There is no doubt that using various IT systems offers scope for huge time savings and efficiencies but at what cost and how do you cope with the expectations of technology that many companies and users are not familiar with, not least about its performance and reliability?
There seems to be an ever-growing list of IT failures and meltdowns. They include the problems TSB has had in installing its new system, which locked people out of their bank accounts, made several thousands vulnerable to their accounts being hacked and money stolen and, it seems, have still not been completely resolved eight weeks later.
Then the VISA payment system failed for a day, making it impossible for customers to pay for purchases in countless shops. The London Stock Exchange recently had to open an hour late “due to a technical issue” and, as I recently reported the Government’s business rates appeal website has been castigated by SMEs as being less than user-friendly. Those are just examples from this year.
It is not uncommon for Government-commissioned websites to go way over budget or to be delayed, such as the roll-out of Making Tax Digital, parts of which will not now be implemented for several more years.
Yet we are constantly being advised, or even pushed, into using technology and in many cases businesses cannot function without it.
How much should SMEs rely on the powers of technology?
It is all very well for banks to be closing rural branches and encouraging everyone to bank online, but this can be frustrating, time consuming and therefore costly for the rurally-based SME in a location where the broadband service is less than reliable.
Indeed, the FCA has just revealed research findings that consumers in rural areas of the UK are far less likely to use their smartphones for banking than their urban counterparts, largely due to patchy mobile and broadband coverage.
In a recent Guardian Article James Bridle argues that “We have come to believe that everything is computable and can be resolved by the application of new technologies” about which he says we understand less and less.
He cites the example of the Cloud, which we use for working in and for storing often crucial business information.
As he says: “the cloud is not some magical faraway place” but actually a “physical infrastructure consisting of phone lines, fibre optics, satellites, cables on the ocean floor, and vast warehouses filled with computers”.
Any physical infrastructure is likely to have vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and this is something that you should take into account when developing IT systems for your business.
Essentially this means that wherever possible you should get the best possible advice when choosing any system to install, taking into account your location and the reliability of the infrastructure.
You should ask questions about its capabilities, and above all you should both understand the limitations of the powers of technology and should always have data back-ups, whether it be paper records or external and locally-based hard drives to avoid your business being unable to function in case of a failure.
You should also have fall-backs if the system is down but I shall deal with business continuity in another blog.
Ultimately the powers of technology are huge but exploiting them requires vision, reorganisation, planning, training and considerable investment.