Is your firm in hyper-growth mode? You might be if your engineering department grew from fewer than 15 people to more than 2000 engineers in six years as Aditya Agarwal experienced at Facebook.
And even if your firm isn’t growing as fast as Facebook, Dropbox or Google, if you generate substantial positive cash flow or earnings at a significantly faster rate than the overall economy, you’re a growth company according to Investopedia.
As a fast-growth firm you have lots of advantages: your stock price goes up, you have profitable reinvestment opportunities for your retained earnings, and you never have a shortage of resumes.
But there are serious challenges for CIOs. How do you manage the new technology demands from all the new hires? How do you keep up with increased help desk calls? How do you manage a large information technology department structure if you’re used to small company IT, or vice versa, how do you become accustomed to doing more with less when you were used to the unlimited resources of a large enterprise at your previous job?
Here are a few tips for handling the myriad challenges of keeping up with your company’s fast growth.
When you’re in growth mode you’re adding customers, staff and resources. But it doesn’t necessarily mean your IT budget is growing. To catch up with your company’s growth and be in a position to really serve the business we suggest you perform a resource audit to find out what you can simplify and consolidate in order to release resources for your growth.
We recommend hiring a 3rd party firm who’ll look at your current application portfolio and IT infrastructure landscape to identify those process, people and technology redundancies that are taking up valuable resources that can be invested elsewhere.
Take a strict business utility approach: determine which are your business critical processes, such as keeping the lights on, that you need to keep, and honestly assess the benefits of all your other projects. Are they “nice-to-have” or are they advancing the business?
As a growth firm you’ll be doing lots of hiring in all areas, including for executive positions. And if you’re smart you’re probably hiring executives from Fortune 500 firms who can help you when you get to that size.
But executives from large enterprises are used to having all the data they need to do their jobs at their fingertips. If you’re still a mid-sized firm (albeit a fast-growing one), chances are your BI capabilities are not where they need to be, and your executives are getting frustrated.
You’ll need to invest in more robust, functional business intelligence technology, and hire the data scientists with the expertise to build the dashboards your new executives need.
But this requires investing money in more technology and more people, which leads to two more challenges we’ll tackle shortly: negotiating contracts and hiring more staff.
If you’re like many growth companies growing via acquisition, pretty soon you’ll become an app collector. You’ll be stuck with redundant ERPs, CRMs and HR systems. To cut costs related to managing redundant systems you’ll have to decide which ones to keep and which ones you’ll discard, then plan your migration and integration approach. Often the question of personnel expertise and maintenance fees will dictate which systems you’ll keep.
Then you’ll have to decide which integration approach to take. Will you migrate data from the systems you’ve scheduled for end of life into the ones you’re keeping? Or if you’re keeping both systems (maybe different divisions are so entrenched with one system that getting rid of it will be more costly than keeping it,) you need to determine how you’ll integrate both systems so data is shared between them.
Shadow IT is a growing problem for IT departments, largely because of the ease with which business users can acquire Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications to perform any task they can conceive of.
And if you’re in fast-growth mode, your information technology department won’t have the time or correct structure to properly vet the new apps and bring them under your corporate governance regime.
A firm we were working with in the semiconductor industry was growing like crazy, and as a technology company their users were engineers who needed new applications to help them design new microprocessors. For example, they might need a new versioning software, but the IT department was overwhelmed by requests and couldn't get to them on time.
So they did what any self-respective engineer would do: they built their own apps, using their preferred technology and processes. But when they required IT to support these new applications on various and sundry technology platforms thats when the problems began.
Our suggestion: deploy a team to manage new application requests from users. It can be as simple as vetting the acquisition of new SaaS software, or helping to build new applications based on your company’s technology stack.
During a growth spurt your current IT staff will probably not be up to speed on the new applications and infrastructure. You need to hire talent quickly, and you must decide if you want to hire new permanent staff, a time-consuming and involved process, or do you outsource talent for quick ramp-up?
If you’re adding new applications that are built on your current technology stack, hire new permanent staff. Your current staff will get your new hires up-to-speed, and you’ll need them later as your systems mature.
However, for projects that require heavy lifting but are temporary in nature, hire a 3rd party. This is the best approach to integration projects described above.
IT departments in fast-growth companies are often the original teams built when the company was in ‘startup’ mode, so they often retain the startup mentality: do whatever it takes to get things done, and all hands on deck to resolve each problem.
However, these teams often lack the processes that come with mature companies, and the lack of processes turns everything into a fire-drill, especially when you’re growing fast. This is not a recipe for IT scalability.
For example, the new CIO at a fast-growth company we were working with asked one of his direct reports for trend analysis on help desk tickets over the previous three months. The direct report had no idea how to deliver this information, so the CIO ended up having to get his hands dirty and do it himself.
If you need to quickly ramp up core IT services such as production support, maintenance and enhancements, and service management, you’ll have to wait too long to build up your internal staffing and infrastructure. Instead, consider outsourcing to an AMS service provider.
Setting aside the obvious cost advantages and domain expertise, outsourcing AMS services, especially to a Near Shore services provider (full disclosure: Softtek is a Near Shore outsourcing provider), can help you with really fast transitions for multi-platform mission critical applications.
Your fast growth period is an exciting time – but it can also be a stressful time, fraught with the dichotomous contradictions of trying to become a large company with large company processes, people and technology, while trying to hang on to the essence that made you special in the first place.
Keeping up with the technology demands of a growing company is fun, but it can go wrong very quickly (and become very costly) if you’re not careful.
So enjoy the process – don’t be in such a hurry to get there. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.” Building an IT department equipped for growth can be an exciting journey.