Much is written about the "hybrid" IT director, a leader operating at many levels within an organisation. While in large companies this role has to be defined, in small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), the definition is automatic.
In a traditional engineering company employing 500 people, for example, the term business alignment does not apply, as the IT director will also have responsibilities for finance, and perhaps human resources. The IT director may even double as the managing director.
However, IT leaders in these organisations also face unique challenges. A road haulier in Bristol is at present facing a huge issue with its "off-the-shelf, bug free" software package. Lacking any project management expertise, or overall IT knowledge of any kind, companies such as this become totally reliant on its supplier, which in turn treats such clients with low priority and thus not worthy of too much attention.
I also know of a printing company in Guildford that has an issue with support on its small, internal network. All of its equipment is leased, and when they recently added two new PCs, the supplier suggested they stay with the same contract period for all hardware. "It will be much easier for everyone involved," the supplier said.
The company trusted the supplier and signed, only to find that the new contract covered all of its PCs - some of which were two years old! It had just renewed the contract period for its entire asset range. This is a frequent trick used by leasing companies - so beware.
Many of the challenges faced by SMEs are the same as those in larger organisations, but on a different scale. As the company grows, the IT director will be uniquely placed - most definitely on the board -to avoid these developing into major problems later on.
Listed below are three main challenges that small-to-medium enterprises face, and some actions that will avoid them growing out of control:
Total cost of ownership
Many newer SMEs offer a unique environment and style - driven by energy, action and human potential. IT leaders in these companies are well placed to use new technology to help their companies grow fast, without losing that all-important culture.
David Taylor is president of the association of IT directors Certus.