I read with interest an article in the magazine “business minds” emphasising the importance of IT investment, and how the tough economic climate has been forcing companies to cut their IT spending. It reported that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are the worst off, with their already lean budgets being squeezed even tighter. I agreed on the most part what the article was about, that IT investment was important and that even in a tough economic climate we shouldn’t cut back on it too much; but I found it perplexing that the article stressed only one type of IT investment, and that it was of hardware (note: the article used IT hardware interchangeably with computer hardware — we could talk about smart phones, scanning machines and the like, but it’d be beyond the scope of this post).
Don’t get me wrong. I love powerful IT hardware as much as any other person. I believe it’s necessary that a business has hardware that is at least powerful enough to support basic MS Office programs (or its alternatives, including the wonderful Google Docs and Open Office) without any noticeable performance lag, but it seems a tad incongruent to talk about investing in IT hardware when IT investment budgets are cut, since hardware is arguably the least likely to be needing investment.
Most computer systems used by businesses nowadays, no matter how rudimentary, are able to run basic Office applications without a hitch. Though years ago it might have been the case that impotent hardware could often be used as the scapegoat for computing inefficiencies (I’m sure you know of executives running reports that would take hours to process), computing power nowadays has pretty much made these problems history (with the exception of reports based on processing extremely large amounts of data — and even then this may be avoided through proper use of technology, which may be gained through investment in IT training and education as you’ll read below).
Hardware performance has increased at a much faster rate than software requirements has, especially for most applications around the office that require the bare minimum to run pretty smoothly (the proliferation of netbooks, which are basically low-performance notebook computers, is testimony to this fact).
The problem, I believe, is that not enough people know about how to use IT to help them in their daily work. Investment should be made to educate the workforce on what IT can do, and how to use IT to its full potential. Businesses can use up a large chunk of their IT budget purchasing the MS Office suite (or any other “office” software, really), only to make use of 5% of its capabilities, missing out on plenty of opportunities to speed up tons of tedious, manual processes that could save days per month, especially through things like automation (it is a sad fact that automation is severely underrated in many businesses, to which automation is an alien term — most IT professionals understand what a boon it is to productivity).
IT spending should be spent on IT training and education, and not on hardware unless absolutely necessary. Often, it is only after learning more about IT that businesses can properly determine their IT needs, including hardware. Encouraging SMBs to spend more on getting better IT hardware is like asking a non-driver to buy a more powerful car — sure, the potential to move faster is there, but it’s not going to be of much use until the non-driver learns to drive.