Robert Rutherford, managing director of IT outsourcing consultancy QuoStar Solutions, has outlined the top five IT strategies for SMEs in 2011.
Look to the cloud
We expect to see a huge upturn in cloud services in 2011. A significant percentage of this growth will come from the SME market, as 'the cloud' will typically deliver enterprise-class systems and services without the upfront capital costs, or the ongoing maintenance costs and complexities. Many organisations have resisted cloud computing as they are concerned about losing control - don't be.
Focus on security
Over the last few years the security landscape has been relatively quiet. This has made many businesses a little complacent when it comes to IT security issues. Although we are seeing the risks rise, this isn't being reflected in awareness or spend. Most SMEs seem to work on a purely reactive basis when it comes to security, and that can be very dangerous.
At the moment, one of the largest threats comes from the rapid expansion of the mobile device market. I'd be willing to bet that at least 50% of SMEs have no security protection on their mobile devices, even on a basic level, such as encryption and antivirus. SMEs also need to focus on the basics, such as patch management, as the majority of exploits still come through unpatched software.
IT is not just an 'added cost'
The majority of business gains to be made in 2011 and beyond are going to come from the intelligent use of technologies and systems. SMEs should be looking to see which systems and services can really provide a measurable return for their money. It all depends on your market, but great gains can be made by looking into the areas that maybe weren't right at the time, or which have hurt you in the past, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) suite. 'A few years ago' is a long time in IT, and rapid globalisation has opened up competition, bringing real improvements and reduced costs.
Don't sweat your IT assets
SMEs shouldn't be sweating their assets, especially in terms of hardware, as I've seen numerous companies attempt this and regret the decision. IT departments often get the blame for the problems caused by outdated systems and software, even when the risks of this approach were made clear to the management. IT departments should draw up a 'risk register', and then ask management to sign off the risks as acceptable, particularly in relation to servers, storage and security.
It's understandable that many businesses do not have a lot of spare cash at the moment and a change in hardware may bring other associated costs, such as software. Perhaps look at financing the project, looking at thin-client solutions, and of course the cloud.
Resist the temptation of new gadgets
Some of the latest breakthroughs in technology may be perfect for home use, but the popularisation of technology can be risky for SMEs and is usually unsuitable for a working environment. SMEs should stick to tried-and-tested technology that has been designed for the business market. However, if you absolutely cannot resist the urge for the latest must-have gadget, then make sure that you control what the devices can and cannot do on the network, and what you'll do if the device is lost.