Categorizing IT for Business – Inspiration from Connectwise

November 12th, 2017

Information Technology (IT) is a critical resource (and potential vulnerability) to all organizations.  Often in the SMB (Small to Medium Business) there’s a gap between and organizations collection of IT resources and management’s understanding of IT.  I've put together a new tool to help non-IT management to understand their IT through categorization.

That’s the topic of my upcoming book (Q1 ’18) “Unleashing Your Inner Geek:  IT Secrets Every CEO Should Know.”  This is my first “peak,” namely my attempt to help management categorize IT into digestible morsels.

And we'll be putting the review tool I mention later on to a test at our free seminar on Wednesday (click here for more info).

I mean, it’s not hard to understand from a gut level Information Technology.  But is there a better way that we can define IT at a high level by categorizing the purpose of the IT components being used in your organization?

I had the opportunity on Nov 9th, 2017 to hear a keynote address by Arnie Bellini, ConnectWise CEO, at the 2017 IT Nation conference.  ConnectWise is one of the major vendors in the Managed Service Provider world, and Arnie is recognized as one of the main voices (and visionaries, a description I don’t often use).  He spoke to the 3500 or so (including yours truly) on the state of the industry.

He did a great job of doing of taking the vast array of devices, applications, services, buzzwords, strategies, approaches aimed at business that are constantly in a state of change.  He broke IT down into 14 components in terms of purpose, referring to it as the “Technology Canvas” for business.  They are (clipped this from the speech):

Technology Canvas

Not all companies use all 14.  And any IT product might (and often will) fit under several components.  Microsoft’s Office 365, for example, has its toes in Collaboration, Office Applications, Onsite Computing, Cloud Computing and Business Intelligence.  I think it’s important for CEO’s to have at least a modest understanding of these components of IT.  So here goes (the specific definitions, by the way, are mine):

Copy/Printing.  Yup, we’re talking Guttenberg here.  And despite the repeated calls for “paperless office,” the computer continues to be no friend to trees.

Line of Business Applications.  These are software applications (usually purchased or rented from 3rd parties) that are critical to an organizations ability to provide goods and services to their customers. 

Security.  This component protects the data and information created, modified, shared and consumed from observation, theft, manipulation or destruction by inappropriate 3rd parties.

Physical Security.  This is the security of equipment, facilities and people through IT, such as security cameras, audio sensors and similar devices.

Internet of Things.  These are devices (and their services) that provide data without human intervention.  Smart refrigerators, cars, drones, shop floor devices are all providing data (and possible security challenges).

Audio/Visual.  The technology that create much of the marketing and entertainment presentation has made leaps and bounds.

Collaboration.  Working together (whether two people or many people) regardless of location has become a critical need for organizations trying to seamlessly take advantage of skills and resources across the globe.  And Arnie included (and I agree with him here) all things phones here, including mobile and VOIP.

Disaster Recovery.  The precautions necessary (not just in technology, but throughout the organization) to minimize the interruption and damage caused by any unplanned outage of services or destruction of data.  I prefer the term “Business Continuity,” but I’m going to stick with Arnie on his definitions here.

Office Applications.  These are the traditional applications that create value within an organization.  The flagship for this would be Microsoft Office (Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Presentation, Email), although Google’s toolset provides much of the same functionality (as do other offerings from smaller companies).

Network Infrastructure.  This is the collection of devices and services that keep the data flowing effectively and securely.  Switches, Routers, Firewalls, Wireless Access Points, cabling.  This stuff isn’t sexy, but absolutely critical in terms of performance and security.

Onsite Computing.  Computing resources located internally or “On Premise” for the organization.  For the foreseeable future, connecting to devices located at the same location will be easier to secure and faster than connecting between different locations.  This would be the “On Prem” servers and workstations.

Cloud Computing.  This would be computing resources located externally or “Off Premise” for the organization.  For organizations where multiple locations want to connect to their resources (an organization with a large remote salesforce, or a site selling to the public at large), Cloud Computing presents several benefits.

Application Development.  Notice the word “Development.”  We’re talking about resources that are being used to write the code and create applications for users (whether within the organization or beyond) to run.

Business Intelligence.  There are many tools that are available (many at little or no cost) for small to medium businesses to read data from their applications, vendors or third parties, and then transpose that data into meaningful and insightful information about your organization.

Now Arnie’s audience was a roomful of technology consultants.  His customers.  The goal was to categorize the IT solutions that MSP’s can offer, giving MSP’s the ability to focus on what they’re best at delivering.

But I think this model of IT presents another opportunity, and that is to categorize the stack of IT services in a way that non-IT management can better understand the wide array of IT products, goods and services that impact the organization.

Let’s be clear.  It’s not important to have an exact understanding of each of these.  That’s where your IT resources come in.  But it is critical, as a CEO, for you to have a general conception of the category, and how it impacts your organization.  And then we’ll give bonus points for seeing where there’s opportunity to be gained by increasing your use of a specific category.

And one note on Onsite and Cloud Computing.  It’s not an “either/or” solution.  Most companies are finding that the hybrid model (some cloud, some Onsite) works best for their organizational needs.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t necessarily Arnie’s goal of creating his list.  But it struck me that this categorization tool would be a great way for a non-technical CEO (that would be you, gentle reader) to approach IT from a 30,000 foot view.

So here’s a quick quiz.  Take Bob’s IT Self-Assessment quiz.  3 steps.  Using a grading scale of 1-5 (5 being most positive, 1 being most negative), “n/a” (not applicable) or “d/k” (don’t know).  For each of these categories:

1>     How Critical is this category to your organization?  For example, not all organizations are using IT for physical security.  And most organizations are not developing their own applications.

2>     How Satisfied are you about this category?  Are you happy with the value provided by your Line of Business Applications?

3>     What’s the need/opportunity for improvement in this category?  Does your organization have a vulnerability in a particular category?  Or is there a great opportunity waiting to be taken advantage of?

Of course, we want to keep score.  That’s what we do.  Total up your score, and divide by the number of categories that you didn’t use “n/a” (not applicable) or “d/k” (don’t know).  So if your score is 42 and you answered 1 “n/a” and 1 “d/k” you would divide 42 by 12 giving you an average of 3.5 for that section.

Critical:  In this section, the higher your score, the more dependent on IT your organization is.  If you scored 3 or greater, then you need to make sure that you’ve invested enough in IT (especially in the categories that are either critical or support your critical needs).

Satisfaction:  In this section, the higher the score, the greater the comfort level that the resources you’re allocating are both successful and appropriate.  If you aren’t at the point where you’re investing heavily in business intelligence (low critical), then you can be satisfied with little or no results because it’s in line with your expectations.  Dissatisfaction here could be you’re not seeing bang for the buck.  It’s a question of defining the value.

Improvement:  The higher the score, the more we need to do.  This is our call to action list.  We know we need to improve these items, because they’re either actually damaging the organization, or represent a great opportunity.

I separated “Satisfaction” from “need for improvement.”  Satisfaction is a quasi-soft rating.  “Yeah, we should be doing more of that.”  “Need for improvement” is for specific actionable “we need to fix this.”  “Our workstations are slow and some of them are crashing.”

But here’s the key thing.  You now have homework.  From this simple exercise, you now have something measurable, and possibly have some things you want to follow up on.  Here’s some sample next steps:

1>     Queasy feeling.  You answered the questions, but aren’t really comfortable with your accuracy.  Who within your organization (or perhaps a partner/vendor) can increase your comfort level?  Site down with them and share your queasiness.  People love shared queasiness.  Trust me.

2>     Don’t Know.  If you don’t know the answer for some categories, um…who does?  We’re not talking about having complete detailed knowledge.  But if you don’t have any idea of whether you’re utilizing any Business Intelligence resources, how comfortable can you be with your ability to use your corporate data effectively?

3>     Low scores.  If you have a category that you scored high on critical, and then low on satisfaction or high on need/opportunity, do you have a plan in place to address this?  If not, place a bookmark here, and get started.  Seriously, you’ve identified something that’s important to your business.  Deal with it.  Keep in mind, you don’t need to solve it.  You need to make sure it gets solved.

So by going through this process, we’re giving you a simple way to self-define your IT investments.  A way to self-assess your comfort level (as a non-tech CEO) of your current IT status, and create an action plan to further educate yourself (and engage your IT resource).  And what areas of improvement (and possibly new opportunities) for IT your organization has that you may have overlooked.

You’re welcome!  And thanks, Arnie.