You could ask one thousand business leaders about the issues hurting cybersecurity in their small businesses, and undoubtedly, you’d get responses covering everything from ransomware to denial-of-service-attacks and lack of consistent security and protection for Internet of Things devices.
It’s unlikely any business owner would hit on the one obstacle preventing complete safety and security in their companies: interconnected information technology (IT) and business strategies.
IT is no longer a minor support department within a business; businesses rely heavily on IT to survive and thrive, so business leaders need to listen to IT experts when developing their plans for growth and change. As cybercrime grows more prevalent, businesses need to be even more confident in the security of their devices and data, which means IT teams and business leaders must work together to develop cohesive strategies for the future.
What is an IT Strategy
A business strategy outlines business goals and lays guidelines for how to achieve them. An IT strategy is hardly any different except that it pertains explicitly to IT tools and techniques. Just as you should include marketing and sales strategies in your business plan, you should detail how you will manage your tech to improve your business now and in the future.
Your IT strategy will estimate and allocate the IT budget and address IT issues such as infrastructure, applications, services, sourcing, integration and innovation. It should be specific without being prohibitive of beneficial change.
Ultimately, your IT strategy should be:
- Iterative. Just as your business strategy is revisited and revised every so often, your IT strategy will need to be refreshed/revised on a regular basis.
- Aligned. Your IT strategy needs to complement the strategies of other departments. Like HR, IT isn’t in itself profitable, but it works to enhance and safeguard your money-making endeavors. You might invite the heads of different departments to your IT strategy-building meetings to ensure all efforts are properly aligned.
- Documented. It isn’t enough to meet with your IT staff or consultants, use vague language about what you want for your business, and expect to have all the IT services you need. Everything you decide about your IT strategy should be in writing.
The Concerns of IT Strategy
Because IT is so pervasive in modern businesses, the lines between IT strategy and the strategies of other departments can be blurry. If you are struggling to organize your thoughts regarding your IT strategy, you can use these questions as guidelines:
- Does your IT support current business needs? Is it scalable and flexible enough to support future business needs? This is the most fundamental goal of IT strategy - to simplify business. If your current IT efforts are falling short of addressing business needs, you definitely need to revisit your strategy.
- Is your IT properly managed, maintained, supportive of clients, secured and cost-effective? Any downtime due to tech outages should be minimal if not nonexistent. If data leaks, slow networks and other issues are causing undue expense and making clients unhappy, you need a better IT strategy.
- Is IT adding value to your business? How do you measure that value? You shouldn’t assume your tech is doing good things for your small business. IT is too expensive for intuition - plus, there are dozens of tools to quantitatively measure the impact of your current IT strategy, so you don’t have to rely on your gut.
- Are you making the right IT investments? It’s a waste of time, energy and (most importantly) money to make the wrong investments for your small business, especially when it comes to IT. Measuring your business and your tech’s performance will tell you whether you need to make a change.
Developing a Strong IT Strategy
Unless you are tech-savvy, you will need to take advantage of the expertise of IT professionals when developing your IT strategy. For example, you might not know whether you need endpoint security, which is protection for every device connected to your network - but your IT team should, especially if you allow employees to use their own smartphones or laptops at work. They will help you understand your business’s IT needs and options for tactical IT maneuvers. Additionally, you should collect information on the past performance of your business’s tech.
Together, you and your IT team should draft a vision statement and a mission statement. The former provides a picture of the business’s future; it explains your hopes and dreams for the business. The latter is much more rigid in its imagining; it explains in curt, concrete language what must be done in the short term to accomplish long-term goals. Finally, you should lay your plans. After explaining objectives - ideally crafted using the SMART method - and responsibilities, you should detail the actions your IT department will take.
Savvy entrepreneurs will notice that this IT strategy looks suspiciously like a typical business plan. Indeed, a well-crafted IT strategy should follow the business plan format to adequately address business goals and present a blueprint for the future. As long as you remember that IT is as valuable as other business departments - if not more so - you should end up with a foolproof IT strategy.