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EVERY company reaches a point where it begins to transform from a startup to a grown-up organisation.
As a necessity, ad hoc systems and fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants philosophies give way to documented procedures and repeatable processes.
Every department - marketing, finance, human resources - has its own maturity milestones, but the area most often overlooked in the "growing up" effort is technology.
And given that the majority of business processes today rely on technology to run smoothly, upsizing and upskilling your technology department should be a priority.
Where once your "IT Department" was perhaps one tech-savvy employee who could be relied upon to solve basic problems, this will no longer suffice when you are an SME.
Here are some considerations to bear in mind and some questions to ask yourself if your business is making the transition from startup to SME:
Where once your business consisted of a few laptops and a printer, as your business gains employees and customers, then your IT requirements will also grow in complexity.
You now need to consider developing and operating an IT network which can support effective collaboration and communication across a greater number of employees, departments and customers.
Increasingly this will be utilising the latest Internet Protocol (IP) networks which have the capability to carry all voice, data, video and Internet traffic on a single network, which reduces complexity and provides a platform for deploying advanced unified communications tools.
As your business grows, so will the amount of data you produce, access, collect, distribute and store. As incidences of ransomware attacks and other cybercrimes continue to rise, data has never been so valuable or vulnerable.
Attacks on your IT infrastructure can prevent you from carrying out critical business operations resulting in a potentially negative impact on customers and your corporate reputation.
Data leaks can lead to loss of confidential corporate and customer information, and can put you at risk of fines by legislators. It's vital that your IT department has the skills and experience to manage this data securely and react accordingly to any security breach, reducing business downtime.
Consider how you might best store your increasing amounts of data. Do you need to increase the size of your server, perhaps moving to multiple servers or even think about a custom-built solution?
Many companies are also adopting cloud storage facilities and this can certainly be a more adaptable and cost-effective way of managing your data.
To enable your employees to make the most effective use of IT resources, your IT department needs to be able to provide various forms of user support.
For example, if you are thinking of installing new software or networking facilities, your IT department needs to be able to provide the necessary training to ensure that your employees can quickly hit the ground running with their new resources.
Depending on the size of your business, this might mean simply developing a detailed FAQ document which is hosted online and easily accessible, contracting a third party Managed Service Provider to provide a regular helpdesk service or for larger businesses, investing in full-time support.
Investing in external support
It is safe to say that an IT department positively affects how a business operates on a daily basis. However, it is important to also understand that the IT department is a highly specialised field requiring skills and experience which can match the challenges of a technology environment which is constantly evolving.
IT professionals face an increasingly complex corporate IT environment and it's therefore not always easy for a business to adequately equip itself with the right manpower to do the many jobs needed to be done on a daily basis.
If this is your business, you might want to consider contracting a Managed Service Provider to deliver the IT services and expertise you now require. This can be a cost-effective way of managing some of your more demanding IT requirements without the costly overheads of hiring new people or investing in expensive hardware.
Cloud infrastructure and services, when managed externally, can be scaled up and down as required and billed by the hour so you pay only for what you need.
For example, if you are unlikely to be processing huge amounts of data overnight or at the weekend, such an option can save you money.