It’s no question that technology issues cause business disruption, employee frustration, and potentially revue loss. But why is it that these problems continue to arise. With all the money and resources allocated to technology, and all of the software and hardware advancements over the years, why can’t business technology run smoothly? There are actually a number of reasons, and it might not be what you think.
- Understaffed. IT today is much different that it was 20 year ago. The number of devices and applications have grown exponentially, and the time and knowledge required to support them has as well. Businesses today need multiple IT resources to properly support systems. In a perfect world IT would consist of help desk technicians, customer support reps, server engineers, software engineers, networking engineers, and development resources. In the real world this is almost impossible to support. If you are managing IT internally the gap between the staff you have, and the staff you potentially need, is likely causing a number of issues.
- Lack of infrastructure. IT today needs to be available 24×7. Not only because businesses need access to their IT systems 24×7, but also because the level of complexities in systems today make recovering from crashes extremely difficult, especially without the right skillset. But unfortunately small businesses are rarely equipped to support technology 24×7. In a perfect world each business would have redundant power, internet, air conditioning, servers, and all the necessary systems and software to create true redundancy, or high availability. In other words, a fully operational data center. The cost of this is far outside of a normal budget, but that doesn’t change the fact that is becoming absolutely necessary for business. This is one of the driving pillars behind the explosion of cloud based apps.
- Shadow IT. Technology usage is breaking out of the IT department’s control. Shadow IT is basically when an individual or department take it upon themselves to launch a new system or application for business use. A number of times these are online applications, but not always. This can cause a number of problems from compatibility issues, to data duplication and integration issues. Although in the future, IT departments will not ne need to be involved in all of these decisions, the correct infrastructure, support processes and change processes need to be in place to properly vet these systems and support them once launched. Additionally, until more cloud based apps are ready for enterprise use, IT should still be included in the process. Just check out some security holes in common online apps deployed by non-IT users.
- Language barriers. Traditional IT does not speak business, and most business executives do not speak IT. This is the reason behind the role of the CIO, but unfortunately most small businesses are not yet at the point where they can afford that position. Believe it or not, this actually causes a lot of issues in IT. When you don’t have a connection from the business strategy to the technology roadmap, both sides can potentially be heading in opposite directions. The IT department believes they are doing what’s best for the company, and the executive suite thinks they are overspending and underperforming. This leads to both parties being unhappy and blaming the other, creating an adversarial relationship.
- Technology focused decision making. An offshoot from the language barrier is typically technology focused decision making. The role of the new IT department is not to implement new technology, it is to implement the right technology that helps the business achieve goals. The focus should always be on the strategic initiatives of the company, and then the technology required to accomplish each initiative. When this is flipped, it leads to long term problems.
- Gap in responsibility. Who exactly owns the issue of IT performance? You may think it is the IT department, but that is not always the case. The person who controls how the money will be spent most likely dictates the performance. In a number of small businesses, the decision on budget is not driven from a technology requirement, it is driven directly from the value the executive team derives from that technology. If the company believes the technology is necessary and important, the budget is allocated appropriately; if the company doesn’t value the technology, the budget sways the other direction. If the budget is appropriate to what the IT team recommends, the responsibility for performance is on them. On the other hand, when the budget is set below the recommendations from the technical team, the responsibility for performance is actually on the ones setting the budget.
- Integrated processes and procedures. Technology is more integrated into business now than ever before. Yet a number of companies still define the two separately. When mapping out business process it is important to integrate the core technologies you use as well. When the processes are defined separately it tends to lead to customizing internal software to better align to business process. This in turn leads to additional complexities, additional support, and additional costs. Even worse, a lot of these modifications should be avoided entirely.
- No change management plans. Change is inevitable, especially with technology. Everyday new systems and applications are released into the market, and small businesses are gobbling them up like the leftovers from Thanksgiving Dinner. This trend is not going away, so IT must embrace change. A proper change management program at a minimum is required to try and keep up. Not having one will absolutely cause transition issues and IT frustrations.
- Human error. Roughly 22% of company technology disasters are caused by human error. Therefore, an appropriate amount of time and energy needs to be allocated to protecting against these types of issues. Too often companies’ disaster recovery solutions are focused only on preventing software and hardware issues. This means there is still a one in four chance you will suffer a disaster. And sometimes these disasters can critically hurt the business.
- Internal sabotage. Believe it or not, this happens. Companies set forth on a new path and can never seem to get there. The system never seems to work for all of the users. This is usually a combination of a few things, 1.) not getting buy-in before the change, 2.) not properly training employees on the new systems, or 3.) change resistant employees are derailing the projects. In most organizations, roughly 20% of employees will accept change and even be excited about it, 60% will be indifferent and can be swayed in either direction, and 20% will be against it regardless of the reason. Identifying which people are in the 20/60/20 groups can help you anticipate where the real problem may be.
- Budget. Although there are a ton of different approaches to how to effectively budget for IT, most estimations tend to fall into a similar range for small and medium sized businesses, 4%-6%. If you are spending way below 4% on your IT expenses, you might be underspending in your industry. Of course different industries will have different spending patterns, but it is safe to say that if you are way under this range, you should do a little research to make sure you are not underspending too much. Pushing your IT department to keep up with competition as well as consumer demand, and at the same time crippling them with budget, can be disastrous.
When trying to build a solid technology initiative make sure to keep these in mind. Nothing is more frustrating than having chronic IT issues, especially when you don’t have a plan for solving them. If you cover all of the areas above, you are well on your way to a successful IT program.