Technology is a business wide strategy

In his latest column, Jason Slater looks at how SMBs can keep on top of the ever changing technology – and data – in their businesses.

Jason Slater

One of the most common issues facing small and medium sized business today is keeping up with technology.

Technology evolves at such a pace that mismatched infrastructure can become a big problem and often stifle the development of a company's information technology strategy. It gets even worse when a company needs access to computer systems 24/7.

If you look around many wiring cabinets, you will find any number of adapters or middle-ware devices that are converting one kind of data to another, or hubs and switches that are slightly mismatched, preventing performance features being enabled.

If things work fine then there is usually no problem, but the moment things start acting curiously then it can easily spiral out of control.

One of the key things a business needs to do is write down exactly what is required from its own IT strategy. Forget those downloadable templates that attempt to cover every aspect with techno-speak and instead sit down with representatives from your business and define a strategy that actually means something to you.

When the strategy is complete, ensure the business keeps IT in the loop with developments, not in terms of equipment or technologies, but more aligned with the business goals themselves. Once you have this business technology strategy then IT can take it and turn it into a more workable plan.

The issues described above are scenarios that probably need to be addressed head on by the IT team, but broader issues arise when a business reviews its data storage strategy. This is where the business can be fully engaged.

For example, instead of asking do we need more storage space on the server which is a perfectly suitable question in an IT context perhaps the question should be what are we doing, and what can we do, with the business information we are collecting? In particular if your storage requirements are increasing rapidly, then you should take some time out to assess your stored data.

Some questions you could ask include:

- Is data being saved but not accessed by anyone? - Is information being duplicated across your business divisions or departments? - Is the information collected actually required? - How much of the information is way out of date? - Are there many incorrect versions of the same data? - Can the information be quickly and easily deduced from other information? - Does the information change frequently? - Where else is this information being stored and why?

These questions should be asked across the business, not just confined to a technology workspace. You may discover more about your storage requirements from a five minute chat with Carl in marketing than you ever would using a file utility to look at file types, disk storage capacity and file access dates.

When a file storage system is implemented it may be tempting to simply share drives across users and groups of users. This is probably commonplace but does it make sense today?

If User Joe needs to see information that User Anne updates do they create a share between them, request an IT ticket to create a share, or is it more likely that Anne may simply email Joe a copy of her data and between them discuss ways of keeping their information in sync?

Perhaps a more logical solution would be to store information by trading partner, product, or information type, then use sub-folders to set authority levels. This way, if sales need a copy of the budget from finance, they simply dip into the business strategy folder rather than waiting for finance to send over the latest copy.

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