By SooJi Min

4 Fashion Must Haves  -- - and How to Care for Them

If you're like Tal Frankfurt, founder and CEO of Cloud for Good, a small business that creates and implements strategic solutions based on cloud computing, then you rely on technology for a lot of things. No matter what professional service your firm represents, as your small business grows, you don't want to be working for your technology; you want your technology to work for you.

Frankfurt takes control of his technology by hosting all of his IT needs over the Internet. "We are not managing our computers, servers or software," he says. "I can focus on growing my business." That's why he doesn't start planning with a technology budget.

"What we do first is create a strategic plan," says Frankfurt. "Technology is just a tool to meet my vision. Every piece I implement, I keep in mind, ‘How will the technology help me become more effective and efficient in what I do?' I'm not following the shiny object syndrome. Overall company strategy comes first. Then, based on ROI (return on investment), I will implement the right technology."

Indeed, technology trends seem to be moving away from purchasing computers and single-platform software. Instead, many small businesses are leasing assets and asking employees to bring their own equipment to the workplace. Here are some tips to help small business owners optimize productivity while minimizing technology-related costs.

Lease the Cloud

Experts like Harvey Juster, an IT consultant and network engineer based in Ann Arbor, MI, agree that Managed Service Providers (MSPs), which are third-party contractors who deliver network-based services, applications and equipment to small businesses, are a good alternative to services previously hosted onsite. "Some advantages of managed services are that monthly costs are predictable, software and hardware updates are done by the provider, and expansion of staff is easily and quickly done by the provider," says Juster.

MSPs offer email, server storage and backup, shared environments, website hosting and accounting services. Providers include Microsoft, Google and Intuit, along with many IT companies that resell the services. You can easily scale your IT needs, making your business more flexible and cost-efficient.

"Lease the cloud in order to leverage capability instead of owning assets," says Russell Mickler, principal consultant of Vancouver, WA-based Mickler & Associates, a technology and computer consulting firm dedicated to serving the needs of small businesses. "You gain immediate capability instead of maturing your own."

Moreover, even as hardware costs have come down, repairs and maintenance can be costly. "A lot of tech service providers haven't adapted," says Mickler. "Repairing can cost 50 percent of the asset's value -- and that's just to take a look. Computing devices are like appliances. There is no future in maintaining IT. Everything can be acquired from the cloud."

Join the BYOS (Bring Your Own Software) movement

A small business owner today can reasonably expect a new employee to bring his or her own suite of software products to the workplace, as well as the accompanying device. "We have employees bring their own devices, both phones and computers," says Frankfurt. "We can also help them purchase."

One factor that makes this scenario doable is that it no longer matters whether everyone is on a single proprietary platform. Microsoft Windows isn't as necessary as it once was, as companies move to conducting business on multiple platforms. "A key question is to ask is, ‘How can employees work anywhere on any device at any time?'" says Mickler. As business owners don't have to invest in a specific type of hardware or suite of software, a lot of the technology costs and risks are shifted away from the business to the employees.

Put your tech dollars to work for you

Adapting to rapidly changing technology can be a full-time job. To get the most out of your technology budget, think strategically. "It is impossible to plan for it," says Mickler. "Ask where technology can add value in the next three to five years; then ask what will I buy and how will I be prepared to purchase it."

Frankfurt agrees: "Keep in mind that it is a moving target. I can budget now but technology in five years will be totally different, as will the ROI."


SooJi Min is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive based in Ann Arbor, MI. She has written on small business topics for Crain's, Imagination Publishing and The University of Chicago Booth School of Business

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