We hear it time and time again from our customers who are executive leaders in technology firms: They tell us they wished they had set up better technology infrastructure and services before they needed them. Because they didn’t focus on IT from the beginning, they were always playing catch-up; ultimately delaying or even sacrificing growth as limited IT capabilities made it difficult to achieve important business goals or attract new investors to scale their operations to meet demand.
Based on our discussions with half-a dozen executives from several leading tech startups in New York and New Jersey, we have summarized some of their insights and distilled them into three Key Lessons they wished they knew when starting their businesses. They made no bones about it; they wished they had incorporated these lessons into their business plans on day one. These lessons can help guide those of you planning to start up your own business or help those of you who know you need to make some changes to your IT strategy and support.
Lesson 1: Focus on Integrated Cloud-Based Tools and Services
Most technology startups use cloud-based email, storage, CRM, and financials (or whatever). However, they tend to buy these tools as one-off applications when they were needed by the business. This generally works fine at first, but over time, buying more and more one-off solutions starts to create the proverbial spaghetti monster of separate systems that don’t work well together. Moreover, not having a centralized way to manage user-ids only makes the problem worse; users need to manage multiple sets of credentials that they can’t remember (or lose) and the business can’t centrally manage. Ultimately, data accumulates and stays siloed in each independent system and the systems themselves are all treated as standalone solutions. This makes them difficult to manage and even harder to create reports that draw data and content from across different systems.
What did these executive entrepreneurs tell us they would have done differently in this case? They would have thought about what systems they would need before they needed them and pick a cloud-platform or solution that offered a series of integrated tools and capabilities that would grow with them over time. This would have reduced the number of independent systems and made management easier (including security) and probably even been cheaper in the long run. Why cloud-based? Our customers were emphatic that they thought keeping their on-premises technical footprint as low as possible was the best way to stay focused on their core business instead of dealing with the headaches of managing IT. More on this later.
Lesson 2: Worry about Your Data from Day 1
This flows from Lesson 1 above: data and content stuck in separate systems really limits your ability to report on information across those systems. For example, you may want to analyze your financial performance across your supply chain…but your financial data is in one system and your supplier data is probably in another, perhaps in your ERP/CRM application. In this common scenario (data stored in different systems), people normally create separate reports from both systems and manually combine the data to create a consolidated report. Either way you are most likely reporting on incomplete data, spending lots of time manually creating the reports you actually want, or both. How common is this for startups? Surprisingly, we see this all the time…business practices used at the launch of a business hang-on well after they no longer scale to the realities of a growing, dynamic business.
So, what to do? Our clients told us that they wish they had created the capability to collect, organize, analyze, and report on data from the beginning. This means knowing how to get data from across separate systems and leveraging databases, so your business data can be analyzed and reported on in real-time. It also means selecting an analysis tool to create visual, interactive dashboards and reports that can be shared with key stakeholders inside and outside the business. And remember Lesson 1: cloud-based solutions are almost always the best way to go. They provide advanced capabilities at a fraction of the cost from just a few years ago. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft all provide very advanced data tools and services that enable even the smallest of businesses to create first-class data infrastructure and analysis capabilities.
Lesson 3: Get out of the IT Management Business
Managing applications, servers, and devices like phones and laptops can be expensive and time consuming. Our customers wished they had gotten out of the IT game sooner by outsourcing their IT from the start (or at least as much of it as they could). They told us it would have saved time, money, and let them focus on their business rather than trying to hire IT staff, manage devices, applications, and ultimately, security. IT has a way of driving business operations rather than serving them…it’s a great idea to let other people focus on it so you don’t have to. This was a big takeaway from our discussions and is clearly related to adopting cloud-solutions…which is all about letting external IT professionals focus on your internal IT, so you can focus on your business.
Taken together, all of our tech customers wished they had planned their IT investments better and let other people help them design and manage it. Ultimately, this would have saved them time, money, and more than a little heartache as they tried to get by with shoestring IT when they needed much, much, better IT performance to grow and operate their businesses. For those of you just starting out, we hope you take these lessons to heart and do it right the first time.
How could your technology startup benefit from IT managed services? Contact Dale Tuttle at 240.406.9931 or contact us online to speak with one of our experts.