Information Technology 6.1. Introduction

Understanding IT from a Business Perspective: For most business owners, IT is all the technology stuff they need but don’t really understand: phones, fax machines, computers, software, Blackberries, and sundry other technological bric-a-brac. However, the success of your business can depend as much on your technology as it can anything else; in other words, your technology can be strategic as well as just plain useful. There are numerous companies that “win” almost solely because of their clever use of technology, like Wal*Mart. “Wait!” you say, “Wal*Mart is a big winner because of low prices.” Well, partly right. Wal*Mart wins because of it deploys information technology systems that are far, far better and more sophisticated than its competitors; Wal*Mart can beat its competitors on price largely because of its superior technology, which it improves every day.

So, before you plunge in to buying technology or outsourcing it, you may wish to think strategically how technology can make your business competitive and profitable.

How do you think strategically about technology? Companies like Wal*Mart, Borders, and State Farm Insurance do not think of IT as the phones, computers, databases, and what not. They think in terms of an information technology hierarchy. They invest in some technology because they need it, like fax machines. But some technology gives them a distinct advantage in dominating markets or serving their customers, so they make strategic investments in technology. Although you’re only one person operating on a shoestring budget, you, too, can make strategic investments in technology.

What does the IT hierarchy look like?

  • At the bottom is the infrastructure level, basic physical equipment needs like phones and fax machines that you need to get your work done. The business concern at this level is fully meeting these requirements at the greatest cost savings.
  • Above that is the application level―the software a company needs to do business, such as word processors, browsers, and project management systems. The concern at this level is getting software solutions that fully meet your business’s needs.
  • Higher up, however, are technologies that allow companies to extract information and take action on it―for many IT professionals, this is where IT really starts. This is the business decision level of IT―the level which turns technology into money. It includes customer databases, data warehouses, customer relationship management systems, logistics systems, Web site analytics, and so forth.
  • At the highest level are technologies that make a business better than all its competitors, that allow a business to do something that no-one else can do, or no-one else can do as well. This is the competitive advantage level of IT. Netflix, which started as a shoestring venture, is a perfect example of this. They used technology to create a business model that allowed them to rent videos over the Internet, something none of its competitors could do. If you think that a shoestring venture cannot or deos not operate at this level, many of the most innovative e-commerce sites started as shoestring ventures and became big companies precisely because they used technology innovatively.

Entrepreneurs running shoestring ventures usually splash around in the bottom two levels; they are concerned only with machines and software. Chapter Three of this book concentrates on physical infrastructure (mainly computer hardware) and applications.

However, the more you think about technology as helping you make business decisions and giving you a competitive advantage, the more you need to be personally involved with your company’s IT. You always start with the question, “How can I get an advantage through technology?” You then creatively answer that question and embark on a long and difficult process of learning the basics, outsourcing the development, and deploying the technology. This chapter deals with the resources available to you in developing IT to gain a strategic advantage in your business. We’re not here to teach you how to think strategically about technology―that’s the subject of a different book―we’re here to point you to resources to turn your strategic thinking into reality.

6.1.1. CIO Magazine

http://www.cio.com

The place to start is at the top. Intended specifically for upper-echelon IT executives in medium- to large-sized businesses, CIO Magazine, both on- and offline, dedicates itself to the best practices in the strategic development and deployment of technology. The online version of the magazine, CIO.com, offers valuable resources to the entrepreneur planning strategic IT deployments and thinking about how to go about them. Even if your shoestring venture involves a minimum of IT, CIO Magazine is an invaluable introduction to the best practices in managing and outsourcing IT.

Like many other online versions of trade magazines, CIO.com offers a wealth of resources to help orient you around the professional subject. These include a How-To section, an archive of articles and columns, an advice & opinion section, and a news section.

6.1.2. Information Week

http://www.informationweek.com

Information Week is a trade magazine targeted to IT professionals at all levels of business. Subscriptions are free to select IT professionals, but the Web site is a rich mine of news and articles about the constantly changing world of technology and business. News and articles are divided into sections dealing with Windows, security, mobility, Internet, software, hardware, management, and research. Again, if your business model leans heavily towards innovative and strategic uses of technology, Information Week should be a heavily bookmarked site for new ideas and developments. You can also download PDFs of selected articles from the Information Week printed magazine―downloads require free registration, but the end result is you have almost full Internet access to each current issue of their magazine.

6.1.3. TechWeb

http://www.techweb.com

TechWeb is one of the premiere technology news and information sites, aggregating news feeds from a large number of sources. In addition, the site has an immensely rich library of white papers aggregated from a dizzyingly large network of consulting, technology, news, and business sources. You can search this library and access these white papers by registering on the site (free with your contact and business information).
News categories include

  • Mobile
  • Software
  • Security
  • E-business and management
  • Networking
  • Hardware

If you need to really bone up on a particular issue, there aren’t very many Web sites that offer the rich set of white paper resources we’ve found on TechWeb. Categories include:

  • Business solutions
    • Accounting and finance
    • Business intelligence
    • Customer service
    • Distribution and warehouse
    • Facilities management
    • Integrated groupware solutions
    • General office automation
    • Human resources management
    • Business education and training
    • Knowledge management
    • Logistics and procurement
    • Enterprise resource planning
    • Project management solutions
    • Sales and marketing
  • Web and application development
  • Infrastructure and systems management
    • Enterprise application integration
    • Security
    • Servers
    • Storage
    • Enterprise systems management
  • Industry specific solutions

6.1.4. CIO Index

http://www.cioindex.com

Targeting executives in medium- to large-sized corporations, CIO Index aggregates articles from throughout the Internet and combines them with proprietary articles and Web seminars on the strategy and tactics of information technology. The site provides articles, white papers, blogs, newsletters, Webinars, and online training in the following categories:

  • IT strategy
  • E-strategy
  • IT management
  • Enterprise architecture planning

The site is particularly useful in its wide variety of outsourcing and offshoring articles. While written to a high-level business and IT audience, all these resources keep you abreast of best business, strategy, and management IT practices.

6.1.5. TutorialReports.com

http://www.tutorialreports.com

TutorialReports.com is one of your best introductions to basic information about some of the technology you’ll be deploying in your business. Topics include:

  • RFID
  • VoIP
  • WiMAX
  • Zigbee
  • Bluetooth
  • Web Design
  • Broadband Content

While useful across a variety of topics, TutorialReports.com also provides basic information about outsourcing:

  • Outsourcing Basics
  • IT Outsourcing
  • Customer Service Outsourcing
  • Outsourcing to India (India is by far the major destination for outsourcing)
  • Business Process Outsourcing
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