How medium-sized companies should plan for their technologies
Medium-sized companies face more challenging technology choices than other businesses. Small organisations and start-ups can opt more readily for a complete services approach, and enterprises can often muster the resources to manage and modernise their systems. But for those in the medium section, it's a bit more challenging, says Tarsus' Business Unit Manager for Dell Enterprise, Chris Larkins: "Medium companies tend to have many different systems and applications, so a services play can become very complicated for them. And they don't always have the kind of resources to throw at every problem. They have to be very careful about their digital strategies, which is why they often don't modernise as much as they should to remain competitive and resilient."
It's paramount to be strategic as well as cost-effective, which intensifies even seemingly simple decisions such as choosing cloud, on-premises or a blend of the two. Deploying new systems, changing processes and workflows, training staff and adopting new skills within the business – these choices are often more challenging to medium-sized companies than others. It can lead to a type of analysis paralysis. But it's a situation Larkins believes can be avoided: "The main mistake I see among medium companies is that they don't do enough planning around technology. They don't do enough homework or find the priorities in their operations. They often intend to, but get stuck along the way and struggle to cut through the noise. Larger companies can afford to navigate through the questions by trying different partners. Small companies can switch services with relative ease. But the constraints on medium companies makes it harder for them to plan sufficiently, and this is usually where they lose momentum."
Creating a transformation plan
There isn't a universal blueprint for digital transformation. It may require services or owning assets. It can happen piecemeal or in a big bang. It might focus on certain parts of the business or rewire it from the ground up. The answers depend on the company.
There are several things a company can do to start down the right road. Larkins' first piece of advice is to find the right people: "You'll need a trusted advisor who can understand your business and what you need. Look at their track record as well as their available skills. You want a mature partner – someone who can admit they aren't capable of certain solutions rather than someone who claims they can do everything. Look for companies who have access to other skills pools and enabling partners. Talk to vendors and distributors – they usually know the channel best and can recommend suitable solution providers."
Insist on those early conversations to focus on your business priorities. A partner who wants to talk about tech out of the gate is not listening to what you need. A telltale sign of a potentially right partner is one who wants to build their brand through trust, not sales. Are they willing to put some skin in the game and keen to learn about your business before charging for the privilege? Mutual self-interest is a powerful bond when tackling digital transformation.
Initial conversations should be prominent on strategy and creating a roadmap. Avoid the high-level and vague topics: prioritise your problems in the first conversations. This approach can demonstrate the seriousness of your potential partner and help you understand how to identify appropriate solutions. And be sure to include all the relevant people: "It's very typical for a medium company not to have very defined roles. People often wear many different hats and work across different silos. That makes them very valuable and insightful around what your business needs. Include them early so they can also interrogate partner suggestions and describe priorities. If the problem you want to solve involves a person, they should be included in the early conversations."
The goal is twofold: evaluate a potential partner's interest and grasp on your business priorities, and try to establish the roots for a mature relationship. Ask tough and intelligent questions – a modern technology provider must be willing to walk the road, not just sell a solution. And push them to get into the details – if you hear broad-stroke answers, those will not help you define your plans.
Larkins recommends several themes that can help match priorities with the right technology choices:
- What do you gain in terms of scale and expansion?
- Do you want to own or lease? What are your opex/capex considerations?
- Where do your workers sit, and do they have the right tools for their jobs?
- What are your legal requirements?
- What is your security risk, and how would you like to reduce that risk?
"There's a lot of value for companies to find the people that can add to that conversation as trusted advisors. Somebody who will really take the time to understand how you work and what you need to do – and then map technology on the back of that discussion, rather than someone who waltzes in there and says: 'Look at this new singing, dancing, hyper-converged platform. We're gonna cost you a couple of million bucks, we can do everything for you, and life is good.' That's often the wrong way around."