Here’s how to simplify your technology needs

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Here’s how to simplify your technology needs

By Jim Bender, for SBT

Imagine someone walking up to you and asking you a question in a foreign language that you’ve never spoken. Your only response might be to mutter in English, "I’m sorry, but I don’t understand."
Unfortunately, small business owners often have that same reaction when confronted with questions about the technology at their companies. For many, the language of technology is indeed a foreign language.
Puzzled looks rule the day when non-technical people are confronted with hyper-technical consultants.
Most of the time, the language barrier is not intentional, but sometimes it is. In either case, too many non-technical people treat these situations like a trip to the dentist. Here are a few tips spoken in plain English to help when you are confronted with this techno root canal.

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Know what you have. No matter how cryptic, get somebody to create a list of your current hardware and software and communication capabilities. An outsourced IT professional is miles ahead on a project if he or she can simply see what already exists. It is a time-consuming process, so instead of paying someone else to do the research every time you have a problem or need a change, do it once and keep it handy. This includes warranties and service contracts.

Treat technology decisions the same way you treat other business decisions. It is amazing how very successful people will approach technology projects differently because they involve processes that they don’t understand. While you might not need to know how the computers and networks complete their tasks, chances are you know exactly what those tasks are supposed to be. Therefore, focus on the task, rather than the tool.

Prioritize your needs. A dominant factor needs to be established on one or more aspects of the project. Whether that is software, hardware, security or any number of external factors, this will assist your IT professional in creating a system with the right capabilities.

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Be safe and secure. Find a solution that matches your technology with your employees. The greatest software and hardware security does not mean anything if your people either can’t operate it or may compromise it. Backing up data is as critical as keeping it secure. Make sure your security plan includes data archiving and retrieval.

Let computers follow. Have a strategy first, and let technology adapt to it. Fewer problems arise when you apply technology to a proven plan than if you commit to a new technology and try to make it applicable. This is especially crucial in software.

Demand English. Returning to the same car mechanic because he talks to you in terms you can understand only makes sense. If your IT people don’t talk to you in language you can understand, demand better. Do not hesitate to request a detailed game plan of what they want to do and why.

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To see how these tips apply, let’s consider a real-world example: a printing company with 50 employees. We’ll call it Company G. Its management has decided to move some of its accounting practices in-house.
Because it has a long-standing relationship with an accounting firm, Company G will utilize a software program that the accounting firm will both train employees on and provide support for. Because Company G is almost entirely Mac-based, this software package will be placed on new PC hardware.
Company G has placed a priority on software. Therefore, we will focus on configuring the hardware to meet those needs.
Through a series of meetings, we have established that this new system will be used for the accounting package primarily and provide Web access for the three people who are on the system.
There are space limitations at the work areas, so size of the hardware will be an issue.
We also discussed the impact of system down time and support. Could the company afford to be down for an hour, a day, a week? Once it was determined that an hour was not a problem but a day was, we needed to find a solution that fit those needs.
Since the company does not have an employee who could provide support, outsourcing was the only option. We decided to go with a major US computer builder and utilize its 24-hour service support agreement.
From there, we focused on the type of hardware to utilize. For that, we used the "system requirements" sheet provided by the software vendor. We created a system with three workstations and a server that exceeded the minimum requirements without pushing the outer limits.
As hardware prices have dropped dramatically in recent years, purchasing powerful equipment is not as cost prohibitive as in the past.
The hardware was then physically installed. And a network was established between the three workstations and the server. Once all the necessary software was installed and configured to provide safe and secure Internet access and data backup, the accounting firm came in and fulfilled its duties.
Since Company G took the time to establish its priorities and apply the new technology to the firm’s business plan, it was able to affordably create a system that had the support, security and efficiency needed.
Over time, this system will be an extremely effective tool for the company. By combining off-the-shelf software with tailored hardware, it accomplished its goal of shifting its accounting practices in-house on a system its people can manage.

Jim Bender is the founder of Bender Productions, a Watertown technology and marketing consulting company. He can be reached at 920-262-8285.

Oct. 31, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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