No one saw this pandemic coming, and when the world suddenly closed its physical doors, most businesses scrambled to transition traditional employees to remote workers. But some businesses were able to do this more smoothly than others. Those companies almost seemed to just flip a switch, shifting to a virtual business model without much downtime or loss of productivity. Why was that?
Without even realizing it, these businesses had been preparing for something like this for a while. The ability to conduct secure, remote work had been an ongoing, purposeful goal with organizations that had started viewing technology as a fundamental part of their business strategy, not a necessary evil. Long before the panic hit, they had already been working continuously to leverage technology to accomplish the goals and objectives of their businesses.
Today’s Focus: Technology as a Strategy
When we talk about technology as a strategy, we often get looks of confusion. Isn’t technology a thing? You know, laptops, desktops, and that blinky equipment hidden behind the door of the network rack?
And yes, in today’s world, when we say “technology”, those laptops and blinky devices are what pops to mind. But in reality, technology is a practical application of knowledge, a way of accomplishing tasks. There are all sorts of technology – medical technology, educational technology, construction technology – the list is long and varied. For purposes of this discussion, our focus is mostly on information and communication technologies that drive your business.
Know Your Business
The right technology strategy is unique to each business. The first step to knowing how to make technology work for your business is to truly understand your business goals and objectives, both short-term and long-term.
Find Your Compass
You can’t purchase the right devices, programs, or solutions if you don’t know where you are going. Ignore the actual technology for the moment. Just sit the key players down and map out what you want for your business. What does your business look like today? What do you want it to look like down the road?
Now, consider things that impact technology. What does the company look like 5 years down the road? Is your team mobile or are they working from a central office? Are they giving presentations virtually? Are there industry-specific tools being developed that you’ll need to support using your technology? Do your employees have to be able to access your data from anywhere? What does an efficient employee look like in your future?
While we’d all like to be able to say money is no object, that is rarely the case for a business. Understand your resources and have an idea of what you’ll be able to devote to developing your company’s technology. As a general rule, companies dedicate 3%-7% of their annual budgets to IT. How much will you dedicate to equipment purchases? Support services? Training?
Perform a Current Assessment
Dedicate the time to truly understand exactly how it is that your business is currently using technology to get the job done.
Assess Your Current Technology
Take an inventory of what technology your business is currently utilizing. Consider physical equipment, of course, such as laptops, desktops, firewalls, wireless devices, and network switches, but don’t forget to take stock of the less tangible things such as software/licensing, security services, backup systems, and support costs.
Assess Your Team
Is your team mobile or will they be working from a central office? Are they technologically savvy or better off being handed an Etch-a-Sketch? Do they need security training? (Hint: The answer is Yes!) Who will ultimately be in charge of your technology?
Ask for Help
We don’t try to balance our own books. We have accountants for that because we are tech dorks and don’t want to try to understand the IRS. The same is likely true for your business. You may be the best landscaper out there, the most skilled dentist or the highest rated lawyer, but if you don’t really know technology, bring in someone who does to help you strategize.
Make the Commitment
Going from a business that has to scramble to equip employees or one that goes down in flames because it wasn’t prepared for a security breach isn’t something that happens overnight. It likely will take you a number of years to get your technology up to a level where it’s working for you. Make the commitment that you’ll dedicate that portion of your budget needed to get your technology to that level and then do it. Every year.
Don’t Stop There
Developing a technology strategy isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. Even once you’ve refreshed your technology and things are running smoothly, you’ll still want to plan and budget for continuing improvements. Technology changes rapidly. You may need to alter or otherwise adapt your plans along the way.
Take the Time
Be honest – did you go buy a bunch of laptops from a big box store to keep your business running during the COVID pandemic? It’s okay if you did – during a crisis, there isn’t necessarily time for planning. But now there is.
As you begin to plan for 2021 and out, take the time to really think through your business, your needs, and how technology can work to make your business more successful and profitable.