A good fit Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

As technology continues to improve, it is becoming more and more important for companies to make sure they have the right IT strategy. If the strategy is not a good fit from the start, the negative effects will snowball, and it can cost even more money down the road to fix the problem.

A good way to help make sure you have the right IT strategy is to do your due diligence when choosing the right partner to help you create your plan into the future.

“In my opinion, the wrong strategy is the lack of strategy,” says Eric Stoll, director of technology for Arke Systems in Atlanta. “For example, you might be able to capture market share by selling your product online.”

Smart Business asked Stoll about the importance of choosing the right partner to ensure a good IT strategy.

How might the wrong IT strategy block a company from having success?

The current national and global economy has grabbed the attention of business leaders in every market. Business leaders are concerned that the economic slowdown and credit crunch could cut companies’ revenues. It is important in this time, as in any, to make sure that your company is employing the right strategies, and has a plan for changing market conditions.

An important part of any strategy is IT. Unfortunately, a common reaction to an economic downturn is to cut costs by cutting IT projects. However, cutting IT costs in the short term could harm your company in the long term. Leaders need to identify which IT projects can help their company come out of the current economy in a better, more viable position and rework their IT strategy so that it has long-term benefits. Perhaps a company could gain market share by having an Internet store-front. If executed correctly, online sales can yield a high gross profit margin and would be worth the investment. Or, companies may want to increase internal efficiency by employing Web applications that help employees work more productively. There are countless IT strategies that could empower a company. Business leaders need to identify what IT strategies are right for their company not only now, but also in other economic conditions.

What can companies do to make sure their IT strategy is right for them?

IT strategy should stem from the overall business goals. Look three, five and 10 years into the future — what do you want the company look like? Don’t look at what the company looks like based on today; picture what you want it to look like and what you want it to be. Take a visionary approach to planning for the future. Remember, IT can block the company if you don’t recognize opportunity, but if you have a vision, IT can help steer the direction of the company. If you aren’t IT savvy, talk to people in your business community to help you find a good consultant. You want to work with someone who knows how IT has shaped business in the past and present and how it is trending in the future. To lay out the strategy, you need a visionary who will work with you at an executive level, and then you need good technologists who can execute the strategy. Oftentimes, these are separate people, but a good IT firm will staff both roles.

How has the constantly evolving technology of today’s business affected how businesses build their IT strategy?

The short answer is that businesses have to plan for change. Executing the strategy begins with looking at how evolving technology affects the business. If your team isn’t talking about potential obsolescence from the beginning of every project, you are starting with a flawed plan. Too often, we find clients who are feeling extraordinary amounts of pain because technology is holding them back. They invested in a technology that could not evolve and grow with them and the rest of the world, and then updating their technology becomes very painful and costly because they’re behind the curve. Either technology can drive the company or the company can drive technology. The world is better when technology stays ahead, which touches on last month’s article about alignment.

What should a business look for when in the market for a partner to design its IT strategy?

You need to work with a firm that understands your business, has a vision for your company, understands how IT affects your industry, has a proven record of success, can communicate clearly and can execute the strategy. It is most important that your partner takes the time to understand your business and your direction. You might have a couple ideas for IT and you might have a good idea of the next couple steps, but your IT partner should be coming to the table with the next couple years of ideas laid out beyond that. Finding a partner that can do the current project might get you through that project, but a great partner will see much further down the road. Not only will this mean a long-term mutually beneficial partnership, but also that you have the right attention on the project at hand. When you interview potential IT partners, make sure that you ask them what your business will look like in 10 years.

ERIC STOLL is director of technology for Arke Systems in Atlanta. Reach him at (404) 812-3123 x130 or eric@arkesystem.com.