Boundless optimism is a job requirement for any small-business owner. After all, no one starts a company hoping to eke out a living. Entrepreneurs think big. They expect success. And they expect growth.
But while most small-business owners plan for more employees, larger offices, and growing bank accounts, they don’t always plan for their growing information technology needs. They should, because not planning for growth, in any part of your business, can be expensive, even disastrous. The small-business landscape is dotted with the remains of dysfunctional websites, data losses and fantastically expensive upgrades that have nearly bankrupted up-and-coming companies.
That’s why I’ve put together a five-step guide to preparing your IT infrastructure for growth. The steps are listed in the order in which they should be completed, but you’ll have to determine if you need to follow all the steps. Completing even one or two of them might save you a lot of money and/or hassle down the road. Assuming that road is heading toward success.
1. Align. This is a concept that most large enterprises are already familiar with. It means building an IT infrastructure that is in line with your business strategy. In the case of a small business, this would mean investing to fit the business plan. If you’re an e-tailer, that could mean spending the majority of your IT budget on your website. If you’re a sales-oriented company, it could mean investing in mobile technology to support your sales staff.
2. Outsource. Once you’ve aligned your IT investments with your business plan, you should consider outsourcing everything else. From software to processing power to storage, virtually any part of your company’s IT infrastructure can be outsourced and acquired as a service on a pay-per-use basis, allowing you to inexpensively add (or reduce) capacity at any time. It also allows you to focus more closely on the core capabilities of your company.
3. Spend. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money (here’s where that boundless optimism comes in handy). To plan for growth, you have to invest in growth. As painful as it might be, spending a little extra now on the IT infrastructure you’ll need to support your core internal capabilities may save you a bundle later.
4. Hire. This might be where you want to spend that extra money. If you haven’t already, you may need to hire an IT expert — an employee, a contractor, or even a part-time or full-time onsite consultant — to help you manage growth. As a company grows, it usually gets more complex. More customers. More employees. More vendors. This complexity spills over into the IT systems as well. And without the right level of at-hand expertise, that complexity can inhibit growth.
5. Innovate. Since you’ve focused your IT spending (and hired experts), you’re now ready to use technology to gain a competitive advantage. When properly planned for, IT can differentiate your company in the market. A better website. Better customer data analytics. Faster distribution systems. Quicker customer service tools. If you’re constantly trying to catch up to growth — spending on IT systems that support your company but don’t help you innovate — you won’t be growing for long.
Businesses are made to grow. And these days, so is IT infrastructure. So go ahead, be optimistic. Just make sure you lay the proper foundation first.
Dan Briody is the author of two books and the former executive editor of CIO Insight magazine, a leading publication for information technology managers. He is also a frequent contributor on technology topics for Wired and BusinessWeek magazines.
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