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Overcoming Techno-Phobia

By Nick Tidd, 3Com Canada |

The question sends shivers down the spines of most small business owners: Should I invest in technology?

The variety and sophistication of today's high-tech equipment and software can seem daunting. But it's not only possible to face this question head on – it's absolutely necessary. Investing in technology – software or hardware – must be part of an overall business plan, no different than deciding whom you hire next, where you locate or how you finance expansion.

And like those other business plan components, technology is not simply a cost, it's a competitive advantage. More importantly, a small business that invests sensibly in technology is better positioned to grow and expand.

The following are four basic principles 3Com recommends to help you decide where to make that technology investment:

Spend money to save money
Today's business mantra is ROI – return on investment. Technology is no exception. Will an investment help you reduce expenses? Will it help increase sales? Think about how you would measure ROI as well. Investing in a new network and server may seem like a significant expense, but it could increase productivity if your sales staff gains more immediate connections to product inventories from a remote location. That in turn could allow staff to spend more time in front of, or visit, more customers.

Keep it Safe
Security should never be an afterthought. Firewalls, data encryption and other measures can save any organization money. It takes only one hacker or disgruntled employee to destroy a business. The loss of information and/or disruption to business (not to mention legal fees) could shut down a small business permanently. Learn or consult with someone who can advise on the minimum security requirements.

Keep it Simple
Do you have time or the expertise to worry about your technology, how it works or if it's working? Look for technology that is simple, reliable and easy to use. Don't be satisfied with complex technology equipment or solutions: demand something simple to install, operate and maintain with minimal technology expertise and resources.

Live for today, grow for tomorrow
Most small businesses recognize the value of developing an e-Business strategy that includes online marketing, 24/7 customer information and the potential for round-the-clock purchasing. But many small businesses are not prepared to adapt or grow their e-Business, and delay technology upgrades until business demands outstrip their existing technology. By then, it's often too late. Opportunities have been missed. Consider future-proofing your business by incorporating systems and software that can grow easily as you grow.

Applying these guiding principles in practical terms requires organizations to consider where first to initiate technology investments. A sensible place to start is the network, which acts as the nervous system for any business. Ignoring the quality, speed and contribution of a network's performance can be disastrous. Losing an Internet connection or customer data can directly affect the bottom line.

Increasing the capacity and speed of your computer network can make your small business appear and act more like a big business. Bigger pipes can help improve internal employee productivity and increase the customer base. A well-designed network can mean the difference between dependable customer service and disgruntled patrons.

Many small businesses do not have the capital necessary to "supersize" their network at one time, but can consider upgrading key features. A storage server for file storage, and new network cards to speed network performance may be a simple solution to revitalize a sluggish network.

Mobility is also important. A wireless network may be another option to running a dynamic business. Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) are now more practical for small businesses because they're simple and affordable. Wireless is a great choice for creative and collaborative workplaces looking to unthether employees. For small businesses, wireless can save hundreds or thousands of dollars on office reconstruction and wiring and cabling costs, particularly for those that are growing or moving locations.

Finally, a consultant or reseller can be a small business owner's best friend. But make sure you shop around for the right fit at your price. There are several options for small businesses, ranging from outright purchasing to leasing new equipment. Since keeping current with the latest technology is critical, many lease programs allow a small business to upgrade leased equipment for better hardware and software. Overall, determining your cash flow expectations against business requirements is an effective way for a small business to determine the best option.

Experts say that one of the reasons for small business failure is that they "didn't plan." More than 80 per cent of start-ups who have a business plan are still in business three years later. Technology should be an integral part of any business plan, not an afterthought. By applying the four guiding principles, any small business can use technology to contribute to its overall strategy and enhance its competitive edge.

The Four Guiding Principles to Technology:

Spending money can save money – Think about return on investment and how your technology spend supports your business goals.

Keep it Safe – Always be alert! Install security measures no matter what the size of your company.

Keep it Simple – Look for technology that is simple, reliable and easy to use.

Live for today, grow for tomorrow – An online eBusiness strategy can lead to big business – but do you have the right equipment to get there?

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