After 20 years in corporates and IT service providers, I’ve spent the last 3 years working with SMEs. Perhaps the greatest surprise has been the number of SMEs who have gradually moved from being non-technology businesses to having IT as the core of their client proposition. In some cases technology has become a large part of their source of profit, or technology has become the basis of their “point of difference”.
Business owners who took little interest in IT find themselves running businesses based on it, particularly on bespoke software. It’s typically true of B2B services companies – using apps to lock their clients into their IP and methods; licensing IT products as part of their services; transitioning from expert data providers to online infomediaries.
We see business owners who used to be gurus in how their businesses work … but step-by-step they have become deeply frustrated and exhausted as the core of their business is technology they don’t understand. Typically everything started small, was quick and easy – but progressively things have gone from bad to worse.
The goose that laid the golden egg is now running amok in the office and making an unpleasant mess!
In the absence of any technical leadership we frequently see fire-fighting, frustrated technicians, and disconnected suppliers all combined in a vicious circle. Above it all are the business owners who feel snared by people that don’t seem to understand them.
Generally there are 3 levels where things are failing.
- At the strategic level an experienced technology leader needs to express a product roadmap in a useful way and to determine an appropriate delivery model.
- Operationally managing internal staff or external providers requires an appreciation of the business issues, the technical issues and a willingness to understand technicians and how they think.
- And at the engineering level, there are compromises to be drawn which require relevant experience and good business judgement.
Technology does create fantastic opportunities and it’s great to see imaginative and entrepreneurial businesses seizing this with both hands. But the reality is that it can end up in a costly mess if you don’t have expert technical leadership on your team.