Small businesses generally don’t have dedicated IT staff. Keeping up with the latest developments in IT, let alone maintaining, troubleshooting and fixing IT systems can be a real headache for the small business owner who often doesn’t have the necessary technological savviness. So how can small businesses manage the technology in their companies? In this article we look at some possible solutions, but first we look at why it’s important for small businesses to be on top of IT management.
The risks of poor IT management
The most obvious risk to small businesses of poor IT management is downtime and the consequent loss in productivity. Costs can very quickly add up if staff are unable to access the information they need to get the job done. And if staff are unable to process a customer order because the system is down, then you risk losing customers too.
Furthermore, neglecting to make sure that you have the latest anti-virus software could result in costly malware infections. Losing private customer data to hackers, for example, could have catastrophic consequences for a small business.
But the risks don’t just relate to the maintenance and support of IT systems. What about the strategic management of IT resources? There is also a financial risk to small businesses in relation to having out-dated IT systems which may require more ongoing maintenance, than newer, faster systems. But who can make the decision to upgrade or acquire new systems? Ensuring that you are using the newest and best technology requires knowledge and expertise and a commitment of time and resources that few small businesses can afford.
IT management solutions
Many small businesses have approached IT management in an ad hoc fashion. Often the task is assigned to an untrained tech-enthusiast staff member who looks after IT on a part-time basis. In many instances this works perfectly well. However, because the person is largely untrained there is always the risk that they may overlook a crucial task resulting in compromised security or system instability.
Another solution often deployed by small businesses is to hire, often on a retainer basis, a computer service person to handle routine maintenance and to troubleshoot any problems. The disadvantage of this solution is that unscheduled or more complex issues may attract additional charges on a time and materials basis. In addition, these computer service personnel are often themselves small operators, and so their knowledge may be limited and their ability to respond quickly may sometimes be an issue.
Engaging bigger, more professional service providers is also a possible solution; however, the costs are likely to increase making it an unaffordable option for many small businesses.
Managed service providers
There is another alternative. Managed service providers (MSPs) offer various outsourced IT services including routine maintenance and help desks. MSPs provide their services remotely over the internet through shared screens and remote monitoring and management software. Costs are fixed on a monthly basis which provides the small business with that all important cost certainty. Typically services are provided through a service level agreement model agreed in advance with the small business.
Although the MSP model has a number of advantages for small businesses, it may not be the ideal solution for those companies that want a reactive service and on-site availability.
Employing an IT staff member
Of course, it is always an option to consider having an in-house IT resource. The decision on when to employ an IT technician directly is largely influenced by the number of staff and the complexity of the company’s technology. As a small business you will need to weigh up the costs of an outsourced IT resource against the costs of recruiting an IT staff member. Typically, when staff numbers reach the 50-75 mark then it becomes cost-effective to have an in-house resource.
Whatever solution you as a small business decide to employ, the important thing is to ensure that you are on top of IT management. Having the right IT management systems in place will pay dividends on your bottom line and will help to maintain a competitive edge.