Structuring IT For Business Success

CIO, CTO, IT Director, IT Manager … oh my! Yes, Dorothy had it right, technology (even the job titles) can be overwhelming at times for today’s businesses. But, tech plays a pivotal role in any business’ success. So let’s leave the lions and tigers and bears for a moment, and examine the IT functions and structure that are most important for a business.

In the largest enterprises, a CIO (Chief Information Officer) is responsible for development, implementation and operation of a firm’s information technology. This person oversees the entire system’s infrastructure and establishes standards to facilitate management control over all tech resources. Most small to mid-sized business (SMB) do not employ a CIO, and therefore rely on IT professionals with different titles to handle these responsibilities.

So whether your business has a CIO, IT manager or outsources these functions, what exactly is needed for a successful IT program?

Strategic Planning – Technology needs to be aligned with business goals and processes. Strategic plans need to be communicated to, and approved by, senior leadership and should be forward-looking. Without proper alignment, money, time, and energy will be wasted in directions that are counterproductive.

Security – Not a day goes by without reading about hackers attacking businesses and wreaking havoc. The results cost billions and have degraded the reputations of businesses globally. An IT professional needs to mitigate these risks with policies, procedures and systems that keep a business as safe as possible.

Capital Planning and Investment – Next to the human capital costs, technology spending ranks toward the top for most businesses. An IT professional needs to maintain budgets and plan for investments within the five to seven-year range. For example, a typical corporate computer or server should be replaced every five years and networking equipment every seven to 10 years.

Leadership Management – Today’s technology changes at a rapid pace. IT professionals must consistently maintain training and certifications to keep up. Quality of service and knowledge management must also be tracked to meet the demands of businesses.

Technology Acquisition – There is a plethora of companies today that will happily take a business’ money and provide technology. However, are they the right fit or the right price? Do they stand behind their products? Are they licensed correctly for the business needs? It can be a daunting task to get this right, and the wrong choice can lead to harsh consequences.

Vendor Management – IT professionals should review their vendors, services and providers on a regular basis. Is the business getting the best for its money? Contracts must be reexamined and negotiations should occur, especially around renewal time. If this is not happening, businesses could be leaving money on the table.

Process Improvement – Business processes and systems must be maintained, improved and upgraded to stay supportable, safe and secure. Without regular upgrades and adjustments, degradation in service will occur. It generally costs more time and money to bring systems and processes back into compliance, than to keep them current at all times.

Policy – Attention needs to be paid to the compliance constraints placed on the business. These could be PCI (Payment Card Industry), HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act) or other regulations. By not providing the proper level of attention to these required guidelines, an organization could risk litigation, fines, loss of reputation or even loss of business.

Performance Results – Measure, measure, and measure … an IT professional needs to know if the systems, staff, processes, networks, etc., are performing as expected. These metrics will allow for a more proactive approach rather than a reactive one (firefighting).

Disaster Recovery – Continuity of critical technology operations must be designed, documented and tested on a regular basis. Without proper planning, the loss of data, business or productivity could be devastating to the company. A small incident with a critical system that was not backed up could have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.

By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it’s a great punch list for a company to utilize when evaluating its information technology program. If a business doesn’t have a senior IT professional monitoring these key areas, then who will? The CFO? The administrative assistant who has some technology skills? They are likely not equipped to manage all of an organization’s technology requirements. In deciding how to manage IT systems, it is imperative that a business weigh the costs of technology management against the very real risks associated with not investing in it as a priority.

There are a number of alternatives to a full-time technology professional, such as outsourced or shared IT services, or a fractional CIO. The key is to know what is behind the curtain, and to have the courage to confront the great wizard of technology.


Jeffrey Fulton is a former VP of Information Technology for Time Incorporated and American Express Publishing. He recently joined Safety Net in Traverse City as Vice President of Strategic Accounts.