These challenges and trends related to small business IT are only going to continue and evolve in 2020. Here's how to prepare.
As the year comes to a close, we tend to take personal assessment of the past year and make new plans for the coming one. But how many of us take this same approach when it comes to looking at business performance? And, more specifically, assessing the IT investments you made in 2019?
If you want to be a successful SMB in today's hyper-competitive economy, I would advise evaluating your IT spend during 2019 and how it impacted your organization, then make a plan for 2020. To help in this process, let's also look back on some of the common challenges SMBs faced in 2019 and how to prepare for what might lie ahead next year.
1. Failing to develop an IT plan
The biggest mistake we saw last year with SMBs was not taking the time to create an IT strategy. In their defense, looking at all the options out there can feel like you're trying to drink from a high-powered firehose. However, looking at IT components for the coming year and making a plan is worth the effort. You just need to break it down and take it one purchase at a time.
We constantly see small companies that just purchased what they needed in the moment, whether it be a few consumer-grade laptops from the local computer store or a server from a reputable service provider, without having a plan in place. However, they come to us when they find they can no longer manage the hodgepodge of products they've acquired.
Why did all of this become unmanageable? It's typically because the computers and programs are not consistent with one another, nor does the company have standard security protocols installed, to name just a couple of common issues. There is no method to the madness. While all this may work for a short time, at some point an IT plan and basic framework need to be put in place. Otherwise, it will continue to be a vicious cycle of patch fixes, bandages and short-term solutions. Why not get it right in the first place?
Solution: Smart planning for growth in 2020
The flip side of all that is having an IT plan in place. With a plan, your SMB will still be purchasing the same products, hardware and services; the difference will be that every laptop is set up the same way, using the same tools, software and protocols, and every server will be purchased with an existing and future framework in mind.
Don't know where to even start in creating an IT plan? Consider using a managed service provider. An MSP partner understands how to develop an IT plan that is relevant now and five years from now. They know how to align technology with your business goals to create value and ensure the smartest, most efficient use of your technology budget.
2. Locking in perpetual licensing agreements
In 2019, we continually came across SMBs that were tied to perpetual licensing agreements for many office services. In some cases, the licensing can be very expensive and cause the organization to keep legacy versions of programs in place long after they have run their course. This can result in lackluster performance and security vulnerabilities.
Solution: Cloud-based and subscription-based services
A trend we saw taking shape in 2019 that will continue in 2020 is the movement to subscription-based services. Cloud solutions that at one time only made financial sense for large companies or enterprises are now affordable and very much within reach for SMBs. And they come with a monthly payment, rather than a yearlong or multiyear commitment.
One example of a subscription service that many SMBs are quickly adopting is Office 365. It combines the advantages of cloud technology with the traditional foundation of on-premise software offerings, making Office applications available to numerous computers or devices with storage space on Microsoft's OneDrive. No matter what device they're running on, files can be accessed from anywhere at any time. When you have every employee in every office using the exact same version of Microsoft Office, productivity dramatically improves, as everyone now has a common feature set.
Similar subscription offerings are now available from other vendors, such as QuickBooks for accounting and Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics for CRM, and all are easily installed on a network. Other benefits of cloud-based subscription services include savings on infrastructure costs, maximum uptime and centralized management of applications.
Also, with a plan in place, you'll only be looking at subscription-based services that your SMB really needs, rather than adding a program here or there to a solitary computer. You also will no longer be tied down by contracts for perpetual licensing agreements.
3. Security breaches
It's no wonder that security is on the mind of every SMB owner these days. In 2018, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there were 58.9 million small and midsize businesses in the U.S., which employ almost half (47.5%) of the country's workforce, and 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses.
So, how do SMBs combat this risk moving forward to continually stay one step ahead? While you can't eliminate the risk of a cyberattack or data breach, you can definitely take action that will reduce the risk and proactively protect you from potential harm.
Solution: Education for your team on security and the need for backup
In 2020, in addition to having the most up-to-date security in place, we need to start educating employees on phishing scams, ransomware, and being more conscious of how they interact through email and collaborative materials outside their own network. A recent Oracle and KPMG Cloud Threat Report found that 97% of respondents had defined cloud-approval policies. However, the vast majority (82%) said they are concerned about employees following these policies.
There are plenty of horror stories about small companies being wiped out because ransomware hit them and they didn't have any sort of backup or other recovery solution in place. Especially as we move toward an increased remote workforce, employee education is key, as much of your protection will rely on their actions.
So, what is the solution? There is no one right answer. Each business approaches security differently, but the first step remains the same: Put a team in place. Identify who within your organization will be involved in the security and data protection effort. It is important to include team members from all areas of your organization in order to better understand the needs and vulnerabilities from all perspectives. However, make sure it is clear who is running the show. If you cannot afford to dedicate the needed people and resources to your security efforts, consider working on a budget that can supplement your internal security efforts with the addition of a cybersecurity consultant or firm.
Successfully preparing for 2020 means developing a plan now. Being proactive is vital. Don't find yourself reacting to circumstance. With a strategic plan in place, you'll have a competitive edge and be better prepared for potential challenges that cross your path.