A day in the life: What enterprises can learn from SMEs

Lawrence Jones

Monday 13 March 2017

The work lives of an IT manager in a small startup and the CIO of a large business might seem worlds apart, but they’re closer than you think.

Their day starts at 9am and finishes (on paper, at least) at 5.30pm, but just how do the roles of an IT manager differ between a small business and enterprise?

When you compare Techaisle’s 2016 survey of small and medium businesses and Deloitte’s 2016–2017 Global CIO Survey, the challenges faced by IT managers in companies big and small are roughly the same: security, creating and following a solid strategy, and a commitment to cost cutting are all priorities for 2017.

Getting their hands dirty

There’s no average day for Russell Hargreaves, an IT manager at small business DMC Software. “My role is extremely varied, where duties include providing support, installations and consultation.”

At the executive level, a schedule is important for Spencer Earp, senior vice president at field services company ServiceMax. “The structure of my day is fixed meetings and calls, along with flexible time to react or be proactive to daily events.”

Echoing the results of the Deloitte survey, which found 67 per cent of CIOs are looking to cut costs and drive efficiency, Earp’s focus is on delivering services in a flexible and challenging environment. “One of the biggest issues is how to meet increasing customer expectations in a climate of reduced budgets and increasing competition.”

The emergence of new technologies – and new threats – means the role of the IT manager continues to change and develop. For Hargreaves and Earp, it involves both leadership and education. Hargreaves, in particular, has seen his role shift to incorporate new responsibilities: “This includes educating [customers] about new and emerging technologies that can help them increase security.”

At the CIO level, there is a focus on creating a successful culture that isn’t afraid to take risks or be responsive. “We are always thinking of creative ways to solve problems, challenge assumptions and be situationally aware,” Thuan Pham, CTO at Uber, recently told The Telegraph. As a result, the business “can constantly [change things] and provide the best products and services possible”.

Priorities for 2017

In 2016, SMEs saw cyberattack figures double, with some facing up to 230,000 threats during the year. It’s no surprise that Hargreaves believes security is the overriding priority for the SME manager, who should look for cybersecurity skills in future IT hires.

“The biggest issue SMEs face is cybersecurity, as data theft and ransomware continue to cause significant disruption,” Hargreaves says.

At the strategic level, where a focus on security is taken for granted, Earp sees three priorities for the year: “Helping all of our customers deliver value from their investments, growing our business, and hiring smart and talented people to support that.”

Strategic focus

In the Deloitte report, 78 per cent of CIOs revealed strategic alignment of IT activities with business strategy was critical to their success. Earp disagrees: “If you comprehensively understand the market and customer needs, I think most senior managers instinctively know where the company should be heading with regards to its strategy.”

Hargreaves, who has a different perspective, says his organisation tries to plan as far ahead as possible. He suggests that, even for an SME, three to five years is achievable, but acknowledges that “it is difficult to predict what is around the corner”.

Despite the differences, every big company started small. Earp has some words of advice for IT managers, no matter the size of their business: “Strategy is for amateurs, as it’s meaningless unless you act. Successful execution is for professionals.”

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