Planning for an upcoming budget can be a daunting and unwelcome task at the best of times. Especially IT budgets.

For businesses that operate without executive level technology input, planning for an IT budget could be almost seen as an impossibility. I don’t mean to discredit the many Finance Directors out there who have overall responsibility for IT in their organisations but I’ve said before that it’s a bit like getting a plumber to do an electricians work – and vice versa. For a start there are only two digits in IT – 1 and 0 😉

Quips aside, prior to a potential client engaging with Economit, we have observed that IT budgets tend to be a little samey year after year. Statements like “well, we bought this amount of IT products & services last year so it’s fair to say we’ll spend the same amount this year with maybe a few extra points added on for inflation/growth plans” are all too common. And unfortunately all too wrong.

I think we can all safely agree that technology is changing the business landscape rapidly – it has been doing so for decades so nothing new there. I’d go as far as to say by the day in fact nowadays – new products & services are appearing to market at unbelievably accelerated rates. Granted these products & services may take a while to mature and become “mainstream” before they will be considered viable by the majority of “non-early adopters” but even so, these accelerated rates are causing pressure for businesses to adopt new tech much more quickly than ever before.

So I would like to pose a simple question: with technology developing so rapidly, why do IT budgets remain fairly static or even decrease year on year?

To which maybe, there’s a simple answer: businesses don’t know any better and therefore always do the same tech things (and consequently get the same tech results).

Without executive technological direction, there is no discernible way that a growth-aspirational business can budget accurately for technology expenditure. Yes, it’s true that there are more IT products & services to choose from than ever before which in turn, makes the choices that much harder to make so therefore it would make common sense to ensure this vital budget is put in the hands of an expert who is technical enough to understand it, experienced enough to be able to deal with it, impartial enough to guarantee complete trust in the decision making process and commercial enough to make sure your business actually grows from it.

Nick Briers

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As is customary for the timing of Economit ‘new starter’ blogs I am writing this as I am just coming up to the six-month point of my employment. I suppose the advantage with being this late in writing is that it has given me the opportunity to better take stock of everything… from my role, to the team internally, to our customers, to Economit and where we are heading.

I have performed a variety of Project Management roles in the past but this is the first time for a while that I am solely responsible for delivering projects, both internally to the business and externally to our clients. This is really beneficial as it is allowing me to focus on driving improvements to the business and also hopefully delivering projects on time to our clients, without any conflicts or distractions.

Due to the busy nature of the business time has definitely flown by and it is only on the rare moments when you get the chance to look back that you realise the changes that have taken place and the distance that we have come. In my time new CRM, quoting and finance systems have been purchased, implemented, tested and are now in full flight… the team has grown and two new starters have joined (one of which has already beaten me in writing a blog!)… a number of client projects have been successfully delivered… new clients have been brought on board and the list goes on!!

I’m definitely looking forward to the next 6 months and can only see good things happening so watch this space.

If you want to say hi or have a question for me or one of the team you can get in touch at nick.briars@economit.co.uk

Nick Gall
Nick Gall

To predict the evolution of technology would be great wouldn’t it?! Let’s face it we’d all like to be a Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs but even some of the greats slipped up from time to time. Bill Gates once said “Two years from now, spam will be solved…” not quite Bill, some may say we’re receiving more than ever. Another classic was in 2005 when Alan Sugar was ridiculed for saying: “Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput.”. Clearly they were wrong but it’s not hard to see why, technology is moving faster than ever before and it’s not becoming easier to predict.

Since the introduction of powerful computers, smartphones, Internet and apps, everything we do has become more digitised. The accessibility of data and the ability to consume more than ever is having a direct effect on our patience towards day to day operations. We’re just not willing to wait for information these days.

It’s this shift in our behaviour, Millennials coming of age and the technologies we use that will make businesses vulnerable and more powerful all the same. Digital has changed business forever and those that have embraced digital are most likely leading their industry and influencing others whereas those that haven’t will begin to lag behind.

Digital strategy isn’t just about having a website, it’s considering IT as part of the business planning and decision making process. It’s about moving beyond developing and supplying services for internal users to developing solutions that meet the needs and expectations of external customers too. It’s this delicate shift that businesses are missing. Are you bringing IT closer to the decisions you make? Setting KPI’s for innovation dare I say? If not, start now.
Businesses delivering products or services to the public are predominantly in the firing line. Your customers will be expecting you to know who they are and their history with you within seconds of taking their call. There are developments in the market for fridges that scan your items to enable automatic reordering and home technologies that offer voice command to help plan your day or your next shopping list and this is only the start of how consumers will want to interact with their favourite brands. The rise in popularity of the Internet Of Things is a clear enabler for this innovation and simply for large corporates it’s a question of why have your customer on the phone shouting about an issue if you could have already fixed it?
Business to Business organisations won’t find this transition that much easier however they won’t need the constant overhaul of their digital strategy as businesses in the consumer space will. Businesses have already begun to expect more and gone are the days where you can keep your data tucked away on the server or (heaven forbid) in a filing cabinet ready to post clients the info they request. Storing data securely in an accessible environment for client self-serve access is becoming the norm. Integration projects are very popular too. Bringing current applications together is a key driver for businesses where they’re trying to get the most out of current assets but need to reduce change for staff – whilst at the same time meeting the new demands of their clients.
It’s hard to see any plausible excuse for not moving with the times, I’ve already mentioned the sheer volume of innovation so we’re spoilt for choice really. The dark and littered past of IT with large and costly server deployments are simply no more. So digital transformation is easy right?! Unfortunately, not. Of course Technology is easier to purchase and deploy and yes there’s more choice but our requirements are more widespread and we no longer just have our users to consider, it’s our clients too!
Businesses accepting that IT isn’t simply support for back office and internal customers is key. Draw a line in the sand and start over. IT shouldn’t just serve you email and a good CRM. That’s considered the standard and we’re beyond that now. Consider technology to be key to the business delivery, review your products and services and overhaul your processes by asking how involved IT are in your business objectives.
A couple of things are guaranteed; Innovation will at continue at (least) its current rate and we’ll see more and more options to choose from. That in turn will raise the expectations of our clients meaning the pressure will firmly be on to digitise your business.
Justin Weir

Justin Weir

One of the key deliverables of my role with Economit has been securing ISO 9001 certification. Having begun our ISO journey by reviewing the key stages of our core service activities: Outsourced IT Director, Project Management and Independent IT Assessments, we created a set of processes and actions that were standardised, customer focused and we all agreed represented what we did. We delivered these through our Quality Management System by working closely with our quality consultant to develop the standard documentation and our system was born.

I was naturally concerned as we approached our final audit as my first experience of Quality had been paper based, stressful and time consuming in a manufacturing environment almost 20 years ago.

In retrospect, we have practised what we preach to deliver ISO 9001. The right IT infrastructure allowed us to best manage and store our relevant documents. The workflow between our systems through accounting, sales, time management, project management and delivery of our services through our systems has ensured that we have the necessary glue to create great work flow and ultimately focus on client delivery as opposed to process management. Everything data wise for ISO 9001 is managed online, stored safely and easily auditable.

With no non-conformance at the final stage audit, just over 12 months since we implemented our Quality Management System I am proud to say we are accredited. We have developed, learnt, refined and evolved throughout that time our process and client experience, but now have the ideal platform to continue delivering a consistent and great customer experience.

Bring on ISO 27001.

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Josh Turner

Josh Turner

Being part of a company where we champion and encourage the use of technology to make business and work life better, I am obviously a fan of social media. Whether it be the snapshot of life you get from Instagram, the constant feed of insight from Twitter or the ease of staying in contact through Facebook – the world has never been more connected. While the endless ‘selfies’, posts and tweets may connect us, many are realising that they are no replacement for personal interaction.

A big part of my job here at Economit has been building relationships. I’ve realised that no matter how many emails, tweets or phone calls you share with someone, it just isn’t the same as saying ‘hi’ face to face. When you have had a coffee, dinner or spent any period of time with a contact, naturally the dynamic changes. That person goes from being a name to a face, from a LinkedIn picture to a person with interests and hobbies – in person, you don’t add contacts you build relationships.

We understand that everyone’s IT needs differ, we are not a one-size-fits all kind of company, this needs to be reflected in our approach to meeting people, each client and their business is different so getting to know them is key if we are to advise on best practice for THEIR company. Social networking can only do so much.

This is why for me, Networking is vital. Having that opportunity to converse with someone, to find out who they are is just as important as what they do. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend some great events. Whether it has been attending the football events organised by the guys at Else solicitors, having a round of golf at Fore Business, exploring some of Derby’s hidden gems and most prominent companies with the team at Marketing Derby or gathering with business leaders at the Nottingham city business club and Nottingham means business – I have built some great relationships with a diverse group of people. The relationships formed through these groups now make up my trusted network.

If it’s a choice between social media or real life interaction through networking, then networking wins hands down. Luckily it isn’t, technology helps cultivate great relationships as it helps us stay in touch, even at our busiest – just remember not to substitute personal interaction with your LinkedIn feed.

Mike Donoghue

Mike Donoghue

The role and responsibilities of a CIO (Chief Information Officer) or IT Director as it is more commonly referred to in the UK is one that is often both misunderstood and maligned. This is in contrast to a CFO (the person who looks after the purse strings), CEO (the person who is overall responsible for business success) or COO (the person for making sure the business outputs as efficiently as possible) which are widely known, understood and vital roles within a business.

So exactly why is a CIO’s role misunderstood?

Well I believe that (certainly in the case of smaller businesses), the role of a CIO is often confused with that of an “IT Manager” or the general “IT go-to-person” that seems to be keeping the bits and the bytes in order on behalf of the business. Therefore when trying to define the role of a CIO, it is important to understand firstly, what the CIO doesn’t (or shouldn’t) do:

  • Answer support calls
  • Deal with isolated IT incidents
  • Get hands on and fix things that are broken
  • Be solely concerned with maintaining the “IT status quo”
  • Be an “IT tinker-person”
  • Be an empire builder – this is a very easy thing to do in IT because of the complexity of the subject matter – it’s terrible for “better business” however

 

Now we’ve established what a CIO shouldn’t do, how about what they should do? Here goes:

  • Be fully attuned to the businesses goals and objectives
  • Be responsible to the board for the businesses IT strategy, overall IT direction and IT service delivery – the IT buck stops here
  • Be constantly looking to achieve value for the business through the harnessing of new and important technologies
  • Be commercially aware – businesses can’t exist without sales and a good CIO knows and understands that – 100% of the time
  • Be a first class communicator – sadly a skill lacking in most IT individuals these days. ‘Youtube’ any Steve Jobs keynote for a “how to” on effective communication.
  • Be fully aware of the legal aspects of IT contracts – the small print can always trip you up in IT contracts
  • Manage vendors – simply because they need managing
  • Manage the IT team – if a CIO has an IT team under them, that team is the single most effective and valuable tool they possess
  • Understand the true costs of everything – managing the IT pounds and pence is just as important as managing the bits and the bytes
  • Make money and save money for the business – a CIO should be the person that the business turns to for inspiration about how to achieve more with less, make things go faster, reduce operational costs and get to market easier!
  • Understand and manage risk – the state of technology today unfortunately means that things can go wrong far too easily. Be aware of the effect your IT decisions have from a risk perspective and be prepared for the what ifs.
  • Don’t assume anything – know as much as possible. Find out what you don’t.

Over time, I believe businesses will understand that a CIO is vital to the success of any business as let’s face it, there aren’t many businesses in existence today that don’t deal in bits and bytes to some degree. The key thing for businesses to get their heads around right now is: what are we missing out on by not having a “true” CIO working for us?

 

 

 

Mike Donoghue

Mike Donoghue

One of the best and most interesting aspects of consulting for our Economit client base is becoming immersed in the client’s actual business. And by business, I mean the day to day operations of that business whether it be in manufacturing, healthcare, distribution or professional services.

I believe the time has come whereby a senior IT individual cannot operate successfully in any business that they do not have a sound understanding of. Gone are the days of being an IT service company and providing nothing except run-of-the-mill helpdesk, break/fix maintenance and product supply services. Although these types of services are still required and do transpose well without the provider necessarily having to have too much of an in-depth understanding of the clients business, the stock in these types of profile of “IT service delivery” companies is quickly decreasing due to a combination of a high level of price-competitiveness and the difficulties faced by the company to differentiate itself – to stand out from the crowd of the many other companies out there doing more or less exactly the same thing. And no, simply claiming you deliver the “best customer service” no longer washes. Potential clients are much wiser to that kind of pulp nowadays.

But what of the client’s themselves? Is it simply enough to “know the client’s business” in order to provide them with the most sound technical and financial IT opinion on where they should take the technology aspects of their business forward? In short, the answer is no.

IT is a critical enabler of pretty much most businesses these days. But a better, more intelligent standard of IT can’t help right some of the wrongs that fundamentally exist in a business. Good IT should ideally be applied to good practice and procedure. If a business operates inefficient processes in the first place, then a better standard of IT when applied will do one of two things:

  • Make the newly improved IT systems seem like a waste of time and money because all that has been achieved is that bad practise has effectively been digitised – most businesses that fall into this category will be the change-resistant, bizarrely set in their ways, reluctant to try something new types that although may be comfortable now, will struggle to compete in tomorrow’s viciously fast-paced economy. Ever heard the phrase “always do the same thing – always get the same results”? Well, like it or not – it’s true. Most importantly, staff won’t buy in because they will see it as an over complication of their day to day tasks and failure will be abound.
  • Force the business to look introspectively at itself by asking questions such as: Do we really need to be doing it this way – surely there has to be an easier method? What would be the net effect if we changed this process? Can we measure this process for effectiveness? Why are we wasting so much time and money printing things off and creating an increased fire hazard in the process (a personal favourite of mine)?

So to be clear, better IT can help a business with poor processes and procedures up to a point. But only up to a point. It can benefit in areas such as resiliency, capacity management and processing horse power. But unless those fundamental processes and procedures improve, the holy grail of actually getting IT to reduce operational costs and even more so, increase sales revenues for the business will continue to elude. Only the businesses willing to change their fundamental operational approaches will yield these rewards when combined with an excellent technological standard.

Business man with ball and chain

Business man with ball and chain

The term “vendor lock-in” is a fairly common one in the IT industry. It is basically a supplier-devised mechanism of ensuring that a customer is retained for the maximum length of time possible whilst maximising sales of as much product or service (or both) during that time. This is usually achieved by (some would say) unscrupulous means of “less than straightforward” contractual endeavours and/or “closed door” products/services that rather inconveniently for the customer, makes it very difficult for integration to occur between those vendor locked-in products/services and other products/services which the customer may wish to use in the future. Unless possibly an extra piece of software is required to be licenced from said vendor to make the integration possible – at a cost to the customer of course?

Obviously we’re all in business to make money – but vendor lock-in is something that has existed for far too long now in the IT industry and in our experience, is NEVER the best scenario for the client and only ever works in favour of the supplier – regardless of what the supplier says to defend themselves to the contrary.

In our opinion, the successful retaining of a customer on a long term basis needs to reflect one major benefit to that customer – value. Without the purpose of value, there surely would be no reason for a business relationship in the first place. Therefore it could be argued that the suppliers who aggressively purse vendor lock-in as a strategy, have a short term view of the actual value that can be realised of their products/services and use vendor lock-in methods as a dubious means to snare unsuspecting customers.

In other words, beware. Vendor lock-in may not only result in unexpected costs for the business in the long run, much worse it may also result in inhibiting business growth.