Spreading the word
Small business in New Zealand needs to change the way it thinks about investing in ICT.By Andrew Hunt, Kinetics Group, CEO & NZICT Group, Deputy Chairman.Many SMB and SME owners in New Zealand consider Information Technologies an expense to be kept at minimum cost. The “spend money to make money’’ quip used readily in business circles doesn’t seem to ripple out to ICT in many cases. Short cuts are taken; personnel with limited IT experience are brought in on a mates’ rates basis to implement IT systems, but this is not good enough. New Zealand’s number 8 wire, DIY mentality is great, but business just can’t run on the smell of an oily rag when it comes to IT systems. Considering that there are nearly 450,000 SMEs in New Zealand contributing around 38% of the country’s GDP, DIY IT projects are constraining many businesses from taking off.Many businesses consider that broadband improves their business. This is of course, true – emailing customers and reading the news online is great. But how business utilises and harnesses broadband by implementing new products and services is too often ignored.At the NZICT end-of-year function last year, ICT Minister Steven Joyce asked the ICT industry to illustrate how technology can improve New Zealand business productivity and profitability. He said the government was supplying the plumbing, but it was our job, as the industry, to showcase what can be done over these pipes.Fair enough point. Things need to change.Joyce recognises this, and so does NZICT.So where do we begin?Businesses need to change the way they think about investing in IT projects. Many investments come from a culmination of CIOs, CFOs and CEOs. A top-down approach is necessary from those that run the business, but input is obviously needed from staff. If a company has a board however, then it would be wise to set governance of IT projects from a board level. Boards are normally made up of many individuals with different skill sets. This can work positively when setting outcomes and governance for IT projects. It would also be good to see companies hiring more board members with IT expertise. Companies also need to be outcome- focused and consider what a successful IT deployment looks like before it begins. Once a project scope is set, then both the customer and vendor need to be clear on what they are after. This means that guidelines need to be set, but there is always a little flexibility needed around this modeling, as most in the industry will know. And importantly, both business and the ICT industry also need to ensure that projects have a business outcome rather than pure ICT objectives. A change in thought from businesses also needs to take place. Many small businesses don’t consider the asset value of ICT in their business. In terms of contribution to a business, assets such as firewalls or data centres are of extreme value and importance. Maintenance costs may be higher than other assets, but ICT is critical to a business. ICT is also considered a luxury or a want, rather than a need. Businesses need office furniture, sure, but how many businesses consider ICT (and I’m not just talking about broadband) as a need for creating a successful business?This is all well known in the industry, but it has yet to really be absorbed into mainstream New Zealand business. We may be a little guilty of internal monologues in the ICT industry, vocalising our wares and ideas to each other rather than to a wider public, but it is time to take the message to those who will most benefit from it: businesses. NZICT plans to take its small business and productivity message(s) into a wider forum. Imagine if we could have an ICT series showing New Zealanders how they can improve their lives and businesses though technology. Country Calendar took farming to the masses; we swallowed it hook line and sinker. Why can’t we do the same with ICT?NZICT, along with other organisations and stakeholders, plans to humanise ICT and demystify what the industry and its wares and ideas are all about. It won’t be easy, but we will start by educating small business on how ICT can improve profitability, efficiency and productivity. Watch this space.