April 12, 2018 Stewart Marshall

5 Principles of IT for SMEs – #2 – Assistance

Most SMEs have few, if any, IT technical staff on site, and most CEOs are not particularly knowledgeable when it comes to IT. While they might be quite handy with Excel, and may even be able to knock up a quick macro, an understanding of how best to apply technology to solve the issues of their business is something typically left to specialists, and all too often an afterthought.

Fortunately, and despite the incredible variety of organisations, you won’t be surprised to find that they share many similarities when it comes to their technological needs. Each is of course subtly different, so implementation details will vary, but there are patterns of requirements and behaviours that repeat across all industry sectors.

To help CEOs better understand their systems and the effect they have on their business, MarshallFloyd has developed the FASES methodology. This framework applies 5 key principles when reviewing IT assets.

They should provide a Foundation for your business and Assistance for your team. They should Simplify your activities, help you Engage with your customers and become a pillar of Strength over time.

Here’s a quick look at the second of these.

Assistance

If Foundation is all about your business dreams and organising your IT so that you can ride off in to the metaphorical sunset, Assistance is all about the people who are actually going to do the hard work to deliver them. These are the girls and guys that occupy your accounts, customer service, manufacturing, warehouse, delivery, payroll and HR departments, to name but a few.

Whether these people sit in front of a computer all day, are just occasional users, or almost never touch a device, they all have one shared requirement.

They all need access to accurate, organised and up to date data and they will almost certainly need it now. Tomorrow they will doubtless want it faster.

Not that much has changed

While the computing world continues to evolve and today can deliver a dizzying array of information almost anywhere in the world almost immediately, the fundamental activities of business computer systems remains largely unchanged. In fact, we can distill 50 or so years of corporate IT advances in to 3 basic activities.

  1. Reading and writing data to a storage device.
  2. Manipulating data programatically.
  3. Presenting data on a screen or an alternative medium e.g. a piece of paper.

What was once a 24 x 80 green screen is now the latest trend in browser based applications, but much the same data is still maintained by people sitting in front of a keyboard and screen.

Business basics

IT hasn’t changed much because business hasn’t changed much. Yes, it’s quicker and we’re more connected, but business is still business and it’s still run by people. So when we start looking at IT requirements and assets, and the Assistance that they provide, we can ignore the intricacies of modern technology, get back to basics and ask two simple questions.

How will this help my team become more efficient? How does it add value to my business?

Some readers will at this point be muttering under their collective breath about how a particular system they once work worked with (or perhaps still do) has complicated what used to be a simple manual process. And they may well have a point, but then, they may also be amply highlighting the very point I’m making.

If it takes longer than it used to we must ask why. Is it because additional data points are now being stored that will benefit the business when we analyse the data, or is it simply a poor design? If it’s the latter, why are you wasting time and money?

Without posing the questions, how can we know?

Needs and wants

Providing Assistance to your team means that you must address their needs first and there are many requirements to assess.

You might start by looking at the hardware they’re using. It may be tempting to save few dollars by buying something inferior, but how much time does it cost your team? And you can ask the same questions of your software, servers, networks and internet connections too. After all, you can drive a car in second gear all the time and still get to your destination.

What about training? It’s easy to fall in to the trap of assuming staff will pick up systems as they go along. Most do, but they often find a path to success more by luck than judgement. What does it cost downstream when a second or third person is required to fix the mistakes from before?

When you implement new systems, do you encourage adoption. Do you promote their use and try to generate excellent user engagement? Or do you send them on a quick training course and leave them to it?

Are the software applications themselves usable, or are they poorly designed, with cluttered screens, difficult navigation and poor integration?

Are they getting enough information via your reporting mechanisms? Is it in a format that serves their needs? Is it available when they need it?

Have they been educated with regards to cyber security?

Implementation

Your team needs to be fully conversant with the tools they’re using and the tools need to be efficient and usable. Without this, staff become frustrated and inefficient, increasing staff turnover and costing you time and money.

Information Technology is often incorrectly perceived as a cost, but it should never be the case. An appropriate IT system correctly implemented should always be an asset and should make money for the business.

IT is only ever a cost when it is poorly implemented.


Today’s Top Takeaway

Invest in your people and they will pay you back many times over.


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