With technology playing an increasingly strategic role in business, it’s critical that growing companies make the right choices about the technologies they use. Hiring an IT person to become a permanent member of your business team is the best way to accomplish that.
Estimates vary, but everyone seems to agree that IT projects suffer unacceptably high failure rates. Some studies say the proportion is more than half, while the most optimistic estimates peg the failure rate at 14 percent. Even at that end of the spectrum, are you willing to take a greater than one in 10 chance that an important project will flop?
Success rates tell only half the story. The larger issue for small and mid-sized businesses is whether they’re making the best use of technology to grow sales and remain competitive. Technologies like mobile, cloud, machine learning and chatbots can all provide opportunities to serve customers in new ways — and those opportunities are easier to spot with an IT person embedded on your team.
Most small businesses outsource their tech operations to a third party, and for good reason. But, IT nowadays is about more than basic functions like payroll and connectivity. Think how Uber upended the taxi business, or how AirBnB is crushing traditional hospitality. That type of innovation can come to any industry, and businesses that don’t innovate are most vulnerable.
The volume of technology options is also increasing dramatically, with tools for every specific need. Some companies use multiple applications for sales and marketing alone. A dedicated IT person can help navigate this sea of options — and also liaise with cloud providers and outside contractors.
If you outsource your IT, why not simply ask them for help? I think that’s the wrong question. If technology is so critical to success, why wouldn’t you also want a dedicated IT person on staff? Contractors perform a specific role, and recommending strategic ways to grow your business usually isn’t part of it. Supplement them with in-house expertise.
Given this reality, how do you go about choosing the right person for your team? Here are a few pointers:
Hire someone who speaks both languages.
A pure technologist may not fully understand your business needs. Someone who’s done consulting, or who worked in the technology division of a consulting company, will be a better fit.
Seniority is important.
This person needs to be a strong voice inside your company, so consider a director-level hire. And they should be an authoritative figure who can sway outcomes, so a person fresh out of college probably won’t work.
Give them room to learn.
If you’re hiring this person to find breakthrough opportunities, they need time to uncover them. This means allowing them to observe the business, and even attend conferences to look for ideas. Don’t expect big results in the first week — or even the first few months. No one hits gold the first time; give them a chance to fail before they succeed.
Develop different metrics to gauge their performance.
You’ll want to hold this person accountable, and rightly so, but the metrics for a salesperson probably won’t apply to your IT hire. A simple way to gauge performance is by successful projects completed, but this misses the significance of the outcome. Tie new initiatives to a business metric like subscriber growth or cost per new user.
Leaders at fast-growing companies know the challenges they face and the outcomes they hope to achieve, but they may not know all the options for getting there. Technology is now central to building a competitive company, but the technologies themselves have become complex and harder to understand. To keep pace with fast-moving areas like machine learning, martech and fintech, you need a technology expert on your business team.