Many small and mid-sized companies — and even some larger companies — like the idea of having an IT strategy, the same way they like the idea of having a mission statement.
But developing that strategy more often is seen as an academic exercise than something that actually can have day-to-day relevance for the business, so it tends to remain an amorphous concept rather than a practical reality.
Richard P. Skinner is out to change that mindset. With more than 40 years in the IT business, including heading up IT at organizations with around $100 million in revenue, Skinner has up-close and personal experience with the struggles smaller businesses have as they attempt to grow — and to have IT support and scale with that growth.
He’s seen — and driven — change at IT shops that were working just fine until they were faced with sudden growth, in one case from about $12 million in revenue to more than $100 million.
“Twice during my tenure the IT department stopped functioning properly,” he says. “It wasn’t keeping up with the business and aligning with the business. We all worked harder and more, but the same things weren’t working.”
With external assistance on IT strategy being slim in the small-business market, Skinner and his management team at that organization began developing their own principles, which he further developed throughout his career.
“I have been able to prove that I can take the strategy and drive it into tactics, and managing individual employees, and make strategy have meaning on a daily basis,” he says.
bITa Planet recently caught up with Skinner, who’s sharing his insight into IT strategy for smaller enterprises through two self-published books, IT is About the Strategy and IT Tactics.
bITa Planet: Is there a misunderstanding of what constitutes an IT strategy?
Skinner: No one I have worked with yet has come up with a strategy they can name and tell me what that strategy means. IT people say they align business with technology, or they do creative outsourcing, maybe software as a service. They name the fairly high-level tactical things that they do. But there’s a huge void in strategy in SMBs.
I think that a lot of CIOs are successful without a strategy because you throw a lot of money at technology and it works. And a lot of the tactics do work regardless of having a strategy or not. For example, software as a service is a good tactical move, but it doesn’t have to fit under any kind of strategy to be successful.
[And] the business leaders are very guilty of not knowing good IT from bad IT. They hire a guy [to lead IT] that can talk technology, bits and bytes. That person runs IT for a long time, but the business people don’t know how to evaluate what they are getting out of IT spend and the IT department. You can get by with a lot of bad IT, with making a lot of bad IT decisions, without having a strategy, and be somewhat successful, because the yardstick for what is good and bad IT and a successful IS department is not there.
There are a lot of small businesses spending too much on technology without knowing they can spend less, and being forced to rebuy because they make bad technical decisions and bought stuff that doesn’t scale or grow. And they build a lot themselves. They build a LAN using freeware and shareware, they have pretty creative solutions but 90 percent of them won’t scale. Then you hit a wall at some point because you brought in a lot of the wrong technology and IT doesn’t work well, and you spend all your time on day to day support and not making any progress and customers start to suffer.