Aligning Business and IT Strategies

The pandemic has altered the business operations of almost every industry. Here in Calgary, organizations of all sizes are feeling the economic stress.

For some industries, such as retail, oil and gas, and medical, there has been a much more significant economic change.

We have unfortunately witnessed some organizations going out of business. However, we have learned a lot by observing how businesses responded during the first six months of this pandemic. Companies who chose to be proactive, quickly adjusting their business goals and realigning their IT strategies – the ones who reacted quickly and made rapid decisions about how to maneuver through these changes – were more likely to survive.

How has the pandemic changed business?

There were short-term adjustments all businesses had to make, such as temporarily closing offices and having all staff work remotely, adjusting how services were delivered to customers, and in some cases, temporarily closing the business altogether.

The financial impact has been incalculable.

Not only did local businesses have to close, but events like the Calgary Stampede, which brings a significant amount of revenue into the area, were cancelled.

Businesses were coping with sudden changes in expected revenues, unexpected investments to expand licensing and increase security protocols, and the time-consuming support required to meet remote workers’ needs.

However, as the duration of the pandemic has extended, perhaps further than people had imagined it would, other long-term, systemic changes have to be considered. Some of these changes include a shift in priorities:

  • Secured network across multiple locations and access points
  • Permanent support for remote workers
  • Increased reliance on productivity and communication tools
  • Expanded need for VPN licensing
  • Upgraded IT infrastructure
  • Revised IT strategy

Why is it more important than ever to align business and IT strategies?

Virtually everything is connected to the internet, from the smart fridge in your kitchen to satellites in orbit. There are now more devices in the world than there are people, with billions of access points.

Technology has transformed dental and medical clinics. Patients can now view their medical records, make appointments, and pay their bills online. They can also see lab results, ask doctors questions, and request prescription refills.

Clients can sign legal documents and obtain online notarization services, communicate with their attorneys, and even attend court proceedings virtually, thanks to technology. And an increasing number of legal services are being automated.

Construction companies boost efficiencies with technology that keep them connected to the home office.

The same holds true for all industries.

As our level of connectedness continues to advance, the necessity of a strong IT strategy is more essential than ever.

IT is crucial to every department, and an investment in IT needs to deliver on many levels: cost reduction, security, productivity, and improved collaboration.

An IT strategy plays a significant role in a business’s overall operations. In spite of that, it sometimes becomes more of an afterthought or a separate function instead of being integrated into the overall business planning.

This approach not only fails the organization but leaves it vulnerable to risks.

Develop a strategic post-pandemic IT Plan

If you’re not already doing so, you need to be acting now to be prepared for how your industry will be impacted long-term by the pandemic.

Not only is it likely that you’ll need to support a remote workforce, but you’ll need to ensure your infrastructure is sound. Now is the time to take action.

Step One: Replace Outdated IT Equipment

There are three primary ways an organization’s IT infrastructure can cost more than it should:

  1. When it’s outdated and requires unexpected and costly repairs
  2. When it’s owned and stored by the organization
  3. When it is poorly managed

Yes, the cost of investing in new servers and equipment can be exorbitant and possibly exceed your budget limitations.

But not replacing outdated equipment can also put your entire organization at risk in terms of significant downtime, unexpected repair costs, and a loss of customer loyalty.

If you have your own bank of servers, you’re dealing with enormous costs beyond just the initial cost of the equipment.

  • Who are you paying to maintain the servers?
  • How much energy are you consuming to keep the servers cool?
  • What kind of maintenance costs must you expend to keep them running?
  • How are you handling offsite backup and recovery?
  • How does it impact your accounting when you are forced to treat IT costs as capital expenditures rather than operating expenses? 

Cost-Effective IT Infrastructure Solutions

Organizations of all sizes and types can benefit from making changes to the way they approach IT infrastructure and support.

By leasing servers or enlisting the services of a hosted service provider, significant savings can be realized, including:

  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Reduced risk of downtime
  • Reduced risk of lost business
  • Reduced labour costs

When you lower the cost of your IT, you are able to stretch your budget.

This will also help avoid cost-cutting measures that prevent you from having to make difficult choices like layoffs and cutbacks.

Step Two: Develop IT Strategies that Align with Your Organizational Goals

When IT is siloed, it functions independently from business operations. Your organization is not only left vulnerable, but you miss opportunities to be more efficient and cost-effective.

By creating an IT strategy designed to support the business’s goals, you make more insightful decisions about:

  • what kind of IT support you need
  • where you should emphasize the investments
  • how you reduce risk

Every IT dollar spent should tie back to the ways in which your IT infrastructure supports, enables, and enhances your business operations and goals.

Step Three: Protect Your Network, No Matter Where It’s Being Accessed From

In the future – even after the pandemic is under control, it’s predicted that at least one-third of all employees will continue working from home permanently.

This means the stopgap measures you took early on during the crisis need to be solidified into long-term solutions and policies.

Create or Update Your Security Policy

Your security policy needs to be updated to address the fact that you will likely have staff working from multiple locations.

Where you may once have had strict policies restricting access to the network from home, those policies may now need to be adjusted.

These can be set parameters, such as using a company-licensed VPN and company approved firewall.

Enhance Your Password Policy

Make it a company-wide policy that multi-factor authentication will be used at all times to access the network, company software, or anything related to client interactions.

Provide the Right Support

Provide your teams with the tools they need. This may include VPN licensing, installing firewall protection on their home routers, and possibly even distributing laptops and mobile devices.  Make sure, however, that you have adequate policies in place to address a variety of potential concerns, such as:

Strengthening Your Employee Interactions

Humans are the weakest link in any cybersecurity system, but they become a graver risk when they feel neglected or overlooked.

If you have decided to enact a permanent remote work policy, you’ll need to update your HR policies as well.

This should include:

  • Clarifying the level of support that remote workers will receive
  • Ensuring your remote workers have the same opportunities for advancement, professional development, and training as those who work in an office.

This can help to prevent an employee from becoming a malicious internal threat.

Make sure to educate and train your staff regularly about the threats they may come across. These threats include:

Improving Network Security

Especially as you increase the number of people connecting from multiple locations, your focus on endpoint security must be ramped up.

Passwords and multi-factor authentication are essential.

But hackers look for vulnerabilities everywhere – in outdated or unpatched software, weak antivirus protection, and even in firmware.

Make certain you and your employees working from home employ the latest cybersecurity measures to protect your data.

Corporate IT Strategy Considerations

Larger organizations with in-house IT departments may find themselves stretched thin as they attempt to meet the needs of a wide variety of users outside of the office setting.

Partnering with a managed IT services company can help you augment your internal staff and provide backup support should demand exceed your internal team’s ability to adequately meet it.

SME IT Strategy Considerations

The overwhelm of dealing with providing IT support to a remote workforce can be more than some small and medium-sized businesses can afford.

Managed IT for SMEs ensures that you have the same powerful IT expertise – including remote workforce support, cybersecurity, and Microsoft Teams training – as do larger companies.

The Benefits of Strong IT Strategies

A strong IT strategy – one that aligns with your business goals – is more necessary than ever as we begin recovering from the pandemic. There are many benefits to doing so:

  • Improve response times for customers
  • Meet and exceed new expectations from customers
  • Stabilize and grow your organization
  • Cut costs
  • Develop efficiencies
  • Increase sales

The Cost of Poor IT Support

Whether provided by internal staff or a subpar external provider, when IT support goes wrong, it can be costly.

Not only can poor IT support result in costly labour waste and downtime, but you lose the one essential factor you need when working with a Managed Services provider: trust.

The ITeam provides essential IT support to Calgary and Alberta businesses, with fully managed and customized services designed to meet the needs of virtually any business. The ITeam will work with your business to customize a cost-effective solution and help you develop a comprehensive IT strategy that will help you survive economically stressful times. Contact us for a free consultation.