Small businesses often have an uneasy relationship with technology. Entrepreneurs, as a rule, tend to be the sort of people who are eager to take risks and embrace what's new; but at the same time, they are wary of spending on fancy gadgetry that may or may not be useful in real life. Everyone knows that technology can do wonderful things for improving the performance and efficiency of your business, but most small business owners also know that high-tech tools rarely work exactly as advertised and they often seemingly require a trained computer scientist to get anything done at all.
So the question is, is the time right for your business to invest in high-tech upgrades, and if so, how do you get the most out of your investment?
According to survey results revealed at the National Small Business Administration Conference in Florida last month, many small businesses see the general upturn in the economy as a sign that now is indeed the right time to invest in technology. In that survey, 44% of small business owner respondents said they intended to buy new computer equipment for their workplace during the next year. Popular purchases will include the same range of products and services common in larger corporations: networking equipment, office servers, accounting software, management software, security tools and, of course, new computers themselves.
The problem many small businesses face is that they, quite simply, lack the skills to get the most out of this equipment. Even the smallest offices have a resident "computer genius," but he has his own primary tasks to take care of and, anyway, are you really sure he's such a genius to begin with? Training can be expensive, particularly since technology skills need constant updating, and for most small businesses hiring a devoted network administrator is out of the question. If you're not careful, your expensive new "memory brick" may end up being used as an actual brick within a few months.
For an increasing number of small businesses, the remedy is clear: outsourcing. Because of the above and other factors, experts see a growing market for technology outsourcing. Another study, performed by the Gartner Group, forecasts that outsourcing will represent 59% of all information technology activities by 2005.
However, the same study suggests that traditional outsourcing models, being costly and time-consuming to set up, may not be most appropriate for small businesses. The key to successful small business outsourcing models is to maintain close coordination between the business and the service provider. A good technology services vendor will use its own information technology equipment to facilitate these links, allowing you and your staff to use messaging and other tools to immediately contact the service provider as needed.
The downside to these relationships, as with any consultant relationship, is that your in-house staff may feel threatened and reluctant to cooperate with the perceived outsider. Managing these issues will require patience and sensitivity on your part. But the upside is huge. With a decent technology service provider, your network and individual PCs will function more smoothly, with fewer system crashes, and with reduced security risks. You'll get access to some of the top-notch services and tools available to major corporations, but with costs that you can manage.
How do you find the right service provider? We suggest the following: