By Kathy Ruff
Technology continues its ever-changing advancements, with updated and new features, faster speeds and more mobility in many of its offerings.
For many in the business world, that advancement can become an expensive proposition if people buy into getting the newest and the best available.
Evaluating your actual needs versus your wants can go a long way toward reducing that expense while still improving your productivity, efficiency and profitability.
Although every business has its own specific needs, industry experts offer some guidance on what many business do need…and what they don’t.
“Because business is changing so quickly and there are just so many options out there for people to get goods and services, companies need to be able to be flexible more so now than ever before,” said Nathan Andrews, process improvement specialist and IT manager for Northeastern Pennsylvania Manufacturers and Employers Association, Pottsville. “They need to rely on technology to allow them to do those kinds of things, whether it be to communicate or what is needed to build processes, sales orders, to being able to make changes very quickly to accommodate what changes the customer is asking for.”
Embracing mobility tops the list of business needs when it comes to keeping current with today’s technology.
“You have people using cell phones, tablets and iPads much more than your traditional laptops and PCs,” Andrews said. “Traditionally we were using laptops and desktops to do a lot of our day-to-day work whereas we are at a point now where we’re transferring to more and more to a mobility side. That presents some new issues for IT people because in the past we’ve always focused our attention on security and accessibility and things like that from your traditional workstations and other office environments.”
Today business owners need to determine how to secure telephones, tablets and other mobile equipment while controlling expenses and still giving customers what they need in a timely fashion.
Andrews recommends businesses work closely with software vendors to incorporate, update and maintain security measures to protect data from theft, viruses and other potential maladies. He urges users regularly install software updates and patches.
“It’s a moving target,” he said. “At the end of the day, the best person to protect your information is you.”
Protecting your information is only part of the equation of what businesses need.
“From our perspective, you don’t need to spend a million dollars,” said Risa Schatz, owner of 7th Level Technologies, Sugarloaf, Luzerne County. “The bottom line is you need to keep your employees working as efficiently as possible.”
That efficiency begins with the correct hardware to maintain or improve productivity.
“If you want your employees to be working efficiently, you do need to have some modern equipment, a modern operating system,” Schatz said. “That doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend thousands and thousands of dollars on the best processor. You have to tailor it toward what applications they are using and what they are doing day to day. The same thing goes to Internet speed. Paying more for a higher-tier package does not mean that you are not going to get the computer to open applications faster because it depends on the hardware in that machine.”
Hardware such as external hard drives, servers and USB flash drives represent technologies that have evolved as a backup source for many businesses to protect against data loss. Schatz recommends more.
“Having a good offsite data backup that is encrypted, that goes offsite pretty much every night and does file versioning is really to us, the most vital thing a business can have these days,” she said.
Schatz also suggests businesses use a combination of onsite and cloud-based alternatives to expand that data protection. For example, online platforms such as Office 365 cloud exchange or Google’s business provide spam filters, anti-virus protection and data backup capabilities for e-mail. For small businesses, DropBox or Google Drive offer storage in the cloud.
“Gone are the days of let’s put it on a USB stick,” Schatz said. “They are mechanical devices. It’s not that you can’t do that but you want to have a digital backup somewhere so a cloud version, encrypted is so huge now. It’s so important.”
Savvy business owners put higher priorities on technologies that help the business do something more efficiently, faster and less expensively.
“Underlying that (technology) has to be a business efficiency, something that’s solving a problem in the marketplace, something that’s making an existing process more efficient,” said Scott Stiner, CEO and president of UM Technologies, Moosic. “That’s the underlying value of how companies use software nowadays. So if you are in the fashion business or energy business or widget manufacturing business, if you can find a technology that does it with less hands touching it, you’re going to increase your accuracy. You’re going to increase your efficiency; you’re going to increase your speed. Businesses look for those types of solutions.”
Businesses want those solutions to be simple to use, intuitive and secure. While most people use e-mail, an office suite of products and cell phones, users may not need all the bells and whistles offered.
“The very basic functions seem to be crowded out by all those additional features that get into the i-phone and it can become frustrating,” Stiner said. “There is a limit a user can take if you’re looking for one basic thing and that’s going to satisfy your user experience. A lot of the other stuff can become noise. Somebody doesn’t want to spend $700 when they can spend $99 because they’re going to use it very simply. I don’t think there’s one magic pill that solves everybody’s problems.”
To make the best use of technology and determine what you need and what you don’t, investing in the advice of an expert may save you money and uncover options you may not have considered.
“There’s definitely a lot of noise on what is needful and what is not,” said Michael Pickreign, chief technology expert at tech42, LLC, Dunmore. “We see a lot of what we refer to as ‘Cousin Eddies’ in the industry where their receptionist’s father’s brother’s former roommate twice removed knows something about computers and does it for them. It’s usually a pretty economical solution for the company but a ton of things get overlooked because they are not in the industry day in and day out. They are putting in home solutions rather than commercial solutions. Probably over time, the company spends more money on those solutions there than they would with us.”
tech42 offers an assessment of your business needs, commercial-grade solutions for the small business market and IT management services primarily to professional companies for a cost-effective flat monthly fee.
“What everybody does need is someone who really has a good footing and understanding in the marketplace and in the industry,” Pickreign said. “Look for and talk to other companies that have used a given vendor. Find somebody who has a good track record in what they do and has customers that will validate them. Don’t hire somebody off the street. Technology is very complicated. There are a lot of moving parts and definitely need people that know and understand.”