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Scaling through technology: developing an IT strategy for startups

By Jeff Gaines, Interlaced CEO 

Businesses today have the ability to grow, scale, and change more quickly than at any time in history.  In a fast-growing company, there is so much to think about. For many companies, building a scalable IT program seems like a luxury they neither have the time, the mental energy, nor the money to afford. 

However, businesses – particularly startups – are more dependent than ever on their IT program to maintain open lines of communication, broker access to information, and even to build and reinforce their culture

While the prospect of building an IT foundation can seem daunting, starting with a solid IT strategy from the start can help power your business’s growth. In our latest webinar series, Interlaced shared some considerations, and some easy things you can do, to ensure your IT program is ready to support your growing team at each phase. In our first webinar, we discussed five common challenges faced by startups and solutions to help startups overcome them.

Challenge #1: Data silos make the decision-making process difficult

Data silos are individual data sets, which could include things like customer data, sales data, financial data, etc., which aren’t connected nor do they have the ability to integrate easily with one another. Sound familiar?

So why does it matter if these data sets can’t talk or integrate with one another? First and foremost, it prohibits startup execs and teams from making good business decisions. Often you need more than a single data point to inform a single decision, so if you’re only looking at one or two points, it can cause tunnel vision without having a total picture of how that decision can impact your business as a whole.

As your startup grows and you add more team members, culturally these data silos can cause digital divides between teams within your business. While it’s easy to think that your Operations person doesn’t need to know or care what your Marketing person is doing or see the outputs of their work, it can actually have a negative impact. Having that visibility can create better trust and empathy among your team members.  

And finally, data silos can ultimately lead to security and compliance issues. Most commonly we see this around old data records – like stale user records, particularly those that may contain personal identifier objects like name, DOB, address, etc., that can create major problems if that data is not being stored or removed properly. 

 So how do you prevent data silos from happening? We’ve got you covered:

Solution: Select a productivity suite that allows for the greatest collaboration

Think of the productivity suite as the hub of your business. This is where the majority of activities will take place, from email to calendars (private and shared), as well as file sharing. The two most common productivity suites that most startups can utilize are Google and Microsoft. So how do you know which one is right for you? Consider the following criteria:

  • What other common tools are you going to need in your business that will also need to integrate with your productivity suite? This would be things like your CRM, Accounting/ERP software, Project Management tools, Customer Support, etc.
  • Diagram how these individual tools need to communicate and what data they need to share or sync with one another today. 
  • Likewise, diagram out how you’d want these tools to interact with one another in the future.
  • Think about your customers and what tools they will be using to conduct their business. Especially if you’re in a vertical where you are going to be sharing files and documents, you will want to choose a productivity suite that allows you to share that information in a way that is easy for your customers. 
Challenge #2: Scaling teams quickly and efficiently

One of the most exciting times in startup life is the point where you get to bring on new team members. But like most things, the more people you bring on, the greater the complexity becomes to manage that headcount effectively. Process and strategy often give way to experimentation and constantly shifting priorities. 

In many cases, one or multiple people act as IT administrators, holding all the keys to company systems. What this leads to is a lack of knowledge of who has access to your various systems or how to manage the levels of access assigned as new employees come on board. For example, you likely don’t want an intern to have access to sensitive HR data or company financials. 

Startups are also competing for talent against the same recruiting efforts as larger, more established companies. And without having a dialed first-day experience for your hires, you are effectively losing out to those larger companies that have that day-one process honed and often used as a recruiting tactic itself. 

Likewise when you hire new employees and they don’t have access to things like their calendar, email, or other essential tools, that can leave a horrible day-one impression and ultimately lower their productivity and your ability to retain them. So getting them up and running quickly is a must-have for startups. 

Solution: Create and document a user permissions matrix 

The easiest way to figure out which team members need access is to build a user permissions matrix. In this matrix, you’ll essentially document every team member within your company, their role today, and ideally even those roles that may not exist today but plan to hire for in the near future. This ultimately becomes your roadmap on how to assign various permissions based on their roles.

Solution: Standardize on hardware options 

Early on in startup life, it’s not uncommon that many, if not all, of the devices in the business are personally owned or what is known as BYOD, which means “bring your own device.” However, as you grow, you’ll want everyone to use company-issued devices. By selecting a few PC options and/or a few Mac options that your team has the option to use. 

Those devices will become “the standard” as you move forward and when the capital is available, purchase extra quantities of these devices so they can be issued when a new employee is hired so they can get up and running quickly. Likewise, if the hardware ever does break (which happens!) you can also pull an extra device off the shelf so your employee can keep working while the broken device is being repaired.    

Solution: Design an amazing day-1 experience for new employees

Just as you conduct design thinking sessions around your product or services, that same effort should be put into the design of your team’s first-day experience as they come to work for your startup. 

It’s really as simple as making sure they have a device ready to use ahead of their first day, including all of the necessary tools and application access. Also shipping them some company swag so they can start feeling like they are a part of the brand.

All of these things help create a memorable experience that helps turn that employee into an evangelist for the company and serves as a recruitment tool, which can help you attract good talent even faster.

Challenge #3: Forecasting tech costs

Forecasting costs for any business can be difficult. But when it comes to forecasting costs for your technology, that only adds to the complexity. Costs start to creep up the more headcount you bring on. 

Another source of that creep: outdated or suboptimal contracts. When you’re getting a startup off the ground, flexibility with all of your contracts, particularly those where you can pay month-to-month is crucial. As your business grows and matures over time, there is a greater opportunity to renegotiate those contracts and terms. 

Cost creep can also run rampant unless it becomes part of your cultural DNA. Your finance team can’t be the only department focused on keeping costs in check. It has to be something ingrained in every member of your team.

Solution: Use your user permission matrix to understand unit economics

Knowing your unit economics per employee, or role, is a huge way to forecast costs across your business. So what’s the best way to calculate those figures? We can look back to our user permission matrix to help guide that number.

With the salary known for each position on your matrix, take that number along with the cost of every application, and annualize those numbers across your budget. That output can be baked into the overall run rate for your company as you increase your employee headcount over time.

Solution: Put controls and notifications around costs

Checks and balances are necessary for multiple facets of your business. When it comes to cost management, these checks and balances are paramount. This is particularly true when it comes to managing the licenses of your SaaS applications. 

Many applications allow you to turn licenses on and off at will. Even better is the fact that many of these applications allow for notifications to be configured so that the admins of those applications can be notified when unit counts or costs per license increase. This can have a huge impact over time and allows for greater cost control. 

Solution: Renegotiate contract costs over time

When your startup was first getting off the ground, your technology stack was likely small and fairly easy to navigate. Over time, that tech stack will likely grow and those environments can become more complex with more applications. 

If you are at a point where you are steadily adding to your tech stack or adding individual licenses to your applications, you can take those data points and use them to negotiate a better rate on either a monthly or even annualized basis. This can help identify cost-savings that you can take and drop back to your bottom line. 

Solution: Automate license management

As your headcount starts to reach around 50 to 100 employees, the ability to manually track license usage can get very taxing. Not to worry: tools today like Zluri, Trelica, and Torri can help audit your SaaS environments and identify where you may be over-consuming on your licenses, saving both your time and capital.  

Challenge #4: Productivity drains

First off you may be asking – what is a productivity drain? In this case, we’re defining a “productivity drain” as anything that takes time, energy, and resources away from your customers and clients. One main cause, regardless if you’re a team of one or 1,000 is micro distractions. 

These can be anything from your web browser crashing or failing to connect to your email or a slow Internet connection. While these seem minor, these small incidents can add up over time. That only compounds as your headcount and technology grow over time.

Remote work and therefore the need for remote tech support is another challenge for growing startups. As businesses and teams are more distributed than ever, the ability to easily resolve issues without having tech support onsite can be difficult. 

The first few hires for many startups, particularly for those in the technology sector, often have a higher technical acumen compared to your later hires. Individuals in supportive roles like HR, Sales, and Finance functions may not have the same technical skillsets and therefore, increase the chances of productivity drain.

Solution: Use technology that is flexible to your team locations

It’s been said that the quickest way to ruin any relationship is a lack of communication. Thankfully tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams make it easy for remote workers to collaborate regardless of their location. 

Earlier in this post we mentioned cataloging and purchasing additional company-owned devices. When employees do run into issues with their technology failing, having the ability to overnight a new device so they can resume working the next day is a huge win.  

Solution: Automate the maintenance of your devices

To avoid instances of technology failure, one failsafe measure to adopt is taking a proactive approach to device maintenance. At a minimum patching your devices for things like security compromises or ensuring that your applications are up to date can also prevent productivity drain. 

Solution: Give your team a tech lifeline with an internal team or an outsourced partner

Providing your team with a resource they can reach out to for technical support is vital. This can be an internal resource or an outsourced hire like Interlaced. We own all of the IT work for startups, including bringing on new employees, handling all their day-to-day needs, and building a plan to scale your systems as your business goes. 

Challenge #5: Securing your assets and intellectual property

Cybersecurity is a huge concern for all businesses but even more so for startups and small businesses. As we’ve alluded to previously, ensuring that your assets and intellectual property becomes increasingly more difficult as your technology infrastructure grows and becomes more complex. 

Even more difficult: designing a cybersecurity program that keeps you protected while avoiding barriers to productivity. Businesses also need to think about the industries they serve and whether customers or clients within those industries might employ compliance requirements to win and keep their business. 

Solution: Implement Multifactor Authentication (MFA) everywhere

Multifactor Authentication is a security measure where you use multiple methods to verify the identity of someone trying to access something such as an application or your overall network. Often times it includes typing in a password and then going to your phone and confirming that access. 

Password breaches happen constantly and if you uses the same password for everything, there’s a good chance that password will get leaked at some point. By using MFA, even if someone has your password they likely won’t be able to get into your systems or applications because they won’t have access to your MFA token, which is often going to be on your phone. 

Most SaaS applications already have this feature built-in so all you have to do is turn it on. In some cases, it may require an upgrade to your current subscription, so you can make a call about whether that investment is worth it based on what that application is doing for your business. 

Solution: Consider a Single Sign-On solution

One downside to MFA is that it can create some friction for teams where you’re asking them to log in one place and then authenticate in another. One workaround for that is using Single Sign-On, also known as SSO.

SSO essentially allows you to log into one provider through a trusted connection and once that trust is established, it allows you to log into multiple cloud-based applications. Examples of SSO providers include Okta and JumpCloud.  

Solution: Encrypt and manage devices

Encryption is like a secret language your data speaks when it travels across the internet. While we like to think that our company data and sensitive data that lives in the cloud is safe if you download that data on your local device and that device gets compromised, that then becomes a liability for your business. Luckily both Mac and Windows devices come built with an encryption function. 

Likewise, we also recommend utilizing mobile device management (also known as MDM), which is another kind of software that you can install on your devices (company-owned and BYOD) to ensure those encryption features are turned on and that your devices are getting all of the necessary updates.   

Solution: Think ahead about compliance (SOC, HIPAA, NIST, etc.)

Compliance is virtually everywhere these days and the requirements vary by industry. If you’re developing a software product, chances are you will have to undergo SOC II compliance at some point. 

Likewise, if you are working in or delivering a service that touches a government supply chain, compliance requirements such as NIST or CMMC, will be a huge consideration. These frameworks are ultimately designed to protect you and your businesses while building trust with your customers and their end-users. 

We hope you found this initial webinar helpful and we have three more webinars on the horizon! Join us for our next session on Wednesday, August 14th, as we talk about strategies for scaling your team. Snag your spot now by registering today: https://interlaced-io.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_9QOP6dZLQvaYUlnZp73AoQ 

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