With the advent of internet revolution, technology is no more a supporting function, rather it has become a driver for business growth in any sector and of any size. Small businesses in non-technology sectors, find it a daunting task to articulate a Technology Strategy, rather, most of them don’t even have it. Not only are these companies cash strapped, they have minimal or no internal capabilities and limited access to expert guidance on technology. Not having an effective Technology Strategy can drain a company’s resources, push them behind the competition or they may even cease to exist. This article provides basic advice for small business owners on where to get started. Below are some factors to take into account while creating an effective Technology Strategy.
Legal and Government Compliance
Planning for technology that keeps the business in legal and government compliance comes before anything else. Last thing a business wants is getting distracting from core trade and going bankrupt contesting litigations. For example, a restaurant business should have technology planned for Sales Tax, PCI Compliance, and Employee Time sheets etc.
Core Business and Customer Experience
Technology that facilitates core business and customer experience comes next. These are what directly generate revenue and these are the services what customers pay for. This is the area, a business must appropriately plan for and allocate funds for. For example, for a restaurant business to be successful, it must have good technology in place to take customers’ orders, execution in the kitchen and service. If the customers do not get what they ordered or get too late, then it is going to affect the restaurant’s business. While providing free WiFi internet may help in improving customer experience.
Marketing and Digital Reputation
For a business to attract customers, not only it must announce its existence to the customers but continuously make buzz to stay ahead of the competition. Effective marketing is a very critical factor in any business’ success. In today’s internet savvy world, most of the customers research about any service or product on internet before they buy it. That makes having and maintaining good digital reputation on the internet very important for any business. This is what a business must plan for next and allocate appropriate funds. For example, a restaurant business might want to have a website informing customers about restaurant and the menu. For marketing and digital reputation it should create and actively maintain presence on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp etc. Using internet marketing over traditional marketing channels can be more effective as they enable reaching larger audiences at substantially lower cost.
Operational Efficiency and Effectiveness
Next thing to consider is planning for technology related to improving operational efficiency and effectiveness. Technology investments in operational efficiency can help reduce costs, cut-down waste and substantially improve the bottom line. Wherever the savings realized through improved efficiency exceed cost of technology, it is worth an investment. For example, for a restaurant business having technology for inventory and material planning can substantially reduce inventory carrying cost and food spoilage, thereby directly adding to the profitability.
Insource, Outsource, or the Cloud
Once you have figured out what you want, it’s time to plan for how to acquire these capabilities. Most non-technology small business have minimal or no internal capability and hiring staff for non-core business may burn holes in the pockets. So, unless the business has existing employees that have technology skills, insourcing may not be a good strategy. Most of the best technology, both platforms and software are generally available on cloud today and must be considered as first preference. From small business’ perspective, Cloud is not only cost-effective but also allows business to stay focused on its core strengths. Only if something is not available on cloud, outsourcing may be considered.
Data Strategy and Security
After having planned for what is need and how to acquire, it is also important to research and plan for data storage, retention and security strategy. It is important to have data storage in compliance with government laws for physical location, retention period, encryption standards, usage and other factors. Agreements with cloud service providers must be reviewed before making decision to buy their services. Cloud platforms usually come with best of breed security infrastructure. Having in-house data can add to security and safety costs.
Finally, review regularly
Finally, always plan for regular review of the Technology Strategy to keep it aligned with business goals and other aspects discussed above. Remember that laws, technology, customer expectations, competitors and market are always changing and so must your strategy to stay in alignment.