When it comes to overseeing a company’s IT investment, the tension between the executive team and the IT department goes back a couple of decades at least. Oftentimes the business executives don’t trust the IT staff to keep costs in check, thinking they might overspend on nonessential technology, while the technology personnel assume that management won’t understand the technology well enough to make the right investment choices.
Years of struggle and conflict have resulted in a relatively new position: the CIO, or Chief Information Officer. The CIO is someone who has both a deep understanding of information technology and a good grasp of the business’s overall business goals and financial position. They know how information flows through the company and how to use technology to manage and optimize that information.
Smaller companies don’t generally have a CIO, and the question of who should manage an IT investment remains. Fortunately, small business owners can learn from the evolution of the CIO role. In order to make and manage a smart technology investment, you need to have a clear understanding of your core business goals and knowledge of how technology can help you meet those goals. Business owners usually wear several hats, and if you intend to manage the company’s IT investment by yourself, be honest about whether you have a handle on both parts of this equation.
If technology is a weak spot for you, it’s a good idea to collaborate with a technology professional to manage your IT investment. In that way, you can outline your business goals and budget, and they can work with you to find the technologies best suited to your needs.
If you decide to bring in a consultant, it is up to you to vocalize and champion your company’s core business goals so that the business and technology sides align. Some questions to consider: Is there a way to reduce IT costs while keeping the company running smoothly? Is there a technology investment we should make to really boost the success of the business?
That said, be cautious about making a substantial investment if you are not aware of the complete costs — including long-term support and maintenance — or if you are unclear on the benefits of the results. Small companies sometimes make the mistake of overspending on technology because they have not aligned their investment with how it will grow or improve their core business. On the other hand, companies sometimes miss out on opportunities to take their business to the next level by missing or turning down smart technology investments. The key to avoiding both scenarios is to make sure that you are laser-focused on tying IT spending with business growth.
You may be lucky enough to be both a business and technology whiz, or you have someone on your staff that is. If there is one person in charge of the IT investment, it’s still a good idea to solicit periodic feedback from people in other areas of the business. Technology usually reaches across the organization, and it’s important to check in with the people who actually use the systems. Your staff may have good ideas on how you can direct technology to improve their performance or to streamline processes.
While the answer to the question of who should manage your company’s technology investment will vary from company to company, the qualities that manager must possess remain the same. Look for someone with a good head for business, a broad understanding of technology, a willingness to collaborate, and the ability to see the big picture on how your technology and business will grow together. By looking for these attributes you can designate your own CIO, regardless of the size of your business.
For further reading on this important topic, check out How to Develop a Technology Investment Strategy.
Scarlet Pruitt is a freelance writer and business consultant based in San Francisco. She has covered business and technology for publications in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America.