Technology is not without its issues. I mean, have you ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey?
While we’re not yet facing HAL 9000 levels of malice and duplicity from our devices, tech still causes some problems for us mere mortals.
For small and medium businesses, which spend more on tech, proportionate to their size, than large businesses, IT-related issues are practically unavoidable.
But I’m not talking about your typical “have you tried turning it off and then on again” computer issues. The problems your IT department might face this year are more global, complex, and potentially disastrous because of our networked, digital era.
To uncover some of these issues, we asked tech professionals what their biggest problems and annoyances were so far in 2017.
Below are the four major IT department challenges that are keeping them up at night.
1. Globalization increasing costs
At the top of our list is a “big picture” issue that affects all small businesses, not just the tech industry: globalization.
While globalization itself is not a problem, going through the adjustment period and adapting to a globally connected world still creates issues for literally everyone on the planet.
We’re all aware of the way in which technology allows us to communicate with people all over the globe. This is great for business in that it opens markets that were previously closed, allows for idea and information sharing, and opens the door to tolerance and acceptance of individuals who might be different from you.
While globalization creates more opportunities for SMBs, at the same time, small and medium businesses have higher costs relative to their size.
These higher costs extend to IT investments. As Rodrigo Montagner, a Brazil-based IT executive with Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health and independent consultant explains: “Typically, small and medium businesses are not that muscular in terms of size or number of users. So investments in infrastructure, licensing, and global solutions in general hit the regional IT Capex and Opex very hard.”
These hard-hitting costs mean that small businesses must rely “pretty much on the business leader’s vision of an integrated technology” and finding “the cheapest and smartest [way to] get solutions in place,” according to Montagner.
Unfortunately, only 5% of companies responding to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey think that they have a “strong digital leader.” Meaning looking to a business leader for the best tech solutions is risky. Plus, the cheapest software can include hidden costs.
Not to mention the fact that “pricing and Opex are more of a difficulty when you try to encompass multiple countries in a global agreement,” Montagner says. According to him, one side of the “global agreement” is looking to create or implement a “global and integrated solution” while the other side is looking for the system with the least cost and the most benefits that will also produce the best business results and protect and integrate platforms.
Basically, there are a lot of reasons to purchase a “best-in-class” solution, but when you’re a small business dealing with budgetary restrictions, it’s hard to justify those costs.
Fortunately, Montagner sees a light at the end of the tunnel for SMBs facing the rising costs of global technology.
How to combat this problem
The increased usage of cloud technology is an investment small and medium businesses can capitalize on. According to Montagner, “In general, the providers of cloud-based services have very muscular and structured security systems, minimizing the need for local or regional investment and maximizing performance and readiness in any given situation.”
By outsourcing security concerns to the company that hosts a solution, you can take at least one line item off of your budget.
And speaking of budgets, you can also get real about what it costs to run an IT department in this day and age.
The urge to globalize has been around since before the Roman Empire, a.k.a. over 2,000 years. So barring an all-out nuclear war and the end of civilization as we know it—which, ya know, could happen—you should make sure your IT department is getting with the global picture.
2. Increased cyber security risks
With the increasing ability to use technology for good, there’s an equally increasing ability to use technology for evil.
I mean, there are cyber attacks happening everywhere, all the time.
And with the total number of attacks on the rise, beefing up your organization’s cyber security measures should be a top priority this year.
As Rodrigo Montagner mentioned, “the cloud has been helping enormously” with combating security risks. However, he also says that, “a lot of businesses are still simply not there yet” as far as ensuring all their data is secure.
Since you can’t disconnect your company from the internet to avoid cyber attacks, below are a few ways you can decrease your risk of a data breach.
How to combat this problem
Trave Harmon, CEO of Triton Technologies, is very straightforward about how to combat the problem of cyber security: “Everyone with a computer connected to the Internet needs to have antivirus, systems monitoring, and a good firewall.”
In addition to investing in more tech tools, another way to head off cyber attacks is to start with your employees. Make sure they know what a potential attack might look like and create policies about where and when they can access data.
3. People who break the rules…or don’t know them in the first place
But before you talk to your employees, you should make sure that you, as a business leader, know what you’re talking about.
Bottom line, technology is hard to understand. And the laws governing it are even more difficult to decode.
But because of all the global cybercrime going on—and because computers and data sharing have actually been around for a while—there are quite a few laws on the books about data security and compliance that you should be aware of as a person whose business uses the internet.
Trave Harmon told us that “the biggest annoyance that we are encountering so far—and has been for the last decade—has to do more with people’s perceptions and legalities.”
Apparently, there are quite a few businesses out there that think laws don’t apply to them. But as Harmon notes, “PCI [which governs credit card payments], HIPAA [which protects health care information], and 201.CMR.17 [a Massachusetts law protecting personal information] are not just suggestions but requirements to help businesses help their clients and to remain secure.”
Not only can these laws vary from state to state (as with the Massachusetts law), but in a global economy they can vary from country to country.
If you’re going to conduct responsible business, you need to make yourself aware of the laws you operate under. And if you’re one of those people who think the laws don’t apply to you, Harmon has a bit of advice: “Even if nothing on [your] network can endanger [your] clients, that network can be used as a bot or a staging point for something else. Data security and compliance is everyone’s business.”
With global business comes global responsibility. Don’t become the problem for everyone else by opening yourself up to security and compliance violations
How you can combat this problem
And consider the fact that if you need to get your business in line with the law, it might be worth it to call in outside help.
But before you do, make sure you know what you’re getting. Robert Hessel, President and CEO of Source 1 Solutions, said, “There are too many companies trying to get into the services business that are not qualified or experienced in performing service delivery. We have entered into an alarming amount of projects where we have been hired to come in behind another company that failed to deliver the scope of services they were originally hired to perform. This is not good for the client or for the industry as a whole.”
Especially if you’re a small business, you can’t afford to pay for the same job to be done twice. If you’re working with a consultant to correct your compliance issues, make sure they’re qualified to advise you before doing business with them.
Signs of a good IT consultant
- They have stellar recommendations from other clients.
- They’ve been published or cited in industry publications.
- They have experience working in the industry, or at the very least, a degree in an IT-related field like computer science.
- They listen to your needs and try to understand your company in order to find a solution that will holistically meet your needs.
Barring working with a consultant, you can always follow Trave Harmon’s advice: “Slow down, see if you can do what you need to be done safely and see if you can do it within the bounds of the law.”
At the end of the day, failing to take compliance seriously could mean you lose business. As Harmon states, “We will not do business with a client who does not take data security seriously.”
4. Lack of good talent pool
So now you know all the things you need to do to beef up your IT department for the year. Maybe you’re even willing to hire some forward-thinking, tech-savvy employees to jump start your business.
But I’ve got some bad news for you: the newest thing Millennials have murdered is critical thinking. And this problem isn’t limited to the tech industry. Half of employers complain that recent grads lack the critical thinking skills that would make them qualified employees.
Harmon confirms: “The skills that we find lacking are primarily logic and looking at things from the big picture when it comes to a client’s enterprise.”
And Montagner added, “The biggest issue by far is having an IT team smart enough to put in place a general hardware and software security environment and make it not as expensive as it seems, meaning finding alternatives for network, performance, and general appliances at a reasonable price.”
Harmon even named this lack of skilled hires as his number one frustration with the industry today:
“The biggest problems in tech that we are encountering are not technological at all, but lack of skill. Our challenges are not finding the right hardware, the right software, or fitting a square peg in a round hole but acquiring talent who actually do such things. Out of almost 1,000 resumes over the years we have only identified six that have any kind of talent in our field.”
As a self-obsessed Millennial, I resolved to get to the bottom of this and defend my generation. But it turns out that Montagner and Harmon are probably right…when it comes to hiring tech workers for SMBs.
The most talented techies flock to big-name enterprises like Google and Microsoft. So it’s possible that all the critical thinkers took high-paying work in Silicon Valley instead of looking for jobs with small and medium businesses.
And if you can’t blame giant companies for monopolizing on talent, maybe you can blame the cities that grads prefer to live in. Places like Worcester, Mass., where Harmon’s company is located, are not on the list of metropolises that newly matriculated students are flocking to.
So whether you want to point the finger at colleges that don’t prepare students, tech giants stealing the talent, or cities that have all the things young people like, you’re still left with your original problem.
There might not be enough good (wo)men left for the job you’re offering.
How you can combat this problem
While you might not be able to change the location of your business, I can address the other hiring issues you might be facing.
As a small business, you really need to advertise your perks compared to giant companies like Google.
No, you can’t offer gourmet cafeterias. And I’m assuming you don’t have nap pods set up around the office. But small companies can better ensure that their employees don’t feel like cogs in a machine. And in offices where everyone tends to pitch in on every project, you can offer new hires the chance to learn a lot of new skills on the job. Figure out what your company does best for its employees, and advertise the crap out of that thing.
And to combat the critical thinking issue, you can go straight to the source. If there are nearby colleges or universities or centers of higher education, see if your company can partner with them, à la Caterpillar and technical schools, to produce the talent you need.
That doesn’t mean creating a full-blown curriculum, by any means. But it could mean partnering with an instructor to teach a class. Or working with the university to provide internships and foster connections between students so they know what it’s like to work in your industry.
Or you can do what Harmon does and embrace teaching on the job: “[W]e ask our technicians to slow things down and to look at everything from the 10,000-foot picture. If we must repair or replace a piece of hardware, can we solve multiple problems at once?”
Because learning doesn’t stop once you leave school.
Did I catch them all?
There’s no way I managed to cover all the problems your IT department might encounter this year.
But are the issues we’ve discussed actually a big deal for IT? Do you know of any larger concerns heading for your IT department in 2017?
Leave your dire premonitions in the comments below.
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