IT does success, not succession

Young business people
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Billy

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2 February 2018 | 0

Billy MacInnesShouldn’t we be reaching the stage in the evolution of the IT industry where people are in a position to employ their children and, potentially, leave their business to them when they retire? And yet there are so few resellers or computer companies with XXX & Sons (or, more rarely, XXX & Daughters) in their name. Ok, it might not be cool or fit the bleeding-edge, ultra-modern image attached to IT to have such an anachronistic name attached to the company, but there’s probably more to it than that.

There are all kinds of companies and professions where people have employed their children and passed the business on to them when they retire (or die). Most main streets in villages, towns and cities in Ireland feature businesses where a son or daughter has followed in the family footsteps, be it shopkeeper, publican, funeral director, hotel owner, lawyer or doctor. Local farmers have handed down farms for generations. It’s really not unusual.

It may well become so in the near future however. In fact, it’s already happening for some of those businesses where the spread of homogenous franchises, consolidation and the Internet has sent many of them off the main street or driven them under. While there is a niche for some small, locally owned businesses to exist, many are being taken over or pushed aside. The main streets of many towns and villages in Ireland are punctuated by empty shops with boarded windows and deserted commercial buildings with To Let signs. The opportunities for sons and daughters to follow their parents into a family business are shrinking in many areas.

Distance learning
IT has helped to make much of this possible by providing a platform for people to engage and transact with businesses much further away. Many of us go online to buy things. As a consequence, local providers on our doorstep are pushed out of business. As their numbers dwindle, the people who used to buy from them are forced to travel further afield or shop online. And so it goes.

There are notable exceptions where it is much harder for an online alternative to usurp the local option, such as funeral directors for instance, but not many.

You might argue that the Internet in particular can help to level the playing field by allowing a local business with a good website and a strong proposition to compete globally with much larger rivals. You could also argue that technology has played an important role in reducing the cost of starting a company and conducting business, making it easier for someone to start from scratch and be up and running far quicker than in the past.

But it’s also made it harder for many businesses to make a virtue of one of their biggest strengths: being local. And there are some businesses, particularly where the service provided by tradespeople requires a physical element, where being local is not just an advantage, it’s a necessity. For many others, however, it’s not quite as important as it used to be. In the age of instant gratification, it’s possible to order something from a Web giant and have it delivered to your doorstep faster than from a local outlet.

Local shmocal
Until recently, small local IT providers probably had a shopfront and were a bit like a plumber or electrician in terms of being required to physically visit a customer to install, integrate and support IT equipment. But thanks to technology, much of that process can be reduced so that after installation and integration of the physical equipment, software can be installed, patched and updated without having to visit the customer and support can be delivered remotely. Local, shmocal.

But if you’re someone in that position, what attraction does your occupation hold for your child? Where is the inspiration for them to follow in your footsteps? Will anything that you’re doing now have any relevance for them when the time comes? What exactly will they be doing in the future if they do become involved in IT? If your business is providing consultancy and remote support, for example, what exactly will you be bequeathing to them if they decide to take the IT route? Which brings us to the crux of the matter: The business. What is it? What are the endurable qualities that can be handed over to the next generation of the family?

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