According to a Microsoft National Small Business Week Survey, 86% of SMBs believe that technology is important to the success of their company, enabling quick and informed response to customers. Yet the same survey cited only 30% of SMBs are using cloud technology of any kind.
It is TekEfficient’s goal to make sure small business/SMB owners know what technologies are available to their business, how they fit in, and which are the right choices for their companies at this stage.
In the next installment of TekEfficient’s SMB Tech Blog Series, we have developed a small business (SMB) technology checklist that includes products and questions to consider for each category. We hope it is a useful tool when launching or scaling your business.
Let’s get started!
Network / Connectivity (Internet, Local/Wide Area Network, MPLS)
Choosing network services that are reliable, secure, and high-performance is critical for success. Nothing kills productivity faster than network downtime or congestion and the inability to respond to customer and prospect needs in real-time can cost lead to lost revenues. Some things to consider when choosing your network include the following.
- How quickly do you need access to connectivity – lead times could be 90 days or more!
- Overall, how data-intensive will your network needs be?
- How many employees will you have and what will their network needs be?
- How important to your business operations/worker productivity is network performance?
- Will you need wireless Internet access at your home or office? What capacity?
- Will you need secure, remote network access – VPN access?
- Do you need private network/point-to-point services for compliance purposes?
- Will you be connecting to a data center/colocation facility?
- Will you need network redundancy to ensure maximum uptime?
- Will your employees require mobile Internet access such as “hot spots”?
Even with the increased use of alternate forms of communication by way of email, text messaging and social networking, businesses will still need a dependable phone system for the foreseeable future. A phone system can lead to a positive or negative brand experience, yield valuable insights through reporting, route to hunt groups and mobile phones, and more. There are also significant cost differences and scalability limitations depending on your selection. For these reasons, it is important that businesses choose a phone system that best suits their needs.
Which system is right for you – traditional PBX, hosted PBX/VoIP, cloud-hosted PBX/VoIP, personal/mobile phones only? Consider the following.
- How many users/business lines/handsets will you need? Need extensions?
- Will you have data center infrastructure to tether the system to?
- Will you have staff to manage the system if on-prem?
- Will you have a call center that requires heavy utilization?
- What will your long distance/international calling needs be?
- What features are important to your business – hunt groups, reporting, flexible on-hold options, online voicemail access/user interface
- How important is quality of service when it comes to your business phone lines? Uptime?
- Will you be using traditional/video conferencing in conjunction with the phone system?
- Will you need conference room phone/s?
Most SMB’s simply cannot function without the use of several different kinds of software. Not only does software make many business processes easier and more efficient, it also makes them more accurate, reliable, and portable. Due to the wide array of software/software as a service (SaaS), it may be helpful to think about the following aspects in order to determine which software may be most beneficial to you.
What application software will be required to run your business?
- Office applications
- Accounting software
- CRM/Marketing software (SalesForce, Eloqua, HubSpot)
- Customer Service/Order/Ticket Management
- Inventory Management
- Customer/Partner Portal
- ERP (SAP, Oracle)
- Virtualization software (VMware, Citrix)
- Server/Database software (SQL Server)
- Antivirus software (Ingram, Norton, McAfee)
- Specialized software for your industry
- File-sharing software (DropBox, SharePoint, Google Apps)
- Project management/Collaboration software
- Graphic Design/Video software
- Development software
- Any other software?
Additional software considerations include the following.
- Which Operating System software do you need for your business – Windows, Macintosh, mixture of both, Other?
- Have you considered Software as a Service (SaaS)? Often times this can be cheaper and more scalable than traditional software.
- How many users of each will you need?
- Is it more efficient for you to buy licensing through a third party supplier? Have you considered getting the licensing through a cloud provider? This saves you management time and is normally a pass-through cost with no lost cash flow
- Will you have staff to manage licenses/compliance?
- Do you need to allow for staff growth in the number of licenses purchased?
According to The Radicati Group in their Email Statistics Report, 2013-2017, Business email accounts total 929 million mailboxes and is considered the “go-to form of communication in the business world.” Businesses use email to communicate with clients in a variety of ways including customer service, invoicing and marketing. They use email to receive bills from vendors and to send internal communication with employees. Email is the most cost-effective and time-efficient form of communication, especially when contacting large groups of people. Because this is one the most critical business functions, it is important to consider the following.
- Will need corporate email accounts? If so, how many?
- What size/storage requirement will you need for your emails?
- Have you considered cloud-based email such as Google Apps?
- Do you have the staff available to manage traditional Microsoft Exchange?
- Will you host in-house, using a third party, or in the cloud?
- How critical is email uptime and security to your business needs?
- Will you be integrating email with other apps like CRM, Ticketing, ERP?
- Will you need archive, backup and recovery services for your emails?
- Will you need instant messaging capability?
A professional looking, easy to navigate, and informative website is one of the best ways to establish the legitimacy of a business of any size. On the flip side, a poorly designed or outdated website it one of the easiest ways to lose credibility with potential or existing clients. Not only is a website a great way for people to learn about your products and services, it can be one of the more economical methods to market your business as well. Today, it can be essential to think about the following in regards to your website needs.
- Will you need/feature a business website?
- Will your website feature database/resource intensive application such as Magento, WordPress, or other database-drive content management system?
- Will you offer eCommerce/online purchasing from your website? Other sensitive data capture?
- Will you be serving video from your website?
- Will you require a secure/log-in section of the website? SSL certificate/encryption?
- Do you have domain name/s purchased through a registrar? (GoDaddy, etc.)
- Will you need website development services? Regular website maintenance?
- Where/How will you host your website – in-House, colocation, managed hosting, cloud hosting, web hosting
- Will your website have significant traffic that mandates more than entry-level hosting?
- Have you considered cloud for your hosting needs if they exceed traditional hosting?
- Will you require load balancing for geo-diverse users, development/live websites?
- What type of web server will you need – Linux (LAMP), Microsoft, etc.? cPanel server management?
- How important is website uptime to your business?
- How important is end-user experience with regard to your website (page load time, redirect, content load)?
- Will you be tethering your website to another software/tool (CRM, etc.)?
- What tool will you use to manage/maintain/update the website?
- Will you require FTP access to the web server?
Nearly all businesses rely on hardware to function. The 2013 Small Business Technology Survey reported that 87% of respondents indicated they utilized a computer for their business. Because of the capital expenditure necessary to purchase hardware, this may very well be the most critical decision that your business will undertake. Some considerations to take into account include the following.
- Are stand-alone computer systems / network configuration required?
- PC or MAC platform?
- Client / Server or Peer-to-Peer setup?
- Configured with Mirrored / Backup Drives?
- Are cloud desktops with thin/zero client machines an option? (Save money, scale on-demand, reduce support time, online management interface, highly secure with excellent uptime)
- Number of workstations / notebook computers required for your staff?
- Do you need data center infrastructure – Servers, Storage, Switches/Routers, Firewalls, Other appliances?
- Is cloud infrastructure an option? (Save money, scale on-demand, no data center necessary/staff needed to manage hardware or data center, highly secure with excellent uptime)
- What peripherals are required – Printer, Fax Machine / Scanners, UPS – Uninterrupted Power Supplies, Multifunction Units, Audio Visual Products?
- Conference Room? Projector for conference room with screen, laptop tie-in to TVs for presentations?
- Will any of your office/staff require mobile technology – netbooks, tablets, smart phones?
Backup & Disaster Recovery
Accidental data loss can happen at any time, whether data is unintentionally deleted, corrupt, or lost due to system failure. If critical data is lost, it can have a lasting negative impact for your business. Backup & Disaster Recovery is a simple way to safeguard against unforeseen circumstances. Think about the following when making your decision.
- How important is it to be able to backup and recover certain business files/data and systems?
- What sort of backup system will you need to secure your data?
- Have you considered using cloud backup and disaster recovery? (Saves money, is easier to deploy/manage & ensures faster recovery)
- How often and what data will you backup?
- Where will you store backup media – an offsite location?
- Do you have the staff to manage backups? Recovery?
- Will your backups include sensitive/regulated data?
- Is your data segmented by sensitivity/critical level?
- Do you have any data/system that requires continuous data protection (CDP)?
IT Services & Outsourced Support
IT professionals are more in demand than ever, making it either harder to find a qualified employee, or cost-prohibitive to hire. Nevertheless, due to businesses dependence on their Internet, email, software & hardware systems, it is crucial to have an expert to rely on when something goes wrong. Some things to consider about IT Services include the following.
- Do you have an in-house IT headcount / team? What are their capabilities?
- Have you considered outsourcing IT to a managed IT services provider?
- Have you considered outsourcing your technology launch needs to a professional IT services provider or IT consultant?
- Have you considered having your cloud provider also provide managed IT services and IT support to get everything in one supplier?
- Who is configuring/managing your network?
- Should you enter a Server Maintenance Program to ensure maximum performance?
- Is there physical security for all hardware and software (locked areas/access denials/CCTV)?
- Who handles the administration of network – in house staff or external IT professionals?
- Who takes care of downloading updates and patches for software used in the firm?
- How will you handle desktop/workstation support needs from employees/contractors?
- What are your IT policies and procedures?
- Who is responsible for creating IT policies regarding rules of access and usage – Personal use of Internet and E-mail, Passwords for access / regularly change passwords?
- Do you require personnel who have been properly trained/have experience in handling sensitive/regulated data?
New Office / Real Estate
Setting up a new office is a very exciting time for a business. However, there are some important details that should not be overlooked when choosing your new location.
- What existing infrastructure is there at the desired office location?
- Check to see what (if any) carriers and Internet services providers are available to the building (“on-net”)
- Check to see what services those carriers/ISPs offer at the building location (fiber, etc.). Are there any connectivity speed limits that could prevent you from conducting business in an ideal way?
- Check to see if there is existing cabling for phones and computers. Is it sufficient or will you need additional cabling?
- Check the available outlets (power & network). Are they sufficient to support the short-term staffing/technology needs as well as the mid-term? Long-term?
- Check the power supply to the building. Are there backup systems in place to prevent business downtime if the primary power goes out?
- Check to see if there is a floor plan for layout of office equipment.
- Check to see if there are key card access denials and which doors they protect. Does this meet/exceed your security needs?
- Check the on-site data center situation in case you need to have hardware installed at some point – servers, networking, phone systems, firewalls, routers, etc.
- Is there a proper data center on-site that you can access? Is there one in your specific office? Does it provide privacy? Is it properly cooled/powered?
- Do you conduct business in a regulated industry such as healthcare, financial services/online credit card processing, legal services, sensitive data/records management, Government services, or maintain personal customer information (PII) that is regulated in any way?
- Does your regulatory environment require you to backup and be able to recover specific data types on demand? How long must certain files be retained and in what manner?
- Does your regulatory environment require you to store/transmit data in specific ways?
- Are there potential fines/consequences for data privacy breaches/leaks that your team/contractors/suppliers need to know?
- Data Management – How/where will you store sensitive data such as customer and prospect lists, order/invoice history, payment/card data, etc.?
- Will you require data encryption – at rest, in transit both? What type?
- What application will you use for data management? Data analytics?
- Will you need data warehousing software and services?
- Will you need database configuration/management assistance?
- Are you required to/Will you engage in DDoS prevention/penetration/other security testing/services to ensure system strength/protection against attacks?
- Will you need software that manages password strength/age/etc.?
With so many technology options available in network, phone systems, email, software, hardware, websites, backup & disaster recovery, and IT Services, we know that it can be overwhelming at times. However, we hope this checklist has been helpful to all those small business owners out there that are considering if these technologies will be the right fit. We wish you much success as your company grows. As always, if you have any questions regarding the list – or would like some help with procuring the right technology for your business – please let us know.
Our SMB technology consultants have worked with hundreds of companies just like yours and can help point you in the right direction at no cost to you!
~Patrick Etheridge – TekEfficient President & CEO