Conducting IT strategy Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2010
Conducting IT strategy

Technology is a fantastic tool that should enable you to run your business more effectively and efficiently. But if your technology isn’t helping you achieve your corporate goals, you may need a guest conductor.

You may have a good team that manages the network and provides good desktop support, but is what they are doing in sync with your business goals? You may or may not need better instruments, better players or new systems, but it’s difficult to know when you don’t have strategic IT management.

Many small to medium-sized businesses lack this critical aspect that enables IT to work in harmony with the business and enhance the top and bottom lines.

“IT advisory services act as a mentor to management to make sure they’re getting the best value,” says Tony Munns, who leads the IT advisory team at Brown Smith Wallace LLC. “These services help companies maximize the value associated with the use of technology and ensure that the technology provides the business with information to make decisions faster and more efficiently.”

An IT adviser can serve as a one-stop shop for executives who know their technology could be working smarter but don’t know how to achieve those gains. For instance, if you are not sure what technology you need for your business, an independent professional can help you figure out which IT systems work best with your business strategies.

“IT advisory services can help you formulate a strategic vision and put a plan in place so you can shift from tactical to strategic use of IT, making IT an investment rather than an expense,” says Munns.

Smart Business spoke with Munns about how an independent IT professional adviser can help a company operate more efficiently, decisively and competitively.

What are IT advisory services?

IT advisory services are more than tech support or a representative who sells software. IT advisory services link IT to business goals and help a company get the best value for its IT investment. For instance, an independent adviser might help a company better understand the cost of maintaining a legacy system versus investing in a more integrated system.

An adviser can serve as a system architect who can redesign the IT infrastructure to remove bottlenecks and improve security, functionality, efficiency and the results a company gets from its IT investment. Ultimately, IT is about having efficient access to information to make better, faster decisions. If IT isn’t helping your business do that, it may be time to change your approach.

This process is beyond the expertise of many executives, and it’s hard to justify the cost of adding that expertise to the management team. An independent adviser who can serve as a facilitator and educator is the most cost-effective solution.

Why is it important for a business to link its technology to its business plan?

It enables the company to execute its strategy, and it’s the infrastructure that holds the company together and leverages its personnel. Above all, it is about return on investment. In IT, it costs money just to stand still. So, it’s essential that IT investment dollars are well spent. IT systems can differentiate a company from its competition and provide vital information to help make decisions that can give a company a competitive edge.

How can you move beyond fighting IT fires to create a more strategic department?

Many companies are either underserved by their IT systems or what they’re using is purely tactical — the IT guys keep operations running but do nothing more. Companies tend to buy new software or other IT components only when something has to be replaced.

An IT adviser can give management the confidence to lift the business out of that day-to-day mentality and focus on an IT strategy. That may include migrating to a more efficient infrastructure, improving security or privacy, helping meet compliance requirements or assisting in upgrading or updating decisions.

The key is to be proactive, not act after something in the IT infrastructure breaks. An IT advisory team helps a company think beyond today and work toward a technology infrastructure that will last.

What should a business owner ask before entering into a relationship with an IT adviser?

To make sure you get the most out of an IT advisory relationship, ask yourself these questions: Are you concerned about the cost of IT and struggling to understand the value? Are your systems prohibiting you from doing your job effectively? Do you wish you could do more with your IT systems? Do you have information at your fingertips to make business decisions? How easy is it to get the information you need from your IT system? Are you aware of the IT systems available for your business?

An IT adviser will help you answer these questions and develop a plan so that your IT investment becomes aligned with your business goals.

How can a business measure the value of its IT investment?

When technology has the capability of measuring key performance indicators (KPI) such as sales and efficiency, then management can see the value of investing in an integrated system that does more than accomplish tasks. IT should ‘think’ for a business in the sense that it compiles the statistics, numbers and data necessary to make the right decisions.

That value is measured in those KPIs. When the IT systems are integrated and linked to the business strategy, those KPIs should improve — and you’ll like the score.

Tony Munns, CISA, FBCS, CITP, is the leader of the IT advisory team at Brown Smith Wallace LLC. Reach him at (314) 983-1297 or amunns@bswllc.com.