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This release was originally published in the Business Examiner Vancouver Island and has been reproduced with permission.
With the rapid pace of technological change, businesses and organizations of all sizes find themselves struggling to stay ahead of the curve. With so many options available for everything from cloud accounting to talent management and e-commerce, how do you know which technology investments are worth making, and which aren’t?
Elizabeth Vannan leads the B.C. Technology Consulting practice for MNP LLP. She says a good rule is to invest in technology for areas of the business that directly impact your bottom line. This will vary based on your business.
“Follow the money,” she advises. “If you are a sales-driven organization, invest in sales management software; if you operate a manufacturing business, look for systems that will help manage your inventory.”
Vannan has more than 20 years of experience advising clients how to make better use of technology to achieve their business goals. Based in Victoria, she leads a team of four IT consultants who work with clients across the province including organizations of all sizes – from startups and family-run businesses right through to large public sector organizations.
Interestingly, Vannan says the size of the organization makes little difference when it comes to technology.
“At the root, the problems small and large organizations face are exactly the same. It’s just a matter of scale,” she explains. “We tend to think of large as the potential impact on the business. For example, if you are in retail and your point-of-sale system goes down, it doesn’t matter if you are large or small, your business will be significantly impacted. You’re out of business.”
That said, keeping up with technology is especially challenging for smaller organizations that do not have a dedicated IT specialist. They might have someone from accounting or marketing who are in charge of keeping the IT systems running, but it’s just part of their job.
“Many smaller businesses try to save money on technology by using free software, buying non-commercial hardware and getting IT support services from friends who happen to know a little bit about technology,” Vannan observes. “This can create a lot of risk and almost always costs you more in the long run as you deal with technology issues and failures.”
Often business owners are not even aware of the risk until something goes wrong. That was the case for a well-known business on Vancouver Island that lost their ability to process credit cards because they had been hacked.
“When our cyber security team looked at their situation, it was clear the problem resulted from a series of bad decisions ranging from their infrastructure to the software they were running to how they were managing passwords,” Vannan recalls. “In the end, they needed to replace all of their technology and it caused a major disruption to the business.”
While such instances are common, Vannan says more and more organizations are starting to see the value in seeking professional assistance
before there’s a major problem.
“Often the business owner or financial manager is concerned because the business is spending a lot of money on IT and things don’t seem to be working very well, or they can’t get the information they need,” Vannan elaborates. “They just have an overwhelming sense that there has to be a better way and maybe technology can help.”
This type of conversation might lead to an IT review and a strategic technology plan detailing the hardware, software and infrastructure required to support the business going forward.
Other times the client needs a new piece of software or they need to upgrade their hardware because it’s at the end of its useful life, and they realize they don’t know how to make the decision.
For example, Vannan recalls working with a small family-run business who needed a new a point-of-sale system. They had looked at a few products but were feeling overwhelmed by the options and wanted assistance selecting the right software. Her team helped them clarify what they needed, identified software that provided the necessary functionality, facilitated conversations with vendors and conducted 10-year financial analysis of the cost to run each system, which ultimately changed the client’s decision.
The software in this case cost less than $20,000, which most small businesses would consider a large-scale investment. However, Vannan notes she’s working with another Island client to select an enterprise level system that’s going to cost more than $5 million.
“It’s all relative,” she reminds. “We’ve figured out how to scale our services because the problems and the process aren’t any different, the dollar value is just bigger.”
Vannan says it all comes down to helping organizations make more confident technology decisions.
“We always tell our clients, ‘Don’t approve anything that you don’t understand,’” Vannan concludes. “If your technology vendor or advisor won’t explain something to you in language you can understand, get a second opinion from someone who will.”
MNP’s Technology Consulting team. L-R: Jeff Michaud, Katie Mullback, Simon Daley, Elizabeth Vannan and Cameron Sielski
For more information, contact Elizabeth Vannan, B.C. Leader, Technology Consulting, at 778.265.8893 or [email protected]
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