Managing ICT solutions carefully and top tips for choosing the right partners
All businesses from time to time will be pressed for cash flow, and there are market mechanisms now in place in many regions that could help ensure that business capital expenditure investments in ICT are funded by the providers of the ICT services rather than the business user. Included in these are:
- Managed ICT solutions that are delivered as an online service.
- On-demand or utility computing which is billed as a variable monthly expense.
- Out-tasking of must-have ICT functions that are non-core or commodity procedures like IT support anti-virus and anti-spam information security assurance, or service desk call center operations.
These are all means through which businesses can avoid capital expenditure and move ICT towards an operating expense model that runs in parallel with the demands of the business and has reduced impact on cash flow because capital expenditure is avoided. For all the right reasons, they are set to be as popular with businesses as office block rental schemes or car lease programs have become.
The ICT awareness and needs of businesses are diverse and disparate, and many smaller businesses in particular can feel that any investment in ICT is costly and does not generate the requisite returns. This is certainly not true. Done well, ICT deployment should enable a business to lower its costs, improve business process and people efficiency and effectiveness, and in many cases can actually help generate more revenue. In fact, ICT investments are a paramount requirement to increased productivity – and bearing in mind that a 10% increase in productivity can sometimes determine whether a business remains competitive and sustainable, the successful and economic deployment of ICT must be deemed critical to business success.
This can be a problem for the smaller business, which lacks the ICT expertise necessary to undertake major deployments and ICT-led projects without resorting to costly consulting and external support. So it is imperative that SMBs select an ICT partner that is reliable, knowledgeable and offers the best value for money.
Done well, ICT deployment should enable a business to lower its costs and improve the business process as well as people efficiency and effectiveness.”john lincoln, author
A-B-C of selecting an ICT partner
Every business seeks superior value for money, and in the context of ICT services, this means pricing predictability and operating transparency of the supplier that promises value, convenience and ease of use. There are three simple A-B-C steps to follow that will help in the selection of an ICT provider, and which help ensure the correct level of focus on value, predictability of use and convenience.
Accessibility and convenience
Is the ICT supplier able to provide a complete solution, and pull together everything that is needed for the deployment or project? Can they provide a one-stop-shop, rather than the business having to separately source additional systems or equipment from other providers?
Does the commercial framework of the provider offer a means of shifting away from Capex investment towards the Opex operating cost model, which helps balance outgoings in line with the actual usage of the ICT systems being deployed? Is the pricing transparent and predictable?
Does the provider take away from the business or reduce some of the complexity of deployment or use of ICT? Does it do away with the need of having internal resources managing and maintaining it, so that every employee is focused on running the business supported by the best ICT tools and services?
Value for money
Working capital management is critical for all businesses but for SMBs an optimal working capital management could make the difference between survival or closure of the business. Therefore, as part of the proposition for ICT value for money, any offer should require minimal capital outlay requirements. Instead, the offer should minimize the call on capital expenditure (Capex) and shift the cost of ICT ownership towards an operational expenditure (Opex) model, with minimal financing costs. Cash is king and these schemes are by far the best option.
Predictability of use
Few SMBs have the necessary resources or internal know-how to handle a LAN installation, or carry our network management or database administration tasks, or manage security or storage requirements, which are among the many other critical IT functions and elements that large businesses take for granted. The opportunity costs of hiring a specialist with the requisite IT skills are high. When selecting a provider, it
is critical they are able to offer their services on a pay-as-you-use model albeit on a per-employee basis, per seat, per month, per-port basis, or any other per unit basis.
The wide and complex array of solutions, systems and subsystems mean that most businesses without the prerequisite know-how and skills are not only confused but easily overwhelmed by the multitude of choices and proposals being offered to them. Crucially, a supplier’s proposition should be a one-stop economical solution. This is not to say that we should accept an ICT provider offering a one-size-fits-all proposition. Today there is a broad set of established and emerging players in many regions that are offering niche and differentiated propositions, solutions and services tailored to suit the special needs of the smaller business.
Research indicates the SMB segment requires value-driven, simple to understand and predictable mobile offers that meet varied calling pattern needs, and a certain level of user sophistication. Key requirements have been driven by a need for competitive international calling rates, special calling rates within the business, international roaming benefits and a choice of smartphones with a low Capex commercial model.
When selecting calling plans from providers, it’s worth checking they do not mix peak, off-peak and different country rates. For most SMBs, any day and any time is the peak for business.
Business fixed voice services
SMBs need a reliable and cost-effective fixed-line service that meets their immediate and growth requirements. Key requirements include significant savings on international and national calls. Look for a voice service provider that enables customers direct access to your employees, and offers a variety of calling features like call forwarding and three-way calling. Look for usage offers, where the more you use, the more you save.
Business broadband services
Volume-based usage billing is slowly ebbing away globally, giving way to unlimited usage packages. Unlimited usage comes with predictable costs which can be built into an SMB’s Opex budget. Key requirements include bundled benefits that offer significant savings on the overall telecommunication spend. With the impending opening up of many markets for telecom operators soon, business customers can
look forward to great offers and packages in the fixed broadband arena as it is now in the business mobility arena.
Doing more with less remains the perennial challenge for organizations of any size. That challenge has special significance for IT departments, as the race to keep up with advancing technology gets more complex and critical every day. Businesses need to focus on their core strength and there is a growing trend globally as well as in the UAE to outsource non-core business functions, including ICT. Research indicates
that more than 40% of business customers look upon their telecommunications provider as an experienced and reliable partner to handle end-to-end ICT needs, which includes core telecom services as well as non-core telecom services such as IT security, network management, hosting services, storage, back-up and software applications.
Business continuity services
Business continuity requirements and cost controls typically drive the decision to use managed services, and businesses are increasingly moving towards managed and hosted models. Most SMEs never really know nor understand the impact which data loss can have on their business. Viruses, theft, hard drive crashes, and accidental file deletion can happen at any time and put any businesses future in danger. There are solutions that ICT providers have which will safeguard files and drives, and whether it is automatic storage, backup or virus-prevention there is a large suite of cost-effective solutions to defend against cyber damage. A preferred provider has to understand a customer’s security needs and should have partnered with leading security brands to provide products specially developed with SMBs in mind. Scalable products are available, which provide businesses with a capability to add as much storage and units as are needed at any time, changes can be made whenever they need be, multiuser environments managed, automatic backups scheduled, and the health of the backups and computers monitored from the convenience of a web-based console.
Getting more business bang for the ICT buck
The imperative with business ICT is to make a smart choice of provider, one that is able to supply a complete package which has been designed with the unique needs of the business in mind.
Look for a partner that has a reputable brand, is considered innovative, dynamic and flexible, and one with the financial muscle to survive and prosper by serving you better over the long term.
Start with the A-B-C: Is the proposition convenient and delivered as a complete solution? Is the commercial model correct? Does it remove complexity? If the answer is yes to all three, expect a bigger bang from the ICT buck.
JohnLincoln.one –The business growth hacker