My passion for the last 14 years now has been consulting to the SMB market space as an IT Professional. Most everyone is talking about the doom and gloom surrounding the current world wide economic problems. Certainly they are not going to go away tomorrow, but we have an opportunity here to learn how to work smarter, leaner, more efficiently that ever before.
So what are the big technology decisions that should be on your radar in 2009?
Think practically about VoIP before rushing in
One of the biggest things that was talked about in 2008 was VoIP and how it could save you lots of money. Whilst it can, I feel that for business purposes you need to weigh up the quality of service vs the experience your customers will get when they call you on your VoIP line.
VoIP relies on having good high speed Internet access in your business premises at a low cost. It also relies on you changing your phone system if you want all employees to take advantage of it. Yet in many locations you are limited to ADSL speeds which just can't handle the traffic of both your Internet use and still leave enough bandwidth available for voice.
If you combine the cost of a business class VoIP phone system with the need for high quality internet access, the costs may take years to recoup.
If you are prepared to accept it, consider Skype as a good low cost way to communicate utilising VoIP technology. Bear in mind though that your customers won't always appreciate being subject to drop outs, so this is one to weigh up carefully.
Are your 5-year old servers costing you?
During tougher times we often try to make our computer hardware last longer. You need to watch however that as the computers get to 5 years plus, the cost to put them under maintenance becomes excessive.
As an example it was going to cost one of my clients nearly $1800 to put their server which was over 5 years old server under maintenance for 12 months. The cost of a brand new server was in the vicinity of $6000. Naturally we decided to replace the server with a new one.
If you decide to purchase new hardware, think longer term as best your dollar will allow - the services required to swap a server over to new hardware can cost more than the hardware itself. I advise my clients to plan for a maximum of 4 years from their hardware and plan to replace it at that time.
Talk to an IT Guy, as well as Google
The power of Google makes people believe they can get all the answers they need for free therefore not needing the services of an IT expert like us. Google and all other search engines are famous for providing lots of answers, but it often takes a skilled professional to figure out the right one vs the 1000 wrong answers.
A good SMB IT Professional will be able to show you ways to reduce costs safely. If you want someone focused on the needs of a Small Business then look for a Microsoft Small Business Specialist also known as an SBSC - these companies have passed a minimum certification to show they know how to look after the SMB client.
No need to rush to SBS 2008 yet
Chances are if you are a small business then you are running Microsoft Small Business Server. The most recent version is Small Business Server 2008 and was launched in November last year. Prior to this the previous version was around for over 5 years. Most of my clients are now in their natural hardware replacement cycle and will start to upgrade.
SBS 2008 is going to be with us for a few years more at this point, so no need to rush. Look instead to upgrade your servers to new hardware and to SBS 2008 as your hardware goes through its natural replacement cycle. I'm not out there advocating my clients push to upgrade to SBS 2008 right now unless they are coming due for a natural upgrade as the cost savings are harder to justify unless their business needs some specific features of SBS 2008 (of which there are many).
Find a support group
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to you is to look to help grow your business through networking with others. There are many places you can meet others like you, such as the local chamber of commerce, peer support groups, industry associations, trade shows and so on.
I'm involved in a number of online groups focused on my industry such as the SMB IT Professionals group here in Sydney and I've always found that when I share ideas with others, I get more and more in return.
To find your local chamber of commerce or industry association, use Google and add in your suburb or locality to narrow the search. Word of mouth referral business is the one way that my business has grown so successfully over the years. It's also the one prime way that I look to find new people to do business with as suppliers too.
Wayne Small has been involved in the IT industry since the age of 9. He founded a successful SMB IT consulting practice in 1997 called Correct Solutions. He works there part time and now spends his remaining waking hours on his other passion: speaking, training and communicating to others how they can take advantage of technology to improve their business. He does this in person and in many online communities both as a moderator and a member. He can be contact through his blog http://blog.sbsfaq.com