technology available, but if your employees don’t use it, it’s just a waste of time and money. Besides that, you’ll never obtain all the benefits that you were counting on from implementing the latest and greatest systems. The only way to get the most from your business technology is to provide the right software training.

Determine who needs training

Many companies put emphasis on providing software training, but they neglect to identify all the people who need it. In that situation, you can end up with a great new capability that actually slows down work in a number of departments. Here’s an example. Let’s say that your company decides to automate accounts payable and receivable. You undoubtedly would involve people in the accounting department in defining requirements and selecting solutions. You would probably also provide training to those same people. However, what will happen then? You might find the managers who must approve invoices are taking much too much time to figure out how to do that with the new system. Other departments that could be affected include human resources, sales and customer service. For example, sales and customer service employees won’t know how to find information about orders and payments in the new system. Assuming that these untrained employees don’t decide to simply suffer in silence, it’s true that they will eventually figure out how to do what they need to do using the new system. However, by that time, they may not be willing to really engage in getting everything they can from it. Regardless of their response, you’ll still cause significant problems if you don’t provide software training to all stakeholders.

Choose tactics that will help employees adapt to new technology

Every company’s employees are different, but here is a list of alternative ways to promote adoption of new technology as identified by the Forbes Human Resources Council members.

Connect new skills to job requirements

If acquiring new skills is part of everyone’s job description, you’ll have a way to reward employees as they attend training to obtain those new skills. Depending on your circumstances, you could award badges for completed training courses that lead to public praise. You could also tie training into salary increases, which typically provides sufficient motivation to study well.

Provide software and conceptual training

Any new technology will undoubtedly require training. Therefore, think of the types of new technology you may be adding to your business technology strategy and prepare effective training for those technologies to get the most from them. Additionally, as new technologies emerge, it’s important that your employees understand the concept behind the technology in situations where it will affect how well that technology is used. For example: The concept behind email security: Email represents the biggest potential for security breaches. Therefore, you need to train employees on effective email security practices. Teach them how hackers will attempt to gain access to email accounts. For example, make sure your employees know how to spot phishing emails and what to do about them. The concept behind data backup: Employees should know how your data backup process works. If an employee experiences a data loss, they shouldn’t spend time trying to recreate the data or write it off as a total loss. When employees know about data backup, they will have the information they need to deal with loss. The concept behind digital workplace software: Employees should attend software training for digital workplace applications such as Microsoft Office 365. In addition, they should understand how those types of applications would be used throughout the organization. For example, customer service employees and sales staff will use the CRM, and each employee should understand how what they do with the software will affect others.

Train to Ensure Adoption

The bottom line is that you need to focus on training to ensure that your employees adopt new technology. An effective training strategy will help to ensure the success of new systems.

How to work with your managed IT service provider

A thoughtful choice of vendors and good communications are the keys to getting the most from your relationship with your managed IT services provider. These tips will help you to accomplish both those goals.

Consider managed IT services as a tool to achieve business strategies

The managed services industry is growing and evolving. In fact, in one survey 30% of MSPs indicated that providing managed IT services, rather than providing hardware and software solutions, accounts for the majority of their revenue.

However, the ready supply of these types of services is leading some IT executives to treat the services as a commodity. As a result, they’re often choosing the lowest cost vendor. This is a problem because managed services often have an impact on business outcomes. It’s important to choose a vendor who takes the time to understand your business. You need to establish a partnership with a provider who can talk to you about your goals and how their services are going to help you reach those goals. For example, if you’re in the healthcare industry, you need a vendor who understands HIPAA compliance regulations and can help you maintain a spotless record of compliance. Your MSP is going to partner with your IT department, not replace it. Look for an MSP with a “client first” philosophy. Make sure that you see the type of support and “fix it right the first time” mindset that will allow your IT staff to spend more time completing value-added strategic projects.

Focus on communication to get the most from your partnership

Communication is key to any relationship, but it’s especially important when working with a managed IT services provider. You need a close and effective working relationship in order to get the most from that partnership.

Ask questions: Asking questions can help you make the right choice of provider and it helps to establish trust. As you’re selecting a vendor, ask them about the tools they use for things like support. Ask them about their business philosophy and determine if it meshes with your own. Continue the habit of asking questions throughout your relationship. Establish a clearly defined managed IT services strategy: Define your goals for the relationship and discuss how the provider can help you reach those goals. Establish a process for measuring how well you’re both pursuing the strategy. Communicate regularly: Schedule regular meetings with your MSP. It helps to think of your provider as another internal department. Review critical operations such as data backup and email security to monitor key statistics. Discuss service options: Many MSPs are adding advanced services to their offerings. They’re moving beyond the realm of managing networks and basic software installations. For example, if you are thinking of exploring advanced office applications such as collaboration tools, your MSP may be the best resource for structuring new or upgraded software. Take quick action: If a problem does arise, don’t wait to contact your MSP. If a problem arose with a department in our organization, you wouldn’t hesitate to address the issue as quickly as possible. Give your MSP the same consideration. The faster you start to work together to address an issue, the better you can avoid having a problem spiral out of control. Further, it’s another way to foster a team mentality and cement your partnership.

Identify your next steps

If you’re choosing an MSP, use the tips described above to make the best choice for your organization. If you are already working with an MSP, make sure that you get all of the benefits that new capabilities promise by establishing a good working relationship.

What you can expect when business technology and IT support are in perfect harmony

Aligning business technology and IT support can be a challenge. It would be nice if it happened organically, but that is rarely the case. One way SMBs are achieving that alignment is by creating a solid working partnership with an outsourced IT support provider. You’ll enjoy the benefits described below when you establish that type of a partnership.

You’ll conserve capital

SMBs typically need to conserve cash by limiting capital expenditures. When you outsource IT support, you’re reducing the amount of work that you must handle to keep your systems running. As a result, you’ll be able to conserve and build capital.

You’ll get the benefit of higher expertise levels

As an SMB, you probably can’t afford to attract and retain a group of extremely talented IT professionals. Further, if you did manage to attract them, you would find it difficult to retain them because there just aren’t that many things you need to do that would challenge an expert. When you outsource IT support, you’ll have access to highly experienced support personnel. IT support companies do the challenging tasks every day and can afford to bring that expertise to your door. As a result, you’ll be able to reduce the occurrence of problems that could bring your business to its knees.

You’ll be able to manage costs more easily

Tracking and managing finances is critical for any company, but especially an SMB. When your IT support is performed in-house, your expenses can be volatile. For example, if you lose an employee, the cost to replace them varies depending on things like how long it takes to find a replacement, how long it takes to train the new employee, and whether you need temporary help to offset the loss of manpower. With an outsourced IT support team, not only can you resolve or avoid problems more effectively, but you can also budget a fixed monthly expense. In addition, that expense only grows when your company grows and you’re in a position to deal with the increase easily.

You’ll have better control over updates and upgrades

You are probably familiar with the issues that surround system updates and upgrades. Updates come in different varieties. Some updates are critical, while others aren’t really needed. You may want the added capability upgrades, but upgrading can also reduce response times on your equipment to unacceptable levels. When you outsource IT support, your support partner is responsible for managing those updates and upgrades. You’re hiring experts who know which updates you need. They’ll also have the capacity to handle upgrades without service degradation. Besides that, if your IT support partner offers 24/7 IT support, they can make all of these changes when your business is closed, and you won’t need to worry about overtime pay.

You’ll have more time to focus on your core business

Managing IT support yourself requires that you spend a good portion of your time monitoring your network and other operations. The time you save by outsourcing will give you more time to focus on your core business and working on growing your organization.

Your operations will be more secure

When you have experts managing things like network security and email security, you’ll have the most up to date security technology being implemented by highly trained professionals. As a result, early concerns about security when outsourcing have been put to rest.

Explore IT support outsourcing for yourself

If you haven’t tried outsourcing IT support, now is the time to explore the potential it can hold for your SMB. You may find that it’s just what your organization needs to move to the next level.