Think HBR

Using information and technology more strategically

Scott Edden
Pitcher Partners
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the engine room of the Australian economy and are required to operate in tough and volatile markets. The day-to-day operations often create enough pressures on their own, making it difficult to take a more strategic view of information management and technology.
Being more strategic about information management and technology enables businesses to better manage complex activities, foster sound decision-making and streamline processes.
Returns on investment are maximised and information becomes a competitive advantage, rather than a headache to manage.
A bi-annual survey of SMEs (State of SMB IT 1H 2013, Semi-Annual Report on small and midsize4 business – technology plans and purchase intent) reports that these businesses are embracing technologies such as cloud, mobile and social media more aggressively than larger companies, and yet a quarter of the 900 plus organisations surveyed do not use a strategic planning process. In fact smaller businesses with fewer than 20 employees have seen their annual IT budgets almost triple, whilst larger organizations with more than 250 employees are reporting a decline in their IT budget.
Since the cost of information management and technology is a significant and growing area of expenditure for SMEs, it is important that the value and profile of IT is raised to support business decisions and align to business plans.
SME decision makers need to think more strategically about business information then about technology and consider some practical tips to IT planning.
How to think more strategically about your business information
Business information can be used more strategically, if it is easily accessible, timely and meaningful. The challenge is making it that way.
Some strategic thinking questions to ask:
Business management performance:
· How can I use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to drive business outcomes and operational efficiencies?
· How can I integrate or consolidate information sources into dashboards that can be used to generate insights and visualise trends?
· How can I use client feedback that is now available real-time to improve product offerings and service lines?
Innovation prompters:
· Are there data sources that are under-utilised, but could add value in a creative way (eg social media and market research)?
· Is there data that can be leveraged to reduce lead-times or better locate and communicate with my staff?
· Am I exposing the advances in digital infrastructure enough (or as much as my competitors) to increase information flows with my customers and suppliers?
· Am I using system upgrades, technology refreshes and product selections as an opportunity to think differently and leverage best practices from technology providers?
· Am I participating in industry events or subscribing to posts and forums to generate ideas and resolve problems?
How to think more strategically about technology
If the goal of information management is to gain business insights and support decision-making, then the technology that underpins it must not be constrained by being viewed merely as an operational expense. Rapid developments in cloud technology, mobile, social media and analytics, coupled with increased speed and reduced cost of data has created an abundance of opportunities for businesses to exploit.
Some strategic thinking questions to ask:
· Is my existing technology environment generating business value or is it a barrier to business growth?
· Do I have the right business intelligence tool to create valuable insights?
· Am I leveraging managed services providers as a means to cut IT costs, manage risks and increase performance?
· Am I leveraging mobile solutions in such a way that reduces travel time and manual data entries?
· Am I leveraging cloud technologies to enable my business to scale up and down in the midst of a volatile market?
· Should I invest in social media analytics to better understand my customers and trends?
Practical tips to strategic IT planning
Turning IT into a source of competitive advantage requires a conscious decision to step away from the day-to-day issues and fire-fighting, and invest in strategic planning. An IT roadmap need not be overly complex, but can be just the tool your business needs to create clarity on the connection between business and IT into the future.
For further information contact Pitcher Partners on (02) 4911 2000, email or visit
Scott Edden1 Scott Edden
Has 20 years of experience helping clients plan for future business success while meeting the financial challenges of today. Scott empowers clients to make decisions and implement strategies to achieve profitable, sustainable growth.
Scott also has a special interest in process improvements through the use of cloudbased accounting software.