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Times have been tough for the past few years, and we’re all looking for places to cut back spending. But if you’re cutting spending on your business technology, you could be putting yourself behind the eight-ball. In a new poll of CIOs and other IT leaders by the Society for Information Management, more than half (56 percent) of respondents say their companies' 2011 IT budgets will be higher than last year's. Just 17 percent expected them to be lower. And despite recent worries about a “double-dip” recession, 51 percent project their IT budgets will increase for 2012 as well, with a mere 15 percent predicting cuts next year.
So it’s likely your competitors are investing in their IT—but are you? How do you know when it’s time to upgrade your business technology, and when it’s OK to hold onto old items? Here are some signs it might be time to upgrade.
Your business is growing. If you’re adding employees, departments, products or services, it may be time for an upgrade. This can be as simple as adding a new printer to handle the increased print load, more bandwidth for faster Internet access, or upgraded network protection.
You’re having constant problems. Is your system crashing daily? Are your employees’ computers so old they can’t handle even simple software updates? These are pretty obvious warning signs that it’s time to bite the upgrade bullet.
Your team’s roles are changing. Are you or your employees traveling for business more than you used to? Then you may need to invest in tools that let you be productive on the road, such as laptops or tablets. Are you letting your team work from home? Then you’ll need tools that enable collaboration and maintain data security.
There’s a new release. You should always be sure to stay on top of software updates—it helps keep your system bug-free and ensures everyone’s computers work smoothly together. When a new version of a software program you rely on comes out, consider its new features, cost and whether your customers or vendors are upgrading, when weighing your buying decision.
You’ve built a “duct-tape” system. Many small businesses add technology haphazardly, eventually ending up with a morass of different hardware brands, different software versions and even different operating systems within the same company. While this piecemeal approach can work for a while, eventually it’s going to slow you down. When you can afford to, making an investment to upgrade everyone to a uniform standard is a wise choice.
Before you upgrade...
Ask your employees. What is and isn’t working for them in the current setup? You may not realize how much time your team is wasting struggling with outdated technology until they tell you.
Assess your needs. Develop a “wish list” of the tech tools your staff would love to have, why and how they believe it would help them do their jobs better. Not everyone needs the same technology—a salesperson who’s always in the field may truly need a tablet, while one who sells only over the phone probably doesn’t.
Start small. Before making major (costly) changes, assess whether your computers’ performance can be enhanced by some simple steps like adding memory. You can also lighten the load on your machines by moving to cloud storage solutions so you don’t need to store all that much on the computers.
Set a budget. Your sales team may want tablets, but your budget may say smartphone. Find a middle ground—there are products in all price ranges, so perhaps a lower-end tablet has the functionality you need.
Determine the ROI. Take into account the time you’re wasting due to crashes, slow-running software or other difficulties caused by technology that’s less than it should be. How much time can you expect to gain from the new investment? Will it help you do things you can’t do currently or automate processes that use valuable manpower now?
Making the move
Decided to upgrade? One way to keep costs low is by leasing. As with cars, leasing hardware can ensure you always have the latest version. It also frees up money for other purposes by spreading payments out. When most leases expire, you have the option to buy the equipment or upgrade to the newest version (with a new lease). And with more software being offered by subscription “in the cloud,” you can essentially “lease” software too, so you have a lower monthly payment rather than a big upfront investment.
If you aren’t tech-savvy or don’t have a dedicated IT person at your small business, it’s a good idea to call in an IT consultant before making major upgrade decisions. Look for someone who has experience with small businesses and your industry. In addition to advising you on what to do, he or she can also help you ensure the upgrade goes smoothly by installing hardware and software and bringing employees up to speed on the new tools.
Once you’ve made your upgrade decisions, set a regular upgrade schedule. With the fast pace of technological developments today, it’s a good idea to reevaluate your hardware, software and systems every year.