As recently as ten years ago, it seemed that only computer programmers, graphic designers, and writers used technology to complete their jobs. But today’s small and medium businesses use information technology (IT) for just about everything. Whether you are a mechanic using computer engine diagnostics or a retailer with a point-of-sale system, a bookkeeper working on backend financial systems or a sales manager using customer management software, the use of IT is no longer optional.
Of course, most businesses are using desktops and laptops, and now even many of the smallest businesses use servers, whether application or file servers, web and e-mail servers, or data servers. Many businesses know that storing your data on a server — a computer that is designed to store, manage, distribute and process data — can protect the data and help improve business results. In today’s environment, servers are a must to protect your business information, operations and to help you compete effectively with the resources you have. The right server can also give you strategic advantage by helping you control operating costs and ramp sales.
It can seem daunting and difficult, especially given that only 20% of small businesses have dedicated IT staffs, to learn how technology can help your business succeed and accommodate future growth, while not overwhelming your capabilities. (If you are one of the few businesses that actually has an IT staff, they’re likely consumed with keeping your systems and networks going, not focused on incorporating technology to help your business grow more successfully and easily.)
Reduced to its simplest terms, the question that must be answered is: what problems can technology solve for small business? Fortunately, the answers are fairly simple and straightforward as well.
1. Protect Your Business
Computer viruses and hackers can put your business at risk, especially with today’s mobile workforce. Employees are using wireless notebooks and web-enabled cell phones and any one of these can introduce viruses or hackers into your system. It’s important to have a strong policy in place that provides an overall framework for organizational security and details how you’ll manage security incidents.
But protecting your business is about more than just securing it from viruses and hackers. You have to think about data loss or theft and recovery, as well. Having business information scattered across desktop PCs puts the business at risk. Vital contact, order, and financial information can be lost or compromised, and scattered data wastes time and leads to errors as employees operate from incomplete information. A server can help protect your business by storing your data in a centralized database where it can be protected from attacks and automatically backed up, so you have a spare copy in case of system failure.
2. Improve Productivity
Mobile devices boost productivity, connectivity, and convenience, allowing you to work anytime, anywhere and get the most out of the time you spend working. For instance, using Wi-Fi*-enabled notebooks brings your staff closer to customer requests and helps keep your business on a path to growth. For example, the sales manager who can enter customer order information into her laptop while still in the field has the advantage of confirming the order while still sitting with the customer — reducing errors — and initiating the order process sooner on the company end — leading to revenues that are booked faster.
Servers can also help make your staff more productive by speeding communication, promoting collaboration, and giving your employees full-time access to information. If you have your own e-mail server that can be accessed from the office, while traveling, or while telecommuting, your employees can be that much more effective.
3. Streamline Operations
Efficient operations are good for your customers and your bottom line. And the success of your company depends not only on how well your various departments run, but also on how well these different areas interface with each other. Here’s where a server can really help. A server lets you streamline your operations, consolidating business-wide information and putting answers at your employees’ fingertips when they’re working with customers or suppliers. When sales, order processing, technical support, finance and other operational areas share a common knowledge base, customers and suppliers get faster, more consistent answers to their questions, your internal processes can run more efficiently and profitably, and your team has more time to focus on customer needs and adding value to the business.
A server also allows you to integrate your financial information, order histories, and customer information in a single location, giving you a complete financial picture and tight control over your cash flow. Integrating this information can give you time and resource savings, so you can realize revenue quickly, forecast efficiently, and manage your risk.
Finally, couple all this with business intelligence and planning applications running on a server and you have the information and insight needed to run a tight, profitable business. Business intelligence applications let you analyze data quickly, giving you immediate feedback on what’s selling, which marketing efforts are most effective, and how fast you can manufacture and deliver products.
4. Improve Marketing and Sales
According to the Small Business Technology Institute, 20% of all leads generate 90% of a small business’ revenue. In such a fiercely competitive market, marketing and sales depend on effective communication with customers and prospects. By using technology for marketing, you can increase your market reach and the quality of your sales leads, compressing the sales cycle and improving cash flows. A server gives you the power to leverage your data across many business processes, including applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence. By gaining insight into your customers, you get a bigger view of what’s happening within your company and can adjust accordingly.
A server can support powerful applications such as e-Commerce and sales force automation, that help you broaden your market reach and make your sales staff more effective, while saving you money. And your sales staff might consider converged devices — phones that have at least 32 megabytes of memory, a speedy processor, a thumb keyboard, a web browser, and can run typical office productivity software and other core business applications. With this type of hardware and mobile software and faster cellular networks, your sales force can improve its productivity.
Taking the Next Step
A small business looking to purchase new technology should start by assessing its business needs, looking ahead proactively to what the future might hold, rather than reacting when a technology need arises. This helps ensure you buy equipment that fits your purposes and has the potential to improve your ROI.
If you don’t have an internal IT staff, you’ll want to look for a system integrator who can serve as a trusted IT advisor, as well as provide equipment and manage implementation for you. An IT advisor will help you determine what technology is best for your company and ensure system integrity — saving you time, money, and headaches in the long run.
By giving you new insights into your customers and operations, increasing your efficiency and productivity, and helping you act more quickly on new business opportunities, technology can help you build a better business. The key is to find the right mix of products and an IT advisor or team to help you implement and manage your systems.