From cloud computing to voice-recognition tools, business technology is advancing at breakneck speed. These new developments promise to improve productivity and efficiency for small businesses but they can also present owners with some complex issues to deal with.
“I think the biggest challenge for businesses,” says technology expert Chris Eben, partner at The Working Group, “ is being overwhelmed by technology and thinking you need to do something but not really knowing what that is.”
Here are the top questions small business owners want answered:
When is the best time to invest in new technology for my business?
“The right time to jump in is now,” advises Eben. “Thinking ‘I’ll wait till things settle down’ is the wrong approach because it’s an ever-changing digital space and it’s going to continue to be like that, probably indefinitely.” However, Eben cautions owners not to make hasty tech decisions but to move forward in a careful, considered way. First look at your operation and examine its size, market, customer base, channels used to reach customers, buying cycle and internal processes. Then consider the following:
Should I invest in mobile technology?
It’s important to first determine your business goals for mobile. Do you plan to use mobile to connect with customers by offering content or information, to create brand awareness, or as a portal into sales?
Talking to your customers and asking them if they’d welcome mobile content or Smartphone purchase options from you will help you decide if mobile is the right channel to meet those goals. Also do a cost/benefit analysis, says Eben: “If it’s going to cost you $50,000 to $100,000 to create a mobile app for your business, are you going to see a return on your investment in a reasonable amount of time?”
Should I install a server or just harness the cloud?
Unless you’re a large enterprise with millions of users and have the resources to open your own data centres, you should very much be in the cloud, Eben says. “Getting into hosting servers and managing the hardware yourself can be a big expense,” he explains.
1) Employees can access company applications and information from anywhere.
2) You can outsource the management and support to a supplier specializing in cloud computing.
3) There’s no set-up cost involved, only a monthly (or pay-per-user) fee and those have come down substantially over recent years and continue to do so, says Eben.
How should I handle employees wanting to use their own devices for work?
The bring-your-own-device – or BYOD – trend is affecting businesses of all sizes, as employees work and share files on their personal laptops, Smartphones, tablets, and other tools.
“What you need to do first,” advises Eben, “is find out which services your employees need – which ones will help them to be productive and effective in their job.” For example, do your employees want to be able to complete administrative tasks away from the office, like word-processing? This kind of solution may be easier to implement than something like a time-tracking system that must work across multiple devices.
Establishing a clear BYOD policy for those services – one that addresses password requirements, acceptable on-premises devices, and so on – will help give staff clear guidelines and address security concerns.
Where can I find guidance on making tech decisions?
Eben recommends finding a consultant or service provider to help you determine the right strategy, acquire the right technology, or help you design and build the tools you need. “The challenge that small businesses have is they don’t know what questions to ask and there’s no easy way to solve that problem,” he says. “Finding trusted partners can get you there much easier.” Small business owners can also access free online resources such as smallbusinesscomputing.com, to be well prepared when it comes time to talk with a professional.