To many people, the phrase “information technology” causes them to tune out or to look for someone to translate only what they want to hear. However, for businesses that want to be successful, this is not an option. A business, whether it is small, large, online, or brick-and-mortar, needs to understand how information technology plays into the overall strategic plan of the company.
The largest piece of the pie, where information technology (IT) affects a business, is the operations. This is a very broad category and is also the category that is most well understood, even by the IT newbie.
Operations includes the desktop computers, the mobile laptops, the smart phones assigned out by the company, the email server, the phone system, and the network, to name a few.
Operations, in context, also includes such things as in-house marketing that utilizes computer resources (like social media marketing and list management), as well as project management, and audio/visual needs that include client presentations.
As you can see, this particular category could fill a downloadable eBook, just listing all of the ways that information technology touches a business. This is usually the piece that is running the most efficiently, out of all of the categories, because if it were not, the business could not open their doors on a daily basis. How efficiently or productively it is running could be a discussion for another article.
Analytics and Measurements
The next category is that of the analytics and measurements. This is the data that a company needs to ensure that they are profitable. This is the category that feeds the reports given to stockholders, board members, and current (as well as future) clients.
A company could technically survive without this category, but it would not survive well. Any potential investor or client should insist on the data that supports the claims that a company makes. This category is the measurements hub of the company.
image source – ibm.com
Depending on the company, this data can be obtained in different manners. Certainly, for any web-based company, the use of Google Analytics (GA), or a similar tool, is essential to understanding web traffic. Even for the brick-and-mortar companies that do not do a lot of business online, GA is helpful in ascertaining the results of their marketing efforts in bringing people to their site.
Other industries may require specialty tools. For example, a company that produces content would find that a tool like Atomic Reach may be essential to determining what content is the most effective for their target audience.
Other methods of analytics include traditional research like surveys, case studies, statistics analysis, and structured interviews.
The sky is the limit on the data that can be obtained in this information age, but the key is ensuring that the correct data is collected and measured, with the most effective tool, whether it is the sales data of the company (to give to stockholders) or the marketing data of the industry (to ensure that the next marketing campaign is successful).
Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
This category, business continuity planning (BCP) and disaster recovery (DR), is overlooked even more so than the analytics and measurement category. Many times businesses think that “it will never happen” and that they will look at this topic when they have time. Those companies who have suffered a loss, like the 9/11 loss in New York in 2001, understand the need to address business continuity planning before the need arises because there is no such thing as addressing it after.
This article on disaster recovery takes an interesting look at the subject, even prior to the 9/11 awareness of the need. It is, no doubt, inspired by the Y2K scare where the world was concerned that it would stop because the computers were not programmed with the ability to understand four digit entries for years.
Business continuity planning is the planning that encompasses all aspects of ensuring that the company continues in the case of a disaster. A disaster can be as serious as an earthquake or a bomb. It can also be as seemingly minor as an electrical outage, especially if it affects industries like the trading industry where there are compliance issues involved.
Interestingly, no company is immune. Speaking of the financial industry, even the US Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) can fall prey to incidents that cause vulnerabilities and disasters that are defined by data leaks and cyber attacks.
The Disaster Recovery portion is the part of the planning that includes how the company will recover from a disaster. Every company hopes (whether they define it or not) that they have cased of planned continuity as opposed to instances of needed recovery.
Some examples of business continuity planning strategies include having redundant servers located in two geographically different locations (different power grids). The data from one location is replicated to the other location. The cost of this process can be quite pricey so sometimes this is done through a data dump once per 24 hours, from one location to the other. It can also be accomplished through cloud storage. Other strategies include setting up a “hot site” location in case the brick-and-mortar office becomes unavailable.
Business continuity planning is not limited to brick-and-mortar considerations, but also includes online strategies. When a blogger backs up their WordPress blog regularly, they are practicing steps that fit into this category of IT and Business.
Training and Continuous Improvement
It isn’t enough to just learn everything (like anyone could learn everything!) and then let it sit idle in the brain. Technology, as well as business strategies, is changing so fast that a company needs to keep up with the times and continue to learn.
This is where it is important to ensure that the business staff is trained on business strategies as well as the IT staff trained in all things IT-related. This training and continuous improvement category and can often times be fulfilled through computer-based training (CBT) online. Continuing education units (CEUs) is an industry-standard method of measurement (i.e. nursing industry) for continued training. It is not a bad idea to implement this requirement in other industries. This would surely help to ensure that the business is not caught off-guard for opportunities for increased profit (and staying in business) through the advantages that training provides.
If all of these categories (and that isn’t all of them!) seem to be too much for one company (especially the small companies and startups), there is the option of outsourcing many of these.
Nexus is an example of a full-service provider that covers many of the information technology business needs that have been covered here. It is not unusual to find that full-service companies can often cover aspects in all of these categories. The truly sophisticated full-service companies also offer training, helping the company to help themselves.
These companies can serve as the backstop for a growing company. This is an excellent strategy, to use a full-service IT company to get started and gradually, as employees are hired, to change those services. The business would utilize the full-service company for the training or consulting rather than the actual system administration, once they have built up their IT team. That way, if there is an emergency, the full-service company can be called upon as a part of the consulting hours.
Information technology is more complicated than just switching on the power on a computer. Business strategy involves more than setting up a card table at the street to sell lemonade. Through the online resources available, a business can truly survive, ensuring that they have every aspect of their company covered. If it is too daunting of a process to define, there is likely a business consultant around the corner, findable on the internet, which can help out in that situation, too.