How do small businesses without on-board IT staffs decide what computer HW and SW they need and which ones to buy?
As a manager in larger companies it was hard enough getting a full-time IT staff to do adequate business cases and decent market analyses. In smaller companies we have "just done it" with the idea that each decision was pretty small, but later we ended up spending more replacing an inadequate solution (especially if you factor in disrupting the staff). How have you dealt with this? Is there a decent internet resource that won't take me more time than it is worth to sift through it all?
I currently am CFO for a tech company that provides outsourced CIO type services, among other services for smaller companies. This would be somewhat similar to contract CFO services. These services can range from one time special projects to ongoing monthly engagements. Actually we have companies ranging from very small start ups to large multi-bank holding companies. You can probably find a company similar to ours in your area. The problem is finding a company that is really good at what they do. If you are interested in that, I would ask about their certifications held and references before hiring. Do your due diligence.
Depending on what you are looking for in the IT area, I can also recommend that you look at www.sleeter.com. The Sleeter Group is a group of about 800 IT consultants who are also accountants, about half are CPA's like me and the rest are not CPA's, but all have passed Sleeter's tests and are knowledgeable about accounting software, inventory, point of sale, and other types of business software and hardware. I have attended their annual convention and found very sharp people there. Some specialize in certain business industries. sleeter.com has a search tool to find consultants in your area and even possibly consultants with specific knowledge of your needs.
I may be stepping on toes here by suggesting that, but just offering some help.
Regardless of the size of the organization, it is crucial to evaluate your requirements carefully, while keeping in mind key factors such as scalability, security and resiliency. All of which can be overcome with a trusted and value added partner who will work with you as your outsourced Information and Communication Technology solutions provider of choice. To be there for you at all times with a single common goal of business continuity.
As for a decent internet resource, there is so much out there and as you had mentioned, they take time. Each and every client requirements are unique and so is their network infrastructure. Hence, discussions of unique and custom solutions are critical to alleviate scalability. Thus having to re-invent the wheel.
That's where small business MSP's excel, they take this decision off your head.
I believe Dell has a service for small businesses to help you choose.
Douglas, From my own experience, your question is kind of very generalized.
To build a complete HW and SW infrastructure entails many things.
1:Example what kind of small company are we talking about?
2: Will this companies servers interact directly with the outside world meaning internet in which case some some level of security protection devices will be needed like firewalls routers and switches.
3: What applications and databases will the servers run, these will help determine the horse power of the servers.
4:What operating systems as this also some times determines the kind of blade servers to get, to me the best OS now is Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
5:Finally among other things that can better be discussed with your resource person and IT experts sitting and doing what is called Requirement Specification (customer) and Requirement Analysis (IT Resource people or group) often will go along way in proper and better analysis especially when it comes to business continuity and scalability plans.
This is a struggle for many small businesses, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs. The reality is that most business owners are good at their business but don't have the time or background to determine the appropriate solutions to either run or market their business.
How to deal with this? Well, most businesses spend over 500 hours a year at an opportunity cost of $10K (this information was taken from this years AT&T small business survey) tyring to learn technology thinking that will "save" them money in the long run. While the perceived value of a technology consultant seems "nice to have" by many, the truth is that their expertise can be invaluable.
I have worked with many small businesses to support their limited, short-term technology needs for specific projects such as website development, CRM implementation, marketing solutions, etc... and then identified what additional resources they will require for continued maintenance and support.
Finding a solution provider for this kind of project can be done via services such as eLance.com or oDesk.com. But like any critical position in your company, it is worth while to determine what your objectives are, budget, timeframe, etc... and then interview your provider as you would anyone else. Starting with a smaller project or limited time period to work together to see if a longer term relationship is good fit.
Hope this helps!
Whom ever your It provider is, should have done a network assessment for you, from that you can identify what resources that would best fit your environment.