Business Management

Bryan Richter (UK) - Demystifying IT for SMEs: Agility

You only need to check out my last blog to know that cloud computing is the flavour of the month in the IT industry. And why not, when it promises so much flexibility and agility to a small business?

However, with all the talk of cloud, you'd be forgiven for thinking it is the only way IT can make your business more agile. But, as with most things, there are also older, less fashionable options that you shouldn't neglect.

Why worry about being agile?

I spent a lot of time thinking about this recently when Mamut was developing The Smart SME, an online assessment that helps SMEs see if they're making the most of their IT.

First things first, what do I mean by being agile? Wikipedia's definition of business agility is pretty good: Business_agility. When it comes to IT, agility means having resources - be that software, hardware or services - that are flexible enough to meet the needs of your business as it develops, grows and changes direction.

This is particularly important for SMEs, which tend to be nimble businesses and need IT that can make tasks quick and easy. Your systems need to adapt to how you work, not the other way around.


The challenges to agility
In my experience, SMEs looking to make their IT more agile usually find themselves in one of two groups.

The first - which I will call the Veteran Business - have already invested in IT, but find they need more flexibility or functionality to face new challenges.

The second - the Novice Business - are young businesses that are facing a huge number of IT choices.


What if I'm a Veteran Business?
It is important to maximise return on investment (ROI) by making the most of what you already have. Simple things to consider include:

• Focus on applications. Tools such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google apps are a quick and easy way to help you work more effectively - either in the office or on the move.
• Evaluate your software. If you are upgrading part of your software, consider the needs of your whole business. Does it make sense to select a single business-wide application?
• Be focussed. Understand your most profitable customers and products. Have a laser-like focus on the most successful parts of your business.
• Use your data smartly: Use your data to make informed business decisions. By using a dashboard with your software, data can be easily understood through charts and graphics.
• Retain control. As your business grows it may feel like it is getting out of control. Good business software allows you to retain your intimate knowledge of all areas of the business.


What if I am a Novice Business?
Knowing from the outset where you want your business to go and what you want to achieve will make sure that your IT is flexible and scalable enough to help you achieve these goals. Things to think about include:

• Access to your systems. Make sure data can be shared easily across the business. If you have a mobile sales force that will need to access data on the move, look for an IT solution that has remote access capabilities.
• Consider all areas of the business. Today's priority may be keeping control of your finances. Tomorrow it might be understanding your customers or measuring the effectiveness of your marketing activities.
• Flexibility vs. security. Make sure you strike the right balance. If you choose to go with hosted services, make sure that you have backup systems in place, particularly for critical IT systems.


A final thought
Whether it be cloud, software or hardware, there is no silver bullet for making your IT agile. However, don't be afraid to bring in a specialist to advise you. Have you ever had to clear up the mess that someone else made by not bringing in the right expertise? Don't make the same mistake.


Bryan Richter is the UK Country Manager for Mamut Software, a provider of integrated software solutions and internet services for SMEs. He joined Mamut in May 2009 to head-up the UK launch of Mamut One. Mamut are an active member of BASDA and Bryan participates in the Cloud Computing Special Interest Group.




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