Where to spend the IT budget
by Keris Lahiff
Budgets for small businesses are often tightly allocated and when IT comes into the equation, it can be difficult to predict how much capital is needed and where to spend it. The good news is, while technology can be expensive, it is a competitive market and so it pays to research what your business needs and what is on the market to assist.
Banking on the necessities
The first thing a business owner should do is assess where the need for IT support exists within the business. If staff members do their fair share of business travel, it’s important to equip them with notebooks or laptops so they can continue to work when on the road. Or, if staff members work in-house, invest in suitable PCs for their workstations.
Purchase equipment with powerful processors and adaptable operating systems so they are reliable for three to four years and upgrade as new applications or software becomes available. Also, make note of support services offered with a purchase, such as warranty and post-sales assistance.
For software such as the Microsoft Office suite of programs, look for software licensing contracts for multiple users. This means that more than one computer can share access to a software program, for a pooled price.
From the start, map out the foundation of strong IT infrastructure that your business can grow upon. This could include implementing a server so that multiple computers can access shared files and as secure back up. Alternatively, access to a customer relationship management system (CRM) or intranet could be invaluable in pooling customer databases and internal operations files.
Read the contract
When shopping for ISP, phone or website hosting, ensure you do your research – it’s important you sign up to a contract that can adequately service and support your business now to the end of the contract. A degree of flexibility or the option to upgrade your plan is a lifesaver when your business is on the verge of a growth spurt.
Most importantly, before signing on any dotted line, read the contract thoroughly and ask questions wherever unclear.
Certain areas to be clear on include:
- What am I signing up for?
- How much does it cost and what is included in this cost? What will I need to pay extra for (such as service fees or credit card charges)?
- Should the system crash, what kind of support or service do you offer? Is there a 24/7 support line?
- Can I manage my account online?
- How long is the contract? Will it rollover when it expires or will I have to sign another contract?
- How can I break my contract?
- Can I alter my plan (such as upgrading or downgrading) to suit changing business needs?
Leasing and outsourcing
For a more cash flow friendly option, consider leasing IT equipment, instead of purchasing it. The added benefit is equipment is upgraded every few years, depending on the conditions outlined in the contract.
Or, if technology isn’t your forte, streamline the process by outsourcing your IT department to an IT service provider.
“Ensure you have a trusted IT advisor,” says Danielle Watts, small business marketing manager for Intel and Switzer technology expert. “There are many out there. Search for one that fits well with your business, you trust and is proactive to your business needs and considerations.”
Often this means your business can benefit from more advanced services such as data security and backup, automated virus protection, and software upgrades and patches. However, like with any service, it’s important to read the conditions of the contract before signing to ensure you are entitled to premium service should disaster strike.
“You may want to consider setting up a contract with your IT advisor, a service level agreement outlining what types of service levels you will get from your IT specialist,” advises Watts. “Consider extended warranties, licensing agreements, and negotiate a contract that you are happy with in terms of response times.”
For advice on hiring external IT help, read these tips.
Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.
Published on: Monday, November 15, 2010