9 growth companies reveal their biggest IT headaches

As your business grows, so do your IT needs. But what are the key IT strategy challenges for scaling businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them? Growing Business finds out...

In today’s world, it’s impossible to ignore the importance of IT for any business, whether your company itself is technology focused or not. But with such a rapid pace of change, a need for in-house developers, a smorgasbord of cloud service providers, decisions to make about the hardware you keep within your offices, and hardware or software reaching the end of its natural life is it possible to scale your IT systems as your business grows headache-free?

During a roundtable lunch hosted by Zynstra, Growing Business invited nine business leaders and IT directors to find out.

With wide-ranging experience from The Eventa Group founder Rob Hill, who invested wisely into building a bespoke IT system from scratch to build his multi-million business empire, to Perfect Channel’s director Dan Germain who has scaled three cloud businesses, our guests shared how they built their current IT set-up and how it is evolving as they grow (you can read more about them here).

Asked to name what specific IT issues are the biggest challenge for them at the moment, our invitees highlighted two key issues: the danger of giving developers too much control and the difficult balance between creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and an IT strategy that can scale alongside your business.

Putting all your eggs in one basket

Rob Hill, CEO, The Eventa Group:

“It can be quite a problem getting good developers in especially if you’ve built a bespoke software, because then you have just one developer who basically is the brains of the operation. If he or she leaves then all of a sudden you have this system that no one knows how to operate.”

Angus Elphinstone, CEO, AnyVan.com:

“We only have 12 developers so tech time is scarce and it’s a big bottleneck for us.”

Hugh Cox, co-founder, Rosslyn Analytics

“Retaining talent can be a challenge especially when your budget is tight. When one developer leaves a team of 20, it’s usually not a problem. However, when three or four move on to bigger companies, it will be an issue, so it’s important to have a talent succession plan in place.”

Nick East, Zynstra

“This is something we hear a lot. A number of our clients have found themselves with self-built bespoke and complex IT that only one or two people in the business are able to operate. It feels like a huge task but it is now possible for businesses to migrate away from legacy platforms in a safe way that simplifies and standardises their IT without causing massive disruption to their day to day business.”

Iain Johnston, COO, Semafone:

“What is interesting for us is that we’re investigating the people side of things and what’s easier about dealing with this is that you can just take the person out and see what happens, see what fails, see what you can’t cope with.

“However with legacy technology it is very different as you don’t always know where the single point of failures are, if you’re honest. With legacy technology you often only find weaknesses out when issues occur. Here, retrospective resilience and failure testing are critical to success.”

Dan Germain, director, Perfect Channel:

“The interesting thing about technology for me – I’ve been involved in three cloud businesses – it’s not the cloud bit, it’s the ‘as a service’ element. One way that we can scale up is to buy IT as a service. It doesn’t matter if it’s an appliance that’s in our rack or a cloud-based service. If we can buy something that’s documented with defined functionality, an SLA and isn’t reliant on a single developer, then that enables us to de-risk that piece of IT.”

Nick East, CEO, Zynstra:

“I think one of the big revolutions of tech is being able to pay for an SLA (service-level-agreement) for technology you need, and consume it as a service. If it’s not a technology or skill that’s key to differentiating your business in the market then why not procure it as a service and focus your time and energy on what will win you business?”

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) versus a long-term solution

Maurice Tunney, IT director, Keystone Law:

“For us, we have got to find a service that is as seamless as possible, but because the lawyers all work at home, and their range of technology abilities are vast, we have to make sure the solutions we provide are intuitive enough that the most basic of users are able to work them but at the same time making sure it’s as secure as possible and we’re able to scale.

“The product at the heart of the firm is our bespoke intranet which has workflows built in to aid the lawyers with various processes like client opening, billing etc. Due to the disparate nature of the lawyers we also provide collaboration tools to enable them to communicate effectively both internally and with our clients.

“When you get everything up and running you do everything as simply as possible but in 20 years’ time it still needs to be up and running. That’s the challenge.”

Angus Elphinstone, CEO, AnyVan.com:

“Our company is over five years old but we have to constantly innovate so we can be cutting edge, the whole marketplace sector that I’m in is changing so quickly. I, as CEO, not having a tech background, I want to innovate and build new products, add all new features so I’m very consumer orientated.

“Whereas our CTO he wants to build a platform which we can scale securely. We’re at loggerheads occasionally. So where I want new products etcetera he wants to build from the bottom up and make sure we can scale. It’s very much two different sides, without innovation you haven’t got a good product but without the base you won’t be able to scale. So how we scale at the same time as innovating and evolving are our biggest issues.”

Rob Hill, CEO, The Eventa Group:

“At the Eventa Group, we use a custom made booking system which was built from scratch. This unique system was an absolute necessity for us in order to make the company a scalable business. Prior to this everything was done manually, so without the system we would not have been able to grow the business.

“However, sometimes you just have to lock your system down, stop growing it, that’s something we had to do. We were constantly adding and changing things, and it was a nightmare so we just had to completely lock it all down and re-evaluate. We’ve had to build our IT system twice.

“I never really look back too much but if I could look back I would have changed our whole IT strategy. I would have invested in IT not after three years but after one and I would have just pumped as much money as I could into that as quickly as possible, as opposed to an 11 year journey where we’ve built our system twice. If we’d just got it right the first time things might have been different.”

David Lester, founder, Startups.co.uk and citrusHR:

“Hindsight’s easy. You talk about the lean start-up and the minimum viable product – but your minimum viable product is rarely what you end up wanting. It’s a knife edge.”

Angus Elphinstone, CEO, AnyVan.com:

“There’s a big difference between a short-term fix and a long-term fix, if you build a massive castle from day one, it’s going to take so long, it’s going to cost so much. We’re very much about getting it out there.

“Of course it’s not going to be completely right but you wouldn’t have a business if you didn’t get that first product out. In hindsight you’d love to spend another year building it as it would be better in the long-term but you’ve got a business to build.”

Nick East, CEO, Zynstra:

“There’s an interesting balance between being agile – responding to changes quickly and implementing them in your IT systems, and delivering stability. You have to lock stuff down but if you’re going to be agile, you also have to embrace continuous change.

“The IT and software world is getting much better at providing IT solutions for the smaller company. Agile, stable, future proof IT with a flexible payment model is no longer limited to the large enterprise.”

This feature follows a roundtable discussion sponsored by Zynstra on building an IT strategy that lasts. You can find out more about Zynstra’s hybrid IT solution here.

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