Small Business and IT

4757641653I’ve written before about the constraints that hit small businesses when it comes to IT.   Constraints are everywhere, but one area that I’ve always found them is within the technology / IT space of small businesses.

On a previous article titled Small Business CIO – Manager of Constraints, I discussed the development of options for replacing an exchange server for a client…the options were  to upgrade to a new Exchange server/license or migrate to an externally hosted Exchange or Email provided.

For that particular client, they decided to move to a hosted exchange environment and saved a good deal of money. That particular client had an IT group and had people to help support whatever option they chose…but what about the small business that doesn’t have an IT staff.

Can you run a small business today without an IT staff?  Yes…you can. I don’t think anyone would argue against that…but can you do it effectively?

Let’s take a look at an example.

Our example small business is a 10 person company with an office in Dallas and an office in Fort Worth.

There are no full time IT employees.  The owner’s son provides support as needed, but he has a full-time job and isn’t usually available when needed.

The company has a local file server to store files and to act as a backup.    A virtual private network exists between the Fort Worth office and the Dallas office so that all users are on the same network. Other than that, there isn’t much in the way of ‘sophisticated’ technology.

There are quite a number of issues at the company with the largest issues being local software problems.  A few examples of these problems:

  •  Most of the company management is done via Excel.   The central file server is where everyone stores their excel files…and multiple users use these excel files regularly.  An issue almost daily that causes these excel files to ‘lock’ so users cannot save their work. Someone has to go onto the server and copy the excel file, rename it and then everyone has to use the new file.
  • Email is handled via an outsourced exchange host. The service is fairly reliable but there are times when interruptions occur. Additionally, the provider doesn’t allow users to access their email via their smartphones…which is something the company wants/needs to do to make it easier to keep on top of email.
  • Most of the software used by the company is ‘local’ software installed on each machine.  There are multiple installations of QuickBooks (and multiple versions of Quickbooks), multiple installations of Office (again…multiple versions of Office), etc.  The controller of the company uses Quickbooks to manage the company payroll, but he often has with compatibility issues between the different versions of Quikcbooks they run.
  • Each user’s computer is different.  The business owner buys whatever hardware is on sale at the time he needs a new computer.   This makes it ‘cheaper’ to buy new hardware but it does make supporting hardware more difficult.
  • Lastly, the phone system is an antiquated local PBX system that fails often. The business owner knows they need to do something different but he isn’t sure what to do.

This is a pretty accurate example of many small businesses today. They have a hodge-podge of hardware, software and technology. This hodge-podge is built as needed and, for the most part, it works.

But…what happens when problems arise?  What happens when things break?  What happens when growth happens? Can this company mitigate some of their issues today to help themselves tomorrow?

Here’s a few thoughts on what this organization can do to future-proof itself and resolve some of their current issues.

  1. Move to a service like Microsoft Office 365.    This provides two ‘solutions’.  The first, email.  It allows the company to move away from their outdated hosted exchange service to a new service that allows exchange-like email/calendaring and smartphone access to email. The second solution addresses the file sharing issue and should resolve the excel ‘locking’ problem that they have.  
  2. Move away from a local Quickbooks environment to online versions. This isn’t a necessity, but it would move away from having different versions.  Intuit has online versions of their accounting software and payroll software, which can be used by multiple users while removing the need to upgrade and maintain the software.
  3. Move away from the local PBX phone system to a hosted phone system. This gets the company’s phone systems into the ‘cloud’ and allows for more features. It also provides for more ‘mobility’ as users can have their extensions routed to whatever phone they happen to be on.
  4. Even though it may be slightly more expensive in the short term, standardize on one hardware provider like Dell.  This provides for a much easier environment for support and future upgrades.   In addition, purchasing a maintenance agreement from Dell (or whomever you go with) provides additional levels of hardware support for when things do go wrong.
  5. Find a local IT company that can provide technology support either on an as needed basis or via a managed IT services contract. This removes the reliance on your cousin or friend to provide support and puts your organization in the hands of IT Professionals at a fraction of the cost of hiring your own full-time team.

Taking the above steps won’t solve all this company’s IT headaches, but it does alleviate them by moving responsibility for maintenance of many important systems onto someone else.

With a little forethought and planning, a small business can do just fine without a full time IT team.

Image Credit:IT Crowd iPhone Wallpaper by drumminhands on flickr

Comments

  1. One idea I recently heard about here in New Zealand is hardware-as-a-service. Small businesses pay so much per month to get a PC plus all the support services. The company doing this couples HaaS with other services, so a business could get PCs, Office 365 and other software, hosted PBX, backup and mail all for a fixed price per user per month.

    This works out a little more expensive that buying hardware, but effectively lifts all the technology burden from the business owner’s shoulders. I reckon it’s ideal for companies where there are no geeks – which I guess is still the majority of small businesses.

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