To my surprise, I have witnessed how most small and midsize businesses underestimate the power of technology to make their companies more competitive and productive. I have also seen how often technology is treated as a necessary evil that every company needs in order to do their work. But seeing technology from this point of view will always result in loss of profits, revenues, employees’ productivity and customers’ dissatisfaction. The reason why it ends up becoming a problem, is because when ignored and not properly implemented, maintained and managed - like anything else, technology becomes a very expensive and complex problem to fix.
Is technology the problem?
So let’s start from the bottom up and give technology its proper place. Technology as per the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems”. Yes!!, “To solve problems” Got it? Technology itself is not the problem, but often the problem is the inability for people to adequately and properly apply the right technology to the right problem or effectively manage it so it doesn’t become a problem. So, where do you start? How do you make technology work for your business and not against your business?
First, start by making the peace with technology
First of all, stop seeing technology as the problem and begin to understand the strategic place that it plays in your business. Technology is much more than networks, servers, computers, and software. If you wish to begin leveraging technology as an effective strategic business tool, then you need to stop thinking that the network is just a bunch of messy cables (which in reality, they are not when properly installed), and that users’ computers are expensive tools that cost your business a lot of money every time they break. That programs are unreliable software difficult to understand and often stop working when you need them the most. Although all of the above seem to be true, the reason why these types of incidents happens is not because technology is some ugly or defective evil, but instead, it is often the result of lack of planning, attention to details, and proper management and administration. So what is next?
Understand that it is more than networks, applications, computers and servers.
Although you can see them all in isolation and as disconnected pieces, the truth is that networks, wires, computers, software and servers are a critical part of your business’s universe, which helps you keep customers orbiting around you and delivering services and products in a timely manner. If you don’t believe me, then throw all these expenses, equipment and software and try to do business.
Ok, so let’s expand on this. You are in business because you provide either a product or a service that is on demand and required by a third party. Since there is a demand for your services, customers need data on how your services can help them meet their demands and thus they often reach out to you via email, phone, or they simply visit your site. But guess what? For this message to get across (via web, phone, or email) you need to rely on the beauty of the network, the wires, the computers and the servers. Yes, depending on the type of communication or messaging system that your customer uses each of these components play a critical role to make sure that you can deliver the message, the product, and or the service.
So how to make technology part of the solution and not the problem?
First, understand the problem at hand in detail and collect all the requirements. Although it might seem that simple and common sense, it is simpler said than done. To begin making technology part of your solution and not your problem, start by understanding in detail your business’s needs and challenges. In other words, you need to do your homework and pay attention to the details if you really want to bring a solution that works for your business – IT and business alignment. For this, no detail is too big or small, and no question, idea, or concern should be disregarded. Also, to effectively put a solution that works in place, make your employees part of the problem-solving challenge, as they understand the problem at hand better than anybody else. If you are not familiarized with how to go about, you can always hire technology consulting services from professionals that have previously implemented similar solutions and systems. This will avoid you unnecessary expenses while helping you to effectively deploy a solution that fits your business’ needs.
Second, implement technology the right way from the very beginning. Please, please if you already made a decision to address, fix an issue, or create business efficiency by streamlining processes through technology, then make the right investment from the very beginning and don’t wait for things to start going wrong to then realize that you underestimated and under-invested in the solution. If you do so, it will end up costing you a lot more than if you did it right from the very beginning.
If you implemented the wrong technology trying to save some dollars here and there, it will often cost you a lot more down the road because you will impact your employees’ productivity and customers’ satisfaction when systems are taken under maintenance to fix the deficiencies. More important, please be aware that once it is in your customers’ or employees’ mind that a system doesn't work, good luck trying to change that perception. I have seen companies deploy defective solutions and having to replace employees because even after the systems were corrected they still believed that the system were defective and their productivity went through the floor. So please, do your business, your employees, your customers, and your numbers a favor: do it right the first time!
Finally… Manage it properly!!.. I can’t stress this enough, please make sure your technology and systems are properly managed by trusted and knowledgeable professionals. Technology, although very reliable, does require the appropriate maintenance to run smooth and without problems. Technology is not this thing that you leave there alone and works by itself – no it is not. Like a car that requires oil and air filter changes, proper tire inflation and rotation, networks, servers, computers and applications also need to be maintained and managed properly if you don’t want your systems to become a problem.
Software and hardware have life-cycles and a required maintenance. In the case of hardware/equipment, it requires close monitoring to detect any problem like memory, hard drive and power supply failure and/or overheating, among others. Especially considering that all hardware has limited lifetime – yes, hardware has a limited lifetime – of course there is a lot more about maintaining and managing hardware. But like hardware, software also requires maintenance and close monitoring to make sure software updates are applied in timely manner and security exploits are corrected before they are discovered by a hacker.
So, how to better managed your technology when you are a small business or midsize business?
It is not financially viable or efficient for a small or even a mid-size business to have a dedicated IT department in the house. If you were to hire one technician to manage all your technology’s needs, the result might not be what you expected, as a single technician will not have the ability to become an expert in every technical area that you need – network, servers, programs, computers, security, phone and more. Second, if you try to hire a full IT department (at least a help desk, a system and a network administrator) without any doubt your business will be blowing at least $155.000.00 every year if you are very frugal in your hiring process and that’s without counting salaries and benefits overhead. For, this, IT managed services represent an excellent solution for small businesses if the services are delivered by knowledgeable, experience, and reliable IT professionals. IT managed services provides businesses with the ability to run all their IT operations at the fraction of the cost of having a dedicated/internal IT department – it is like having your own IT department. Just do your homework and make sure you hire the right Managed Service Provider with its own dedicated staff to take care of your business.