Small businesses often begin when an entrepreneur brings an idea to life on a laptop at the kitchen table. At this point, the entire IT infrastructure of the business is likely to be the computer and the software it’s running. But things can grow very quickly.
As your startup grows, the size and complexity of your business increases. An integrated and functional IT system can help you manage this transition, improving productivity, security and also saving money. And best of all, because of developments in hardware and software, it doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated to manage.
Using cloud services, a functioning virtual network can be created simply and quickly for your business in a matter of moments online. In fact, creating the network is the simple bit – to make it function properly and securely, you’ll need to gain some insight, do some planning and potentially get some external support.
Here, we share some practical hints and tips to help you manage your business’s IT as you grow and develop.
Measure your IT footprint
Developing the right network begins with an investigation into the current systems and processes that you use – it’s about measuring your IT footprint.
Put simply, your IT footprint includes everything your business uses for work and can be split into two parts: the physical footprint, and the virtual one.
The physical footprint includes all of the devices that you and your colleagues use for work. In the past this may have just been the computer at your desk, but the growth in mobile devices and tablets as well as the increasing use of personal devices for work makes this a more complex picture.
Your virtual footprint covers the software that you use, and where you store your data.
Depending on the number and location of your staff; interviews, questionnaires and round-table discussions are all useful ways to get the full picture of how your business uses IT, the number of connected devices and the flow of information through the business.
At this stage there may be a few raised eyebrows about how your business uses IT, but it’s the reason why this process is important.
Back to the drawing board
Perhaps understandably, smaller businesses – particularly those who grow rapidly – often add software and hardware as and when it’s needed, which can lead to an unplanned and uncoordinated approach.
It’s important that, as you expand, your IT systems are planned strategically. That means designing a system that supports your organizational growth rather than hinders it.
Armed with your audit, you can begin to plan out what sort of hardware and systems you might need for the future. It’s about understanding the number of employees, locations, processes and procedures in the business now and in the future.
The aim is to ensure that your IT systems grows in line with the business. This means always having the capacity you need, but not paying for underused IT or under-utilised staff.
Use cloud technology or not?
The next stage is about discussing how your business aims to use IT. The past was dominated by an ownership model for both hardware and software, but the future for most businesses is likely to be hosting at least some data and processing in the cloud.
The cloud is a low-cost and flexible way to arrange your IT, with software and data storage hosted externally. You can access software on demand, including programmes from organisations like Microsoft and Adobe.
It saves costs because you don’t need to invest in and maintain expensive servers. The cloud also allows your software and resources to be accessed across multiple platforms, supporting the increasing push toward flexible working.
Cloud storage is also a cost-effective way to manage the way your organisation stores and shares information. One of the benefits of cloud solutions are the speed and simplicity of adding capacity. New users can be added and old ones removed quickly and software can be provided immediately.
Traditional, server-based IT systems are still an option for a growing business, particularly those that deal with sensitive information (more about this below), but they’re most costly to set up and demand greater investment in terms of ongoing management and support.
Identify your security risks
Before you procure a new system, it’s essential that you understand where your business may be exposed to risk, what these risks are and how you can combat them.
Small businesses are increasingly the target for malicious attacks, with 74% of SMEs reporting that they had been the target for hackers. Each attack costs these businesses on average £3,000, a huge sum for anyone. Many businesses have been targeted more than once.
It’s not just hackers that can affect your business. If you’re failing to adhere to the Data Protection Act or the EU Data Protection Regulations your business could be at risk of a huge fine. It’s not just how you store data, this ever-changing regulatory framework is now putting controls on where your data can be stored too – and what third party suppliers you use.
There are also internal data security risks. As you grow it may not be practical or desirable for all of your staff to have access to all of your business’s information. If you’re taking on new employees, you may want to consider introducing different tiers for information within the business.
Off the shelf or tailored solution?
The traditional small business owner is used to rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in all aspects of running a business. The growth in off-the-shelf cloud systems means that it’s relatively simple for those with some IT knowledge to build their own IT infrastructure that can be scaled up.
Hardware manufacturers will be more than happy to provide you with support to procure the equipment you need. Many of these will also be able to discuss alternative options for repayment, including lease options to help you spread the cost.
With any implementation there are always going to be teething problems, which will take time to fix. If you’re spending a lot of time on IT, there is clearly a potential risk that focusing too heavily on non-core activities could affect your business and potentially its ability to grow.
At this point in the development of your business, many explore the option of working with a specialist. The in-depth knowledge of an expert will allow them to help you to develop a system that’s suitable and secure for your business.
The obvious drawbacks include increased costs, but in some cases at least some of these can be offset by cost-savings and improvements these experts can help you to identify.
If you chose to work with an external provider, or go it alone, the steps outlined here will put you in charge and ensure that the system you end up with delivers for you and your business (and not just for the consultant).
The requirements of each business are as individual as those who found them and work within them, and so making bold pronouncements or general rules is difficult.
What is clear is that the nature of IT, and the market for support, is rapidly changing and it’s essential that you stay on top to ensure your business has the best opportunity to grow – whatever its size.
About the author
This article was written exclusively for ByteStart by Principal – a national IT and print solutions company.
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