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Identify, Acquire and Master the Technology that Will Drive Your Small Business
Give your small business its best chance for success by creating a technology strategy that grows with your company.
For most small businesses, technology is an indispensable partner that keeps everything from point-of-sale to marketing to finance running smoothly as long as all parts of the technology work together like they should.
To minimize any tech-related roadblocks, take some time to create a strong technology strategy that's cost effective, highly strategic and geared for growth. Sound daunting? It doesn't have to be, with effective planning and implementation.
In this article, we delve into some of the major elements of a technology strategy for small businesses. We start with a look at technology planning, move into hardware shopping tips and software functionality, cover networking basics and finish with tactics for backup and security.
The first step in any technology strategy even before perusing different technology options is to determine what you need. Although it's tempting to load up on flashy devices and feature-packed software, putting too much into a technology combination could lead to operational inefficiencies and budget strain.
Here are three steps to get started with planning:
Once you've determined technology usage and goals, it's time to choose hardware that will best meet your company's needs. Cost is a major element, but it shouldn't be the only factor in a technology decision.
Be sure to also consider:
Take the time to gather information from a variety of sources. According to a study done by the research firm SMB Group, 72 percent of small businesses cite vendor websites as one of their top sources of information when it comes to technology solutions.
Social media can also be a boon; the same study found 68 percent of small businesses use blogs and 64 percent view webinars and podcasts when looking for information about technology. Survey respondents also indicated that email newsletters, search engines, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook were also influential in their decision-making.
In general, culling from multiple sources in this way can give you a wider view when evaluating specific technology components, like a certain brand of smartphone or a line of laptops. Set aside some time up front for this kind of broad research effort and youll soon realize the effort spent now is worth the higher efficiency and profits later on down the line.
Similar to hardware like laptops and desktops, software should be evaluated based on functionality, business goals, interoperability and effectiveness. Here are some top factors to consider when choosing software and making it work for you:
The constellation of small business applications is vast, with free options, cloud-based choices and traditional boxed software. Some SaaS models offer applications on a monthly or annual subscription basis; pricing depends on the number of users and the amount of data stored.
SaaS is likely to keep growing in the small business community. Recent research from AMI Partners determined that usage of SaaS-based customer relationship management (CRM) software among small businesses will triple by 2015. AMI Partners estimates that over 500,000 U.S. small companies are using SaaS for their CRM needs now.
The benefits of a SaaS approach hit all the top factors for software selection: Often, companies can choose only the functionality they need, access is available to mobile devices and many SaaS applications offer consolidated tasks. When considering your software blend, be sure to consider these types of applications as well, in case they make sense for your business, too.
With today's business communications, as well as online applications, technology is woefully less effective without an Internet connection. Here's what you'll need to set up a solid wireless business network:
The benefit of a wired approach is straightforward (a faster connection speed), but doesnt mean as much as it once did given the strength, mobility and reliability of todays dual-band wireless routers. If you can help it, go wireless. The wired approach may give a speed boost, this is true, but it comes at a cost: youre sacrificing the efficiency, maneuverability and potential productivity boosts that a modern-day wireless setup provides (and no coffee shop working sessions, either).
All the technology savvy in the world won't be enough if your data gets wiped out.
According to the 2012 Global Disaster Recovery index from IT services firm Acronis, 23 percent of small businesses lack a remote backup strategy, and 42 percent still use manual, antiquated backup procedures (e.g., transferring new files onto an external hard disk). Only 21 percent of small businesses in the survey deploy cloud backup solutions.
Researchers noted that these numbers were similar to 2011, even though small business owners surveyed realized the importance of data backup.
Don't let your business become a statistic. Although data backup can seem like a tiresome chore, a number of technologies can make the task easier. Here are a few main options:
Whichever option you choose, make sure to utilize it and plan for regular backups. Automated services and software can help keep a small business on track, and out of danger.
A firewall and some antivirus software were once all it took to consider a shop secure, but not anymore. In the modern digital age you need to evaluate every facet of your businesspeople included. In every aspect of a technology strategy, security should be a driving factor when it comes to purchasing and implementation.
Consider poor password policies, for example. Year-after-year countless independent reports reveal that the most-used poor password is, well, the word password. The numerical phrase 123456 is often a close second, revealing that for many small businesses, the biggest security threat is often its own employees. Dont be too hard on them, however. Sometimes all a workforce needs to create better passwords is a little advice.
For example, choose a string of text thats easy to remember, like a line from the Pledge of Allegiance. I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America has a nice ring to it, and if we take the first letter from each word, we get Ipattfotusoa. Ugly word, yes, but its a great 12-character, seemingly random password. Take it a step further if you like and sub in some numbers: I1p2a4t3tOf. Thats pretty ugly too, but its the kind of ugly you can remember, and the kind that a hacker would pass up for something easier to crack. Like, say, 123456.
Beyond your people, its important to look at each piece of equipment in the office (even the printer, if it's wireless-enabled) and set security controls or install the latest antivirus program, if possible. These controls are often found in the user manual that accompanies the device, but in rare cases where the manufacturer has not included them, or the instructions appear to be written in another language, contact a tech professional for help.
Most antivirus programs, once installed, will update automatically, thereby ensuring your PC or tablet has the most up-to-date protection no matter how forgetful you might be with that kind of thing. New malware launches every day, so having an autonomously updating antivirus program on your device is an invaluable tool we really cannot promote enough.
Lastly, take a look at automated security tools, such as those found with data-backup software and services. These tools can also run their own regular antivirus and intrusion protection sweeps on a system and send an alert via email or even text message to let you know when something seems awry. Thats more time for you to worry about things that really matter, like your bottom line.
As your company grows, it's likely that your technology needs will change. Creating a technology strategy that anticipates this growth will go a long way toward minimizing expenditures and technical issues. Of course, be sure to review your technology mix on a regular basis.
Also set aside some time at least once or twice a year to evaluate your hardware, software, networking gear, backup and security, and determine if all those components are still meeting your needs. When doing this review, project a year into the future, when you'll likely need more storage space or be managing more company growth. Planning for a certain level of expansion will help keep your technology mix at the right level.
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