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?
Typically, they do what we all do in the absence of better information; we use what we are familiar with for better or worse. Ideally, we would consult with others who have more experience than ourselves. This can be free or paid consulting advice.
There are several good answers here. I have one that is a little unique:
Ask other businesses in your size range which IT firm they use, and are they happy with the guidance they get.
Look at the experience of the firms that get recommended to you. If an IT firm has been in business for more than 15 years, they must be giving good advice and service.
Most of my clients have been with me for 15 to 20 years. I don't advertise. I let my clients do that for me. My Economics and Finance degree is my edge over other IT firms. Also, I always ask a multitude of questions before even beginning to come up with a gameplan of the proper HW & SW a firm needs to win in the game of business. If you run into an IT firm that doesn't... keep looking.
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!
I would generally advise a small company to engage the services of a reliable local supplier who can undertake this work for you. But it really does depend on your definition of small. Small can be quite small in which case DIY is usually the option or, in fact quite large in terms of number of computers etc. and so warrants developing a specification prior to purchase. In doing so ongoing support is generally to be considered as well.
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.
Outsourcing service can be a good option for you. We have customers in different countries, and provide our services including hardware, software, and even networking design and integration of telecommunications. Most of those are doing small business without any IT staffs. Actually, on the Internet, you and I may reach anywhere in the world. In addition, you may have more effectiveness to control your limited budgets for any specific purchasing.
We have a software development team in India, hardware design and manufacturing in China, networking consultation in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and our base is in Taiwan. However, you'll amaze the cost of our services versus what we're giving to you.
Hi Douglas Brown,
I would suggest you to either hire a technical consultant or freelancers to help you out. You can use various websites like Freelancer, ODesk, Fiverr and Guru to opt for freelancers
Well, since I have diversified out of the IT business, maybe I can help? I have moved into more Health & Wellness services and some products as well as hydroponics systems. It really depends on just what you NEED as far as systems. For simple bookeeping, it is hands down QuickBooks Pro. You can run it on most current laptops and all desktops as stand alone or in a workgroup with multiple users.
Hardware is pretty cheap these days as a cost of doing business. From workstations to laptops to notepads to smart phones it all has the ability to keep you 'connected' as much as you desire.
For web services, it depends on just what you need, simple web site for advertising (like most of mine) or active selling sites. You can easily set up sell sites using Amazon, and many others cheap or free (international use Alibaba.com).
There are more options and more decisions that you MUST integrate with your business plans. Best is to find a good consultant (local if possible) to utilize on an ongoing basis so he/she gets to know/understand your business and can help guide you. Often-times they can act as your IT Manager part-time or as/needed.
Ask other similar sized and similar positioned businesses in your area and check in on LinkedIn. Lots of helpful folks there in just about any area you can imagine; world wide!
Much good information and answers.
I would add: keep it simple. If you have basic IT needs, know what they are in layman's terms (a contractor/vendor should help), know what metrics or standards you will need to measure performance- bandwidth cost/gig, uptime ratios, etc.- and go from there.
If a vendor or consultant can't keep this easy, then look elsewhere. They should help you keep them accountable.
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.
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.
I'd suggest hiring a local I.T. consultant to do an in house evaluation.
You can approach this two ways:
1) Pay them a flat rate for the evaluation or an hourly fee. They can tell you what to buy and you handle the I.T. purchasing, installations, support, etc.
2) Get a complimentary evaluation with the expectation that you make your I.T. purchases through the consultant and they become a partner in installation and support as needed.
Either approach can work for you depending on your needs and comfort level.
Hi Douglas, I can well understand your problem, I do work in the IT Industry for Large corporates, and lately national Government. However I have been on the other end of this as a small business owner, but believe me the problem is no different, it is just more costly, and there are numerous corporates with diabolically designed systems, because large vendors and consultancies have taken advantage.
The issue is not to go looking for new hardware / software to replace what you have, the first thing to answer is what is the business Case and business process you wish a system for. Do not get dragged into whether it should be Linux or Microsoft, or whether you should be looking at Cloud services. We need to see what is the Requirement you are needing to fulfil now and over the next 5 to 10 years.
Will your business be static, or do you wish to grow it, or maybe expand by takeover, or MAYBE you just want a system that makes your business Admin easier and enables you to service your customers better to retain them.
Once you have cracked that and got it down in writing then maybe some of us can help in a Consultancy manner, with no ties or obligations to any particular solution other than a solution to your business dilemma.
I wish you good hunting for a solution.
Hi Douglas, we wrote a blog post that I think may help you determine what types of hardware and software to invest in: http://hub.am/1j6bSIA It gives a high-level overview on building an IT strategy (which includes buying HW/SW/apps for your business) based on business goals, your business' dependency on technology, and planning for the future.
Once you get down the basics, you need to do your research on each one, which is where a lot of business leaders tend to get stuck because there isn't enough time in the day to run your business AND do the necessary research on this stuff (especially when salespeople are biased, as are bloggers and websites).
Hope this helps in some way! Here's the link again. http://hub.am/1j6bSIA
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.
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.
It depends of the necessity. No matter how tiny the company is, you need to have a meet with all colleagues whom are part of the project.
Not matter if there area 2 or 1 computer with only a documents suite program installed, you need to talk with stakeholders and of course, ask the opinion of one expert IT specialist, to be sure you are taking the best decision.
This is a question with many answers. For the bigger decisions there are consulting firms out there that could do the shopping for you or at least help you. No matter how you do your shopping though, these are some key things to remember.
Spend some time before you shop and figure out everything you want to do.
If you don't know what you want, how can you expect someone else to.
You need to at least be able to tell the sales manager or Engineer what you need to accomplish.
Shopping for Hardware is a little easier than shopping for Software but do your due diligence. Knowing what your software needs are can help you with the hardware decision, and the hardware seller can usually suggest a fit based on your software needs.
Research things on the Internet. It is hard for an Integrator to compete with the big box stores, but even if you need an integrator that can provide and install for you, knowing the internet pricing can help you negotiate with the integrator.
You the customer should always be in control of the project, and any and all communications and contracts should spell that out. Both sides will have to do their part to finish a successful project but don't leave yourself without avenues. Make sure you are only responsible for paying for a complete project, and hold at least 10 to 20% for final completion and training of you and your staff.
I might suggest you get an IT Consultant to come evaluate your needs. I believe they are a bit pricey but most of the ones I have worked with are honest and reliable. In this field all we have are our names. You might consider hiring a temporay employee to do your IT needs to come and go as you need them that way you do not have to carry them as a full time employee with benefits. You can read reviews on products but without working knowledge of them or what they do you may be wasting your time. I recommend doing it right the first time. It may be an investment but it is worth it for your business.
You really need the expertise so if you don't have staff members who know IT, then you should not proceed without expert consultants who not only know IT - but also know your business.