Telecoms and network technologies for SMEs: Avoiding the traumas

As you are about to read in this supplement, technology can transform your business – but it can be difficult getting the...

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As you are about to read in this supplement, technology can transform your business – but it can be difficult getting the decisions right along the way. Just how important is effective technology to the bottom line of a business? Research findings among Computer Weekly’s readers goes some way to revealing the attitudes of small business to all aspects of technology, but how can businesses get it right without falling at the first hurdle? Here are some common mistakes to avoid, writes Mick Hegarty, ICT General Manager, BT Business.


What’s best for your business?

Technology should be the slave, not the master. It should help achieve your business priorities, not dictate them. Review these priorities and start from there. For instance, if you want to increase sales, then look at how technology can help generate leads. Think about how much it will cost, both to buy and operate, and work out what tangible return you’ll get for your investment.

Ignore the web at your peril

Even if you don’t have a physical product to sell over the Internet, think about how you can use it to improve your business, or use it to diversify and open up new avenues of business. Even if your web presence is there simply as a brochure to generate sales leads, it could justify the modest investment. You can be trading online within one day with an online ‘store’ plus a credit and debit card payment engine, with a simple, off-the-shelf package.

The purchase is just the beginning…

Where you buy your technology can be the biggest decision you make. It’s not just about the purchase itself – think about after-sales service, installing the hardware and software, technical support and training. Who is going to help you connect it all when you’ve made the purchase? To ensure you really reap the benefits, look for someone who understands your business, can offer you guidance on what to buy, and not suggest a piecemeal approach.

The cheapest deal may be the worst kind of deal

Cheap deals on hardware and software may be of benefit in the short term, but think about the longer term – will they need upgrading or replacing in the near future at more cost? Reliability of your hardware should be high up on your list of criteria.

Don’t forget your people

Think about training before you invest in technology. Many hours are wasted by bringing in new technology that your employees don’t know how to use. Having the right tools for the job is a motivator for your people, trapping them in technology they don’t understand is exactly the opposite. Technology deployment is as much about good internal communications as it is about making the right purchase.

Don’t underestimate the importance of your data

Technology can transform the way you run your business, but it’s quickly taken for granted. Losing critical data can have disastrous effects on your business. Recent research showed that some 70% of businesses who experience a major data loss go out of business within two years. Make sure that you back up your data in case it is lost, corrupted or stolen.

Don’t lose the ability to communicate

Networking is key to the way you communicate – think about what your fallback would be if you were to have a problem. Make sure that your comms are backed with a water-tight service level agreement (SLA). Losing the ability to transfer files, send or receive email or take orders over the Internet is kept to a minimum if you experience network downtime.

Compatibility issues

Consider what systems your clients and suppliers use. If you work with bigger companies that send huge files, you will need a fast Internet connection so they download quickly and enable you to respond at the right speed. A network and storage infrastructure that can cope with this traffic is also vitally important. You should also consider the kinds of files you might receive. Most businesses work in a Microsoft Windows environment, but consider specific applications your clients or suppliers are using – Apple Mac software could sometimes clash with that of Microsoft, for example.

Don’t ever think, ‘it won’t happen to me’

The average small business loses £843 if they suffer a virus attack, according to the Federation of Small Businesses. On average it takes a full working day to correct any damage done from viruses, such as the infamous Lovebug. As you begin to spend more time online, you could be vulnerable to external disruptions, so take precautions by keeping up to date with firewall and anti-virus software.

According to a survey by Technology Means Business, the longer you have been in business, the more importance you attach to your technology. If you are just starting out, the best advice of all is learn from the hindsight of others.

Treat technology as a priority and your business will reap the rewards.

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