IT Planning for Small Businesses – Why you need an IT Plan

Guest post by Tanya Lung, Partner at Dyad Solutions

Does your business need an IT plan? The answer is yes if your business relies on having a functioning website or the ability to share information and files with colleagues and customers.

There are a few different types of IT plans out there – but as a small business, you likely don’t need to go so far as creating a formal IT Governance plan.  You do however need to do some planning and forecasting in order to ensure that you’re budgeting correctly, purchasing the technology you need, and recruiting the appropriate resources. IT plans are used to lay out your strategy to deal with technology risks such as breakdowns, viruses and scams. You need to ensure that the IT you have is the IT you need now and at least a year from now.

Lack of planning can result in a number of issues:

  • Increasing risks for legal or financial repercussions.
  • Hiring the wrong type of IT help.
  • Mismanaging your IT Assets.
  • Not involving the appropriate expert for identifying IT needs at the right time.

Increased legal and financial risks

With all the things that a small business has to worry about, IT is just another item on the list.  It is something that seems like it would be the right choice to deprioritize. The problem is that when IT is deprioritized, you open yourself up to things not just going wrong, but going horribly wrong.

Did you know that half of all cybercrimes target small businesses? Scams, data breaches, and computer viruses are a continued and growing concern for all businesses. These are situations that can be financially draining to a small business.  By setting aside budget to train your staff on basic computer security and ensuring your computer systems are updated with security patches regularly, you can minimize your risks.

Incorrect IT hiring

If you don’t understand the nuances of what different IT titles actually meant (ie: designer vs developer) you could end up with the wrong skill set for your needs. There are many different areas in IT such as social media management, web design, programming, networking, and server administration. While not obvious, many of these areas break down into much smaller areas which are siloed.  This means that if a person works in one area, they likely don’t know enough about another area to do both well.

I believe that underspending on IT hire(s) and contractors is somewhat common in small businesses.  Often a misunderstanding of the technology field along with a limited budget leads one to hire underqualified or misqualified help.  Like with all else, this often ends up costing more in the long run as work may need to be redone or different tools may need to be purchased. Not to mention you may lose money and time for a salary of someone hired for the wrong role or under the misconception that one person can do all you need.

Though less common, I’ll also mention that one could overspend on hiring as well.  I know of a small-med sized organization who advertised for an IT Director. The organization needed someone to act in 3 roles:  Help Desk (desktop support), Systems’ Administrator (server administration), and IT Manager (management of the IT infrastructure). To most people in IT, the description of the job is a mid-level position. The organization wanted someone with experience, so they called the position IT Director, even though there was no job duties of a Director. In the end, they’ll end up paying more for a role than actually needed.

What or who should you be hiring?  This is complicated and depends on the planning for your organization as a whole.  You may find that your needs would be better met by contracting with different companies who specialize in different things. You may find that hiring that sole IT person meets 90% of your needs, while you’re willing to sub-contract for the remaining 10%. Whatever your actual needs, these can be fleshed out in your IT plan.

IT Asset Mismanagement

There are many parts to successfully managing your IT Assets to ensure that you are not underbudgetting or worse, overspending on software licensing and hardware.  Your IT plan should dedicate the responsibilities of managing your IT assets to a person or organization. They should be responsible for monitoring software licensing, managing hardware & software  acquisitions, and technology retirement.

Did you know that there is a governing body that oversees software licencing compliance and takes legal action on those found non-compliant?  It is important not only to keep good records on your licensing and keep your licensing up to date, but also to fully understand the licensing agreements to ensure you’re not inadvertently misusing the software.

Deciding what hardware (and I’m classifying everything from desktop computers to barcode readers as hardware) to use can actually be more involved than you would expect.  Did you know that the cheapest projectors on the market will likely not work in a room where you cannot control the lighting? Do you know how to select a printer or photocopier that will meet your needs and make copies at a good price point?  These are all the things that someone with the right know how can take into account when managing your hardware assets. They can also advise on the best IT Asset retirement schedule to minimize risks of failing hardware as well as ensure proper budgeting.

Bringing in an IT Expert

When you appropriately plan for the year, you’re able to forecast when you should be bringing in an IT expert.  You should consider bringing in an IT expert when you’re doing things such as:

  • Hiring your first or more Senior IT person(s),
  • Creating your annual budget,
  • Purchasing Hardware or Software, and
  • Embarking on your first IT project

Having an IT expert involved in planning can offer solutions you may not have known were possible. The right person can find efficiencies for the business as a whole.  They can can help limit the risks of budgeting incorrectly for projects that involve an IT component. An IT expert in the right area can identify when you may be severely underbudgetting money or resources for a project early on in the budgeting process.

Escape the Over/Under

Simple planning can help you minimize the risks of the dreaded over/under budgeting scenarios.  As a small business this can seem daunting. Don’t be scared to hire someone to help you with your first plan. The money and time that you spend building your IT Plan will likely save you money in the long run.

 

Author Info:

Tanya Lung, Partner at Dyad Solutions.  Dyad Solutions is a Saskatoon based Technology Consulting company.  Dyad Solutions offers services such as IT Strategy & Planning, Technology Project Management, and Training on topics ranging from Word Processing to Product Management.   Let us help you demystify IT for your business with IT planning, training and execution.