This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.
At the start of any new year, it’s helpful to take stock of recent best practices and make sure your company has considered and implemented them. To help, here are five technology practices your business should consider in 2014.
Unbundle services: As consumers, we’ve been conditioned by cable companies, insurance agencies and the all-in-one Wal-Marts of the world to believe that getting everything we need through one company is always a good thing. This just isn’t the case. We often work with businesses that use the same vendor for their phones and computers. Consolidating services saves money, right? Not unless your vendor is an expert in all the services it provides.
As an example, a regional electric association partnered with a technology provider that was a phone expert, not a computer expert, which became obvious when our assessment of the association’s equipment found hardware that wasn’t working properly.
Another indication that the association had outgrown its provider’s IT knowledge was the provider’s inability to integrate Mac and Windows computers into a single IT system. The company works in a mixed Mac/Windows environment: Its creative staff works on Macs while the rest of the staff uses PCs. The provider’s failure to get the two kinds of computers talking to each other inhibited employees from working in both worlds.
Get a third-party assessment: It’s often a good idea to get third-party, unbiased feedback on your business decisions and operations. When hiring, a third-party consultant dig up candidates you wouldn’t normally find. When trimming your overhead budget, a consultant can often see things, such as the computer left on and bulbs left burning, that you’re too close to the situation to pick out.
Consider implementing a third-party assessment of your company’s technology systems every two to three years. Even if you’re happy with your current IT provider and your hardware is seemingly working perfectly, a third-party assessment can find problems that are unnoticeable at the time but could cause costly repairs and lost time and data in the future
Many business owners shy away from this type of assessment because they generally trust and don’t want to offend their technology guys. That’s great, but consider this: Businesses audit their financials without offending CFOs; shouldn’t they be able to audit their IT hardware as well?
Up your warranties: It’s time to dig your hardware warranties out of the filing cabinet and email archives and read the fine print.
Most people understand the value of purchasing an extended warranty for their business server. In most cases, a 24-hour service warranty is more than enough protection. In your worst nightmare — like a server outage right before a long holiday weekend — a 24-hour warranty just isn’t enough.
If it’s available and you can afford it, upgrade to a four-hour warranty, which can turn a stressful, and certainly severe, hardware problem into a manageable hiccup that doesn’t affect normal business operations.
Build redundancy: Just as a little bit of redundancy within your employees’ workloads and responsibilities can protect your business from a “one-person-with-all-the-keys-to-the-castle” situation, a bit of overlap in your technology systems can be just as helpful.
One option is to build redundant hardware to prevent something such as a motherboard failure bringing down an entire service or application.
For example, by using virtualization you can significantly reduce dependency on the uptime of a specific piece of hardware. (Uptime is the amount of time that a server has stayed up and running.) Naturally, virtualization comes at a significant cost — one that may outweigh the benefit for some small businesses.
Partner smartly: Your organization probably relies on many different companies — suppliers, clients, strategic partners, etc. — to succeed and grow. With all these relationships, it’s important to align with businesses that share your values.
If your organization values local ties and close, family-type relationships, pick a technology vendor that’s independent, local and treats its clients with the same closeness and respect.
For example, we work with a firm that’s 100 percent local and focused on providing valued wealth management, investment, trust and estate counsel and planning for the Nashville community. This company’s Nashville-centric and personal approach to its clients also extends to its business partners. It’s highly important for the firm to partner with other locally owned and operated businesses whenever possible.
5 Tech Trends for 2014