Do staff ever need help resetting their passwords? When printers don’t seem to print or software programs freeze up, are you the person to whom the team turns? More importantly, when it comes time to upgrade or purchase new technology for the company, do you make the final call? Congratulations! You’re not only an SMB owner, but a chief information officer!
In large organizations, the CIO is almost never the CEO. Technology has traditionally seemed too complex and requires its own unique focus. It’s the same reason the biggest businesses also have chief marketing officers, CFOs and the like. SMB owners, on the other hand, have been jacks-of-all-trades by necessity, but CIO-type duties could stretch them further than is really comfortable.
Unless you’re actually running a technology business, de-facto CIOs in the SMB space should think carefully about exactly how they want to handle IT responsibilities. That way the decisions they make provide lasting value to their business, and ideally free them up to tackle the range of other challenges that inevitably await them. There are many different ways to approach this, but these three tactics might work best:
Take The CIO Innovation Test
In many enterprise firms, CIOs have often talked about their desire to do less of the routine maintenance work that involves IT and explore more breakthrough, creative applications of technology. It rarely works out that way, of course. Too often CIOs are trying to keep aging legacy systems running smoothly, integrating newer applications with systems that were never really designed to run them and preventing outages. Market research firms have often suggested between 70 per cent and even 90 per cent of some CIO’s days are focused on these tasks, with barely 10 per cent left for innovation.
The only way to start shifting that balance is by paying closer attention to the areas where you’re forced, as CIOs often say, to simply try and “keep the lights on.” Having to frequently update or replace on-premise software, for instance, is obviously not going to let SMBs innovate. That’s why the software-as-a-service model has become so appealing, because it automates much of that process and ensures key applications like CRM and marketing automation don’t flatline. Make a list of at least three areas where IT drags you down and, where possible, look for cloud-based alternatives.
Add More Digital Where Things Are Now Manual
The goal of being your own CIO isn’t necessarily about eliminating technology from your company, of course. It’s more about injecting technology where it can make a substantial difference rather than take up a lot of money and time. As ZDnet recently reported, for example, many large firms are looking beyond the traditional CIO and appointing what they call chief digital officers. Instead of trying to make servers run faster or placing orders for new laptops, these executives are looking at ways to reach customers in online and social channels that reduce the friction in purchase processes.
SMB owners should assume they will play chief digital officer as well as CIO too. That means not only making your existing IT resources more efficient but looking critically and strategically across the organization. Where are you still relying on manual processes or analog forms of content (like direct mail, for instance), where email might be the better option? How might you use your web site to provide not only e-commerce but self-serve customer support? As you assess digital technologies, always keep in mind how widely they can be applied across the things you do (sales, marketing, finance and even HR), as well as the direct ties to revenue.
Map A Plan For Apps That Stretches Both Inside And Out
A good IT strategy should do two things: boost productivity and collaboration among those working for a company, while also bringing that company closer to its target customers. There may be no better tool that meets both of those requirements than mobile apps.
According to research released earlier this month from a research firm called App Annie, for example, app downloads are expected to more than double by 2020 to 284 billion. Even more significantly, global mobile app revenue is expected to nearly double to $101 billion in the next four years. Some of that revenue might come from advertising, of course, but there will likely also be considerable use of apps to buy products and services, communicate both and forth with a company or even simply research purchases.
Fortunately, mobile app development costs have fallen considerably thanks to ready-made app marketplaces for business owners. Salesforce Platform, for example, has everything you need to build beautiful, engaging apps that transform the customer experience.
One of the best ways to think through the kind of apps you want to offer customers is by treating yourself as a potential customer. Start with internal apps for managing your business from your smartphone and pay attention to the features and functionality that save you the most time or provide the most help. Now think about your target customer and the purchase process they might go through.
As technology becomes less of a chore and more of a growth driver, you might not even mind being your firm’s de-facto CIO.
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