Know Your Priorities
The key to aligning IT with your business
Given the variety of approaches and number of choices available in IT for small businesses, a certain amount of strategic planning ensures that your business applies technology as well as it should. To be reasonably effective and applicable, strategic planning needs context, which means you should have a very good sense of your overall priorities before you can begin to think about how IT should fit in.
At my company we have defined a set of nine IT-related priorities to help understand how our clients approach technology. We ask our clients to force rank the list and typically will guide them through that process. The result serves to align our recommendations with their businesses.
Below is an alphabetical listing of the nine priorities with notes on how they might shape behavior and guidance. Before you make any new decisions about IT, if nothing else decide which of the nine are most important to you, and then use that understanding to guide your strategy.
• Priority: Adaptability
What it means: We expect our needs to change or grow, and our IT systems need to accommodate.
What to do when it’s high: Favor flexible, typically cloud-basedsolutions over capital intensive ones.
• Priority: Low Cost
What it means: We consider a solid infrastructure and new technology developments important, but we primarily want to spend as little as possible on IT.
What to do when it’s high: Stress importance of good foundation, but do not recommend many projects beyond the basics.
* Priority: Predictable Cost
What it means: Our organization has a specific budget for IT expenditures, and it is important that our costs do not exceed it.
What to do when it’s high: Put forth significant effort to create accurate and detailed annual budget. Track actual vs. budget and report back.
• Priority: Productivity
What it means: Our organization believes that technology can contribute meaningfully to our operation and give us an advantage over our competition.
What to do when it’s high: Learn and understand client’s business processes, and recommend software applications and other technology that might improve or enhance them.
• Priority: Regulatory Compliance
What it means: Our organization is subject to government or industry regulations (i.e., FINRA, SOX, HIPAA, PCI, etc.); and it is very important to us that we strictly meet all requirements.
What to do when it’s high: Understand all applicable requirements and recommend effective ways to meet them.
• Priority: Security
What it means: The confidentiality, integrity and availability of our systems is extremely important. We are willing to invest money and potentially sacrifice convenience to ensure them.
What to do when it’s high: Recommend additional security measures beyond normal, responsible, best practices. Consider engaging 3rd party for security auditing.
• Priority: Stability
What it means: Our organization values consistency and stability in our operations. We only change the way we do things when there is a clear and compelling benefit.
What to do when it’s high: Schedule project implementations carefully and infrequently. Carefully plan all changes well in advance. Recommend high-availability options for infrastructure.
• Priority: State of the Art
What it means: We consider ourselves to be early adopters and prefer the latest and greatest tools. It is important to evaluate new technology as soon as it becomes available.
What to do when it’s high: Meet or phone regularly to keep client abreast of new developments in IT. Favor novel approaches as long as they’re realistic and supportable.
Steven Ellis has spent the last 16 years working at the intersection of business and technology for Bellwether Technology in New Orleans, where he serves as the company’s vice president.