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IT and Small Business – It’s the perfect fit!

MSBS Logo“I feel like my business is too small for my IT provider,” I hear on a regular basis.

These small companies are the companies I serve and work with, and so few of them get qualified, professional IT help. As an IT professional, you may think, “why would I want to work with a small business, when I could work with a larger firm, and have more benefits and career growth?” And you may be right, but only to a point.

87.5% of all Canadian businesses have 1-20 employees, and 54.9% of Canadian businesses only have 1-4 employees. These companies are the ones that need talented and qualified help the most. Unfortunately, they’re often the group receiving it the least. Small businesses cannot afford an expensive IT firm to come in and help them, so they end up bringing in someone who may not have the appropriate skill set, and that can lead to insecure, inefficient, and incorrectly configured equipment and networks; not to mention unhappy and frustrated users.

From proper networking and security, to backup strategies and remote access; there are so many technologies we can introduce to small businesses to make their companies more efficient. The technical concepts are no different than with big businesses, it’s just the scope.

Here are just a few rewarding reasons of being a part of this growing group of small business IT professionals:

Uniqueness – Every day, there’s something different. Within a single day, I can work on an accounting solution for a caterer, a remote access solution for a not-for-profit, and a backup strategy for a specialized piece of equipment for a manufacturer. You will always be learning, and coming up with new solutions to meet the unique needs of this group. Working with small businesses is, in my opinion, more exciting than with large ones (and yes, I have worked for very large companies). The budgets and needs are much smaller, so your solutions must be tailored to meet the current business structure, but always keeping the potential growth of the small business in your plan.

Sense of Community – Small businesses talk, work, and network together. With a small IT business of your own, you are also in the 54.9%. It’s amazing how we all help each other. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are supporting and growing your community.

Appreciation – These businesses are so grateful to have an honest and qualified person to assist them.  From my experience, many small businesses aren’t able to hire qualified assistance at a reasonable rate.  If you can come in, offer them the same solutions as the large IT firm, and do it at a fair and reasonable price; you will have a client and friend for life. Providing the correct solution allows them to focus on their business instead of the technology. The greatest compliment I have had from a small business is, “we never have to worry about the computers anymore, it just works”.

So before jumping into an IT department for a large company, consider working with small businesses.  It may end up being the most satisfying career you’ll ever have.

Statistic source: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/02715.html

How To Avoid Suspicious Software

My post sold software you did not pay for, generated the question from several people “how do I avoid getting into the situation in the first place?”  Here are 6 quick tips to protect both you and your data from potential fraud:

1.  Be aware of the “Awesome Deal” A software/hardware deal that sounds too good to be true probably is.  For example: a desktop computer (depending on hardware) with a Windows 7 operating system from Future Shop starts at around $500, and this is without MS Office.  Office 2010 Home and Business is another $350.  Getting the whole package at $350 would be more than a clearance sale.

2.  Purchase from authorized dealers When purchasing software, ensure you or your IT support are purchasing from authorized dealers, whether it’s Microsoft, Adobe, Future Shop, etc.

3.  Always ask for proof of purchase If your IT support is purchasing the software on your behalf, make sure you have a copy of the official receipt from the vendor.  This will ensure that if you ever have an issue with the software, you are entitled to software support.

4.  Always ask for the product or license key Ensure you have the appropriate product or license key (i.e. Microsoft sticker on the side of the computer, a license key within the packaging, an official document from the vendor, etc.).  You should have a valid product and/or license key for each copy of software that you have purchased.  If your IT support purchased the software on your behalf, they should be providing you with proper documentation from the vendor with the product or license key.  Again, this ensures that you can contact the vendor for support if required.

5.  Purchase currently supported software Your brand-new system should have current software.  For example: a system purchased in 2012 should come with Microsoft Office 2010 (the latest release is Office 2010).

6.  Purchase the correct edition for your needs A small business with less than 25 desktop systems would not need Enterprise Edition, designed for environments with 250+ desktops.  A better solution would be Windows Small Business Server Essentials for Windows Server Standard.

These 6 guidelines will help you avoid potential scams and ensure that both you and your data are protected. Have you ever felt unsure about your software?

Are You A Prisoner To Your Tech Support?

It’s Monday morning and you come into the office to discover that your network is down for unknown reasons.  You call your IT Professional, only to find out that he/she has been in a serious accident and is in critical condition.  You quickly Google for another “tech” in the area, and call and explain the situation to him/her.  As each moment passes, you are unable to do your job.  Later that day, you see your “geek angel” in the front lobby and you are immediately relieved knowing your problem is going to be fixed.  He/she takes a look at your infrastructure, and tries to access some resources.  He/she suspects it’s a problem on the server, and needs an account with administrative privilege to resolve the issue.  You look at the specialist, and with a sinking feeling, you realize that you don’t have passwords, account information, or any other useful documentations, and the situation quickly goes from bad to worse.

Those of you who know me will hear me refer to the “hit by the bus file”.  This is a file, paper or electronic that documents your entire IT implementation.  Consider this…one day you need IT support and you call your “IT guy” and find out he was crossing the road and was hit by a bus.  You now have to bring in someone else who has never seen your systems or implementation before, and this new person will have to figure out how your tech fits together before he/she can even start to assist you.  He/she can’t start to take anything apart to troubleshoot if they don’t know how to put it back together again for your implementation.  It’s very much like a completed puzzle.  You can see how all the pieces fit together, but without the picture on the box to refer to, the puzzle may not easily go back together again if some of the pieces need to be modified.

Your IT support person is also not un-replaceable.  Any person who holds your IT structure to themselves is (in my opinion) either selfish, lazy, or is hiding something.  Yes, this may sound harsh, but in my experience, it almost always comes down to one of these three factors.

1. Selfish – they want to feel like they are a key element of your companys structure.  You and your data are now hostage of your IT support.

2. Lazy – they don’t want to take the time to document your structure.  This should be part of the contract, and a professional will always include this.

3. Hiding Something – they might not use legitimate/legal software and this could be their way to hide it (follow-up post to come).

You are now at the mercy of whoever holds your information.  You are trapped.

As a small business owner, you need to be responsible for both your data and network.

Your trustworthy IT Professional should be leaving you:

  1. All usernames and passwords for all equipment
  2. A list of all service providers, including ISPs, and any hosting service
  3. A backup number to call
  4. A network schematic
  5. Documentation for custom application
  6. A list and location of all software installers
  7. Backup procedures
  8. Router configuration

This file should be updated whenever there is a change to the infrastructure.  For example, you change your ISP, or add a new file server.  As someone trying to help you, there is nothing more frustrating than realizing the documentation you have is not accurate.

Keeping your documentation current and accurate is critical in protecting your data. If your IT specialist (either on contract or on payroll) does not provide this information, you are at risk of becoming a “prisoner”.  Take the case of Terry Childs, the network administrator for the city of San Francisco.  He refused to give up the administrative passwords to his supervisors, and it cost the city almost $900,000 USD to regain control of their own network.  This is an extreme case, but it demonstrates what can and has happened.

What is the cost of your systems being unusable?  What if those systems are down for an extended period of time?  What would it cost for someone to have to figure it all out before fixing it?

If you don’t have current IT documentation, call your IT Specialist and ask, or if need be, demand that this documentation is updated or created.  Don’t be held captive by your IT support.

Image courtesy of worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why Skimping On IT Will Cost You Money

ImageOne of my biggest challenges as an IT consultant is trying to convince small businesses to upgrade their hardware and software.  IT is looked at as an expense, and because we are all trying to save a few bucks, you may think that keeping your older hardware and/or software is the best cost-saving solution; but trying to hold on to old equipment or outdated software may cost you more in the long run. Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. Productivity – If users are waiting for a program to load, or can only run a specific number of applications, they are not nearly as efficient, and worse: they can become very frustrated trying to do their job because the older and limited technology is slowing them down.
  2. Security – As technology advances, so do the threats.  Old and unsupported software may not be secure and patched, therefore putting your data and company at risk.
  3. Maintenance – The cost of keeping old equipment up and running is expensive.  After a few visits from your IT Professional, you could have replaced the equipment at the same cost, and you wouldn’t have to worry about it later on. On average, desktop PCs should be replaced every 3-5 years.
  4. Support – As software ages, the “experts” who know how to manage older software become harder to find, and because of this, will charge more. It also becomes much harder to acquire older components.
  5. Functionality/Compatibility – Updated versions of applications and software are easier and faster to use.  In some cases, older versions of the same software may not be compatible with newer versions.

I am not recommending that you toss out your current IT infrastructure, but I do recommend you evaluate what you own and consider updating/replacing older equipment. Start with a plan to replace/upgrade the oldest systems in your office.  Your IT Pro can help you design a roadmap for updating your systems and software. He/she will be able to assist you in creating cost-effective solutions for your budget, customized for your current needs and workflow.

By taking the time to be proactive now, you can save yourself many future issues, including unforeseen costs, hardware failure, and other unpredictable difficulties.  You never know what could happen when you are using out-of-date equipment; and it is always better to have a plan in place than to be hit with a huge and unexpected IT bill.  Take the 5 minutes and call your IT Pro today to determine how to best protect your company’s future plans.

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