This article is a short guide on how a business could think about their IT Strategy in bite-size chunks, simplifying by segmentation.
IT investment decisions are often significant, it is important that senior management can understand the basics of the decision. The alternative is working with a trusted consultant to ratify decisions.
Having developed or reviewed IT strategies and business plans for over 25 years the model below distils the easiest way to review your IT in a simple way.
Greenlight Computers IT Strategy Model
Where do you start with a new IT Strategic plan?
Starting with a good knowledge of the business strategy on a 3 to 5-year horizon it can be quite simple to develop an IT Strategy by separating it into these 9 blocks.
The core elements of your IT are the blocks highlighted in Green:
Single Point of Service – Helpdesk
IT effectiveness is assessed by how it enables the business to do its day job and a centralised helpdesk that can quickly resolve user and system issues is consistently identified as a top 3 factor in the performance of an IT team (in-house or outsourced).
Give staff one number to call, respond positively and communicate well. This professional approach will buy your team time to resolve whatever problem may exist without heated escalations spreading around the business. Helpdesk manager is a key position and often a non-techie is best placed. Similar, to how a great teacher may not make a great headmaster, great techies tend to be poor communicators and therefore not ideal to run a helpdesk.
In smaller businesses, you may be able to compensate for poor communicators by putting your network on a large screen display in the office so people can see what is working. Visible IT management takes the pressure off and allows the techs to focus on solving the issues. Corporates call this a NOC (Network Operations Centre) but it really works for an SME.
IT Infrastructure & Unified Communications
The lions share of most businesses IT budget is spent on Infrastructure: broadband, routing, switching, cabling, wifi, server(s), cloud servers, data backup, user computers, peripherals, telephony, mobile devices and generic software applications e.g. email, office, accounts, collaboration and WFH.
A typical business will invest more than £2500 per employee per year on IT infrastructure.
The strategy on each infrastructure layer can be different but always a key success factor is to maintain a slightly bigger Broadband capacity than you actually need. The costs have come right down over the last few years and this will normally be less than 5% of your overall spend but will enable or disable your overall IT strategy.
Another key tip to enable budgeting and flexibility is to understand your refresh strategy e.g. how long you plan for an item of infrastructure to last. Some typical examples might be: servers 5-7 years, network components, 7-10 years, user computers 3-5 years etc. Based on this refresh strategy you look to buy products that will still be doing the job in the final year, investing a little more now to get a longer life.
There are also many ways to buy your infrastructure components; as capital purchases, lease hire, IAAS (Infrastructure as a service), all of which may work but to keep it simple don’t spread across too many suppliers. You will need a relationship with your suppliers/partners to ensure infrastructure compatibility and avoid expensive mistakes.
On-premise V Cloud: this is still a big debate for many, but in reality, the industry has made Cloud the better option, despite the protestations of in-house IT teams. The ROI is typically the same over a 3 to 5 year period but the Cloud is easier to manage and requires a smaller IT team to manage your infrastructure. That extra resourcing budget can then be focussed on your Line of Business application strategy or Digital Marketing.
Line of Business and Cloud Applications
Businesses are different, most can have similar IT infrastructures, but the line of business applications will be different. A manufacturing business, for example, may need an MRP or ERP system to control stock and workflow whilst a law firm may need a case management application.
When it comes to selecting the right system for your business, this is where you will need consultancy help in order to select the right system.
In the UK there are currently over 300 different CRM systems on offer, how do you assess which is best for your business? Seven big tips to help select a line of business application:
- Choose a consultant who has worked client-side before when selecting a system but ensure they are supplier agnostic.
- Ensure that you have members of the business engaged in specifying the project requirements.
- Ensure that your IT infrastructure manager or IT partner is engaged early to validate compatibility with your other systems.
- Ask your consultant to identify a long list of between 4 and 6 potential systems and provide YouTube links to enable the team to assess the look and feel from day one.
- Invite your favoured 3 in to present and discuss your requirements, more than 3 will cause excess workload and confusion.
- Communicate to all potential uses a regular update on the project, surprises at work give people stress, the more aware they are the more flexible they will be to change.
- Select a preferred bidder and then ask for a detailed implementation plan, don’t move on until you are happy with this.
Line of business applications are often big investments as the software provider will have spent many years developing their solution. It’s important you make your budgetary decisions based on ROI over a long period e.g. 10 years. Ask your preferred bidder to be clear about version changes, upgrade charges, report development and any other hidden cost factor. Your consultant should have the experience to advise on potential future cost areas.
This is the one part of IT that is rarely simple so have someone in your team that has done it several times before.
Brand Design, Digital Marketing & Print
This element of IT spend is often not regarded as IT but leaving it purely in the hands of a marketing team is often a costly mistake.
In many ways, brand design and digital marketing are the most complex area of IT to invest in as results are rarely guaranteed and the world of business is very competitive. For every pound you invest your competitors will be doing the same or more!!
To keep your IT strategy simple the base principles of marketing can drive your investment in digital marketing:
- Firstly visibility: if people don’t know you exist how will they find you.
- Secondly solutions: if people find you, can you solve their problems.
- Thirdly trust: can you demonstrate you have done things before.
When people have a problem their own knowledge base is where they start and if your brand is known to them, that may open a door. Think about your target clients and where they are most likely to see your brand and then focus your efforts on being seen there.
Use as many appropriate channels as your budget allows: website, social media, video, awards, email marketing, office windows, directory sites (e.g. Mpostcode.co.uk), events, vehicle liveries, beer mats, posters or good old-fashioned mail.
In the digital world, you need to consider keywords and phrases that your targets might search for and optimise content to be found in their searches.
A standout brand design will give you the best chance of being remembered.
Our Digital Marketing team can help, get in touch if you want to discuss this with the experts.
Are your products and services solutions to your target client’s main problems?
Many businesses fail to attract new clients as they spend their budget becoming visible to the wrong audience. If yours is a B2B business then LinkedIn and YouTube are likely to have a better return than Facebook and Instagram, probably the reverse for B2C.
On your website ensure your offerings are up to date, explain their benefits and the problems they solve and ensure the user experience is really easy. Keep it simple and make yourselves easy to trade with.
Anyone can create a nice website, so the mature buyer is no longer satisfied with seeing what you offer, they are looking for proof of your experience.
Case studies, testimonials, checklists that help, are all things that demonstrate your company’s ability to deliver what you say you can. Respected reviews, 3rd party recommendations, referral links are also great indicators of your trustworthiness.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Social Media Management are excellent skills to have in your team or through trusted partners.
Product Supply and Installation
Most of our clients rely on us to procure and supply the IT hardware and software they need.
Passing the responsibility for ensuring things are compatible to a partner that knows. Passing responsibility for the complexities of warranty management. Passing responsibility for software licence subscription management through a single point.
These are amongst the benefits of working with an IT support partner like Greenlight Computers.
The digital world continues to have new security threats every day and every business needs to have a strategy of protection.
Cyber Security is not a simple topic it requires real expertise but the easiest way to think about it in simple logical layers and use experts to manage the technicalities:
Physical security – are you ensuring your computers are locked away, buildings secured for authorised access etc
Digital Perimeter – are you stopping hackers getting in with a good firewall, internet gateways, SSL certifications internal and website, penetration testing etc
Data Protection – just in case management, with daily backup to cloud, anti-virus, threat protection, malware filters etc
Security Patching – most of the software on your computers require a regular update for improvements and most importantly security to solve any vulnerabilities. Latest versions are ideal, support versions are essential e.g. Microsoft has stopped supporting WIN7, any computers with this operating system should not access the internet and should be replaced.
Awareness and Diligence – people are the biggest risk to a businesses cyber safety so ensuring staff are aware of dangers through training, procedures and good open management is key. If there is a breach for whatever reason, the quicker it is flagged up the better the chance of minimising the impact.
Our team at Greenlight are experienced at prevention, accreditation, cybersecurity audit and where needed resolution.
Using the UK governments Cyber Essentials Plus as a minimum standard is a simple baseline when reviewing your IT strategy.
People and Resources
When you review your IT strategy and look forward 5 years, some of your people, resources and partners may not fit the new world.
Commonly we find that long term onsite infrastructure technicians used to running around fixing things in the comms room may not easily make the transition to cloud computing or helpdesk operations. Traditional marketing people may not get to grips with the social media world or understand how to optimise content for SEO keywords.
It may be the right time to change from inhouse IT management to an outsourced model for some aspects of your IT.
IT strategy reviews with Greenlight Computers will look at all aspects of the transformation and recommend redeployment or training options.
Keeping IT simple to understand allows senior management to make informed decisions.
Skills and Training
Do not look at IT skills for IT staff only, the ability for all members of staff to use the technology you provide effectively is key to business success.
Over 80% of cybersecurity incidents are triggered by staff failing to be diligent or taking accidental risks: clicking on phishing emails, failing to keep anti-virus software up to date or using an obvious password are among some of the common issues.
Websites that get no traffic, are often written based on what you want to say and not on what your client might want to read.
Simple and cost effective learning materials are available for most skills gap scenarios. Your Greenlight Computers IT strategy consultant will help you identify skills gaps and know where to go to resolve them.
Hopefully, this quick run-through of how to make IT strategy simple has been useful.
The Greenlight Computers group of companies started in 2006 and are now set up to provide a comprehensive service covering all aspects of your IT.