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7 things to remember when putting up an IT department

Plan it right, right from the start
By JC Medina |

After several years of struggling to make ends meet, do you now find yourself in this happy situation: your business has expanded to comfortable revenue levels, your staff has expanded to 50 people, and you are now able to plan aggressively for growth? Well, now is the time to take your business to the next level.

As your organization matures, you will need to establish strategic units that will work together to help you achieve your goals—and an information technology department is one of those groups that can help your business grow.

In building one’s first IT department, not only does the business manager align the overall corporate goals; a company’s IT ensures that all technology services rendered to its employees are delivered in a relevant and timely fashion.

Here are seven tips to help you form your IT department.

1.       Determine what IT means to your business.

By this time, you already have clear ideas about how your company works and more importantly, you have established the foundation for the corporate culture that you want. At this point, you likewise have felt the need for an efficient IT system. But you would need to ask yourself now is this question: what is my company’s approach to IT?

The IT department is often seen as the unit that provides for all the computing (hardware and software) requirements for an organization. However, the IT department could do more than that. The bigger idea is to strategically harness technology to make employees smarter and more productive, which hopefully would give you an edge over the competition.

2.       Get an IT Manager; build a team.

It is imperative to hire an IT manager who shares your business vision and adds value to the overall equation with ideas on how to run the business better with the help of technology.

An IT manager with previous experience in supporting an organization is a major advantage. This person will be able to bring into your organization industry expertise and best practices. Your future IT manager must also be attuned to the latest developments in IT--a lot of the new technology available in the market are not only more effective but also cheaper than older systems.

Identify all the components and policies involved in the day-to-day operations of your IT department--from employee productivity to technology tooling, asset management, information management, and data availability and security.

3.       Determine end-user services.

Treat your IT department as an internal service provider. At the initial stages of the unit, it must come up with a service menu for its users, addressing the most immediate needs of the business. Start with the basic services--single sign-on to the network, e-mail, project management tools and file and print servers. After some time, carefully assess these business requirements in order to come up with an IT roadmap for your organization.

4.       Consider employee productivity.

Employee productivity is an area where you apply certain communication and collaboration tools that facilitate information exchange. Set up a reliable corporate messaging system by acquiring an off-the-shelf solution like Microsoft Exchange Server or Lotus Notes for a full-blown product, or cost-effective alternatives like the open source platform Zimbra. Match your e-mail platform of choice with an instant messaging client. Otherwise, set up your own private instant messaging server or use IRC (Internet Relay Chat).

Communication devices also fall under employee productivity--you can issue smartphones to your employees, partner with a local telco in order to get good deals on Blackberry devices and iPhones, enabling employees to access e-mail anytime, anywhere.

5. Get the right tools for the job.

Since there are multiple technology solutions in the market, your organization must consciously adopt a stance as regards to new and emerging technologies. An IT manager should address the following questions: Do we really need the best-of-breed technologies, or should we wait for others to use it first? Which devices and technology will give us the most value for money? Should we standardize our equipment or allow customization of hardware and software to our users? Answer these questions beforehand, to guide your decision-making.

6. Keep track of technology.

Managing your technology assets--keeping track of your company’s investments in IT--is a function shared by the IT department with the finance and admin departments. This includes tagging company-owned hardware and most importantly, software licenses. By keeping tabs on a company’s technology properties, management is able to have an overview of the actual cost of technology and a sound fiscal basis for acquiring new equipment.

7. Manage and secure your information.

As you run your business, you accumulate vast amounts of information about your sales performance, customer behavior, and records. By presenting such data in a manner that’s easy to digest by the user, making it available when and where it counts, you effectively make your employees’ decisions and actions smart and calculated. You could set up a simple internal database, or use a data mining and warehousing solution. These repositories of information should be searchable, and able to handle multiple users and generate reports.

With sensitive data now stored in databases, it’s also time to rationalize data security for your organization. Large companies often have their own dedicated team for data security alone. For small companies, there are a couple of solutions that’s readily available. A general checklist of items to secure your data would include firewall appliances (meaning hardware) to protect your network and anti-virus software. Implement certain policies on Internet use during office hours, software allowed to run in company terminals, and training users on securing sensitive corporate information.

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