Well, the short answer is ‘You’.
Yes, you may employ an ICT expert, or experts, or even a team. You may outsource these services to freelancers or agencies. However, the truth is that the investment, the strategy and the efficacy of your IT system are all your responsibility and it is in the interest of your business to ensure that it is all fit for purpose.
A definition from Wikipedia describes technology strategy as ‘a particular generation of an organisation’s overall objectives, principles and tactics relating to the technologies that the organisation uses’.
A fairly dry and straightforward explanation, I am sure you will agree, but the apparent simplicity hides a multitude of questions:
- What is your business strategy?
- What are your marketing objectives?
- What tactics have you decided on to meet these goals?
- How do your ICT systems help deliver these targets?
- Is your ICT merely a tool or is it more intrinsic to your business development?
- What information do you get from your systems that feed back into your business?
The first two will already exist and be guiding your daily activity (if not, you haven’t got time to read this yet, go and do some work on your business strategy).
The last two, however, may not have been given quite the same thought and care. The technology that surrounds us now is so common place: phones – IP and mobile; computers – in all their various formats; software – like that which I used to write and send this and you to receive and read it. They become just a set of tools with little thought about their full value.
Technology as tools
Of course, at a basic level, these tools still have enormously helpful features:
- Faster communication
- Automated processes
- Recording and retrieval of information
As well as improving accuracy and saving space and, possibly, trees, these features speed up our systems, which save us time. (I will ignore, for now, the fact that clumsy men, like me, have had to learn to type; also the debate as to whether the speeding up of our lives is a good or bad thing.)
For me however, their true value lies in their ability to help businesses to work more effectively, perform better and grow.
I like to see the technology not just as a tool, but as a window, as a facilitator. It is clear that our access to the internet; the creation of online media profiles and the communication channels they open, along with email; and the data capture software available, all combine to become an integral part of our marketing plans and overall business strategy.
We can research our products and markets; build relationships with our customers; and manage and monitor the processes involved; we can know how long it takes to do a job and how much time staff spend on it; look at the best way to get the goods to the customer and track that process; and we can easily map out our income, expenditure and cash-flow, thus controlling our finances.
The information that you collect from all this activity creates a virtuous feedback cycle.
The better you know your customers – identifying customer personalities (or buyer personas, as David Meerman Scott calls them) -the better you are able to hone in on their specific needs; you know what they want, when and how often they want it and what they are prepared to pay for it.
If you know the exact cost of providing a product or service, you will know what you need to charge for it, or where you need to cut costs or where you can add value to justify a higher price.
When you have financial information coming back to you, there is an opportunity to control your business and be proactive rather than waiting for problems and dealing with them under pressure.
It is patently clear that the software aspect of your business described above: time and operations systems management; customer relationship management; financial management; etc. rely heavily on the set up of your IT systems.
You will need to ensure that:
- The system is networked efficiently, cabled correctly and that the networks are clear and fast
- Your hardware is sufficient to cope with the workload
- You have suitable back-up and protection against power surges and cuts
- Communication channels are clear, fast and track-able.
This is all part of how your business does business and it is how you control and grow your business. If you haven’t before, you might want to give it some thought now – you may even want to get some expert help: it is your responsibility, but it need not be your problem.