How important is IT to your company?
Consider for just a few moments the importance of computer systems to your company’s success. Here are a few specific questions to help you weigh it up:
- If your IT stops working, how quickly is the pain felt?
- How quickly can you recover if things do go wrong?
- Are you confident you are aware of relevant technological solutions which could help you be more successful?
- Sell more?
- Understand your customers / potential customers better?
- Supply your goods / services more productively and cost-effectively?
- Is technology a propeller or an anchor in your business?
- Are you investing in the right technology?
- Are you making the most out of the technology you have already bought?
- Are you getting value for money from your IT spend?
- Are you confident that your company is well protected from cyber crime?
If you are feeling very confident that you have all of the above well covered, good news – you can almost certainly save yourself the trouble of reading the rest of this article. It probably indicates that you already have a highly competent IT Director leading your business systems function, or at least another member of staff covering those responsibilities very effectively.
If so, we hope you’ll stay and browse through the host of other useful resources in our EasylifeIT Learning Centre which may help with your research into other questions or challenges.
Room for improvement?
If you’re not feeling so confident, this article is for you. We will cover key strategic challenges that the IT leader(s) in your company should be considering. Depending on the size of your company or the nature of your business, you may be at the stage where you are ready to appoint an IT Director.
This could be a full-time hire, a part-time role, specific responsibilities you add to the job description of an existing member of staff, or something you outsource. All of these options could be a valid solution. This article will help you to evaluate your own circumstances and make an informed choice to ensure that IT in your company is supported by appropriate leadership.
Fixing the strategy, not fixing the PCs
This article is focused primarily on the strategic aspects of IT in your company. This is not belittling the importance of day-to-day operational IT activities. If a PC or a printer breaks down, you still need someone competent to quickly put that right. But that is typically a different skill set, and usually a different person, to someone who should be thinking about the bigger picture of IT. Their time is much better spent considering how IT aligns with the overall strategy of your company and making sure that technology is fully supporting the business plan.
The following list is not exhaustive, but typical responsibilities of someone who is in name, or in practice, an IT Director may include:
- Overseeing existing technology operations and evaluating them according to the company’s overall long-term business objectives and goals
- Working with other company executives to develop and implement an IT roadmap
- Maintaining an active knowledge of relevant technology developments in the sector
- Building relationships with existing and potential technology partners
- Establishing the business requirements of internal departments to determine their technology needs
- Overseeing the role of IT in company-wide projects
- Identifying the need for investment in and upgrades to systems
- Managing budgets and IT expenditure
- Supporting a whole company approach (not just a technical approach) to cyber security and data protection
Is this a full-time role or not?
The answer to this question will depend very much on your circumstances. For example:
- In a small business or a start-up, it is unlikely you will have the budget, or indeed the need for a full time IT Director. This does not mean that IT strategy is not important. Decisions made in the early phases of a business can lay very solid foundations for the future; good systems can lay a platform for growth and enable a business to scale up much more effectively than one which relies very heavily on manual processes. Somebody should still be leading and driving these thoughts.
- If you are a technology business, it is probably more likely that a specialist senior IT hire will happen earlier in your evolution than in a business that is in a non-tech sector. In much the same way that a manufacturing business might employ an Operations Director relatively earlier in the growth cycle, an IT Director or Chief Technology Officer may be high on the agenda for a growing tech business.
- If you are a medium-sized business, it may be appropriate to give responsibility for IT strategy to someone who has both the capacity and the personal attributes and experience to do this role. But it is a good idea to formally add this to their job description to acknowledge the importance of the role. If you don’t have a suitable candidate internally, it may be a good option to outsource this role and buy it in on a consultancy basis from someone with the appropriate skills and aptitude.
- In a large business, you may have the budget to justify a full time employed role.
Whatever route you choose, make sure it reflects the value of IT to your business
Something we see repeatedly in many businesses is the importance of IT strategy not being recognised and valued. It is not unusual for responsibility for IT to become a poisoned chalice – a role given to someone because they are the least bad fit. The Finance Director is a common home for the job.
But given the critical importance of IT to the smooth running of most companies, it is rather surprising that this role often does not reside with someone with the skills, desire or time to deliver the outcomes that would really benefit the business. Equally, given that many of your competitors are likely to be undervaluing IT, it is also a great opportunity to gain some competitive advantage. Great IT systems can deliver operational effectiveness, but also be a real differentiator in your marketplace.