Every business wants to grow. But if a budding enterprise expects to scale effectively, its IT systems must be able to scale as well. That means taking control of your organization’s technical infrastructure early on to be ready for the inevitable expanded roster of customers, suppliers, and employees that growth brings.
The size of an organization shouldn’t determine functionality. In fact, smaller businesses often require enterprise-class hardware, software, and services in many areas -- particularly in networking, security, and Web provisioning, and sometimes in accounting and order management. Yet despite their oversize needs, smaller businesses are typically outfitted with an uncoordinated collection of point applications and systems managed by their individual expert users, notes AMR Research analyst Bob Locke.
Similarly, midsize enterprises often have departmental systems managed by IT experts, but lack a companywide IT infrastructure to tie the systems together. This approach can spell trouble when business takes off.
To increase the odds of success, enterprises of all sizes should adopt and implement a process-driven, automated approach, rather than relying on in-house experts to keep different parts of the company running. “As you grow, you need to put in real processes to manage the system,” says Michael DiPaolo, a consultant at Hitachi Consulting. “No one individual can handle this complexity.”
The emergence of the Internet as a standard wide area network bolstered through standardized interfaces and application platforms such as XML and Java has lowered the bar for linking applications and data systems, even in distributed environments. This development has provided more traditional enterprise-class capability at a smaller scale and lower cost. At the same time, technology providers that once served only the largest enterprises are steadily moving down the food chain. “It’s been creeping down for years,” says Chris Ogburn, sales development director at Hewlett-Packard.
Most vendor attention is being placed on midsize enterprises, or companies with 500 to 5,000 employees that have scale, complexity, and integration needs mirroring the large enterprise’s IT profile. But even small enterprises -- those with 100 to 500 employees -- now have access to traditional enterprise-class technology in critical areas such as networking and database management.
When crafting an IT strategy and platform for growth, small and midsize enterprises face critical technology choices in three areas: front-office applications such as ERP, database and storage management, and networking and security. In each area, the choices and issues vary.
Front office: three main choices
ERP is the latest area to see enterprise-class functionality move into small and midsize enterprises, as Oracle and SAP have all but consolidated the large-enterprise market and have set their sights on new customers. Today, for front-office needs such as accounting and sales, smaller companies have limited basic options.