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    Top 5 IT mistakes of small business


    Small businesses will do anything to cut costs. This is because most of them face stiff competition and every penny counts. With a typical small entrepreneur hardly being an expert in information technology, computer equipment tends to get the short shrift – not always to good effect.

    It is often not easy to accurately estimate the cost of computer equipment, including hardware and software. There are hidden costs, upgrade costs and even a price to pay for buying cheap equipment. Consequently, entrepreneurs could easily end up paying far more or, in some cases, in terms of loss of productivity, downtime etc. because of poor IT choices.

    Let’s look at five major pitfalls small businesses must recognise and sidestep.

    #1 Cheap hardware. High real cost

    Often, small businesses buy cheap equipment in order to keep costs down. This is a big error in judgment and could later cost far more.

    A cheap router, for example, probably consists of cheap components and will not perform like a high-quality commercial product one needs to run business tasks day after day.

    Scores of small business owners cut corners. This might keep costs down initially but will likely result in loss of productivity, manpower and critical resources. That’s not to say that business owners should splurge on the most expensive equipment. Rather, they should thoroughly research the product or consult an expert, and not simply buy the cheapest solution

    #2 Build infrastructure. Just don’t forget it

    Many business owners forget that their infrastructure needs to be maintained. It is not enough to just build it.

    PC hardware and software programs require regular maintenance and sometimes license renewals to ensure they perform at optimal levels. Hardware components and software applications need to be standardized to ensure highest performance. IT hardware, like servers, has an average lifespan of between three and five years, and requires periodical attention over that period.

    #3 Data, data, data. Never lose it

    Most of us would agree that data backup is of paramount importance. But you would be surprised how many small business owners wouldn’t think about it at all, or mistakenly think that it’s not something they need to worry about right now. After all, they are only getting started.

    They are plain wrong. Loss of data can devastate a business.

    At other times, people unknowingly suffer hardware failure and think, “I’m good, I have a backup,” only to discover later that the backup had failed for the past several months without anybody knowing it.

    You never expect something to go wrong until it actually does. Setting up a data backup process and backing up crucial business data on a regular basis can save business owners a lot of trouble down the road, whether they encounter a hard drive failure, theft, virus or other problem that causes them to lose business data.

    Hardware or software purchase and installation does not guarantee data protection. Consequently, one needs to set up a separate foolproof backup plan.

    #4 Technology lifecycle. Stay on guard

    One old PC that dies may not hurt. However, the collapse of a decade-old server could be a huge setback to the entire company.

    Any type of technology has a defined lifecycle and the MTBF (mean time between failures) is one indicator of the performance levels of a server. Companies need to ensure that they do not overlook hardware errors or issues related to their immediate and quick replacement.

    Often hardware can take many months to fail completely. A managed services plan can guard against this by alerting your IT professional of an impending failure or degraded component long before it becomes critical, allowing the problem to be fixed with minimal downtime and loss of productivity.

    Buying new hardware or upgrading old hardware is also essential when companies decide to migrate to newer and more advanced software platforms.

    #5 Training. It pays in the long run

    Small businesses might have a lower level of belief in training. Or it might simply be an attempt to cut costs by minimising or avoiding training in software and hardware. The common refrain is: We will figure it out when the need arises.

    Sometimes this works, especially if you already have people in your team that are familiar with the systems. However, in many situations only a certified, and experienced, IT specialist has the required insight into the complexities. A trained professional not only understands the intricacies and nuances of software and hardware, but also recognises the importance of maintaining these in perfect condition. He or she will be able to streamline and optimise your processes, and also provide necessary training to key staff members. All of this will reduce critical downtime and unforeseen costs in the long run.

    Darren Miller runs M3 IT Solutions in Perth, Western Australia. He specialises in backup services, server maintenance and other IT services for small businesses.