The biggest hurdles small and mid-sized businesses face in adopting information technology are its inherent complexity and the great speed at which innovation occurs.

Having a clear and complete understanding of what technology tools are available and how they can be deployed is an unrealistic expectation for most small businesses. To ensure the right choices are made, the most advisable approach is to develop a solid relationship with a local IT service provider willing to develop a good understanding of its clients’ business and guide them towards the most appropriate solutions.

The reality, though, is that most of the key choices are made by business owners or employees with limited understanding of IT, while professional advice is sought only for large, strategic projects or to address urgent problems.

In today’s data driven world, even what may look like small IT choices may actually have very substantial business consequences. Think about buying the wrong data backup software, getting frustrated and just giving up on making backup copies of critical information. If a disaster strikes, thousands of dollars – if not tens of thousands of dollars – can be lost in damage control and data recovery attempts.

What should small and mid-sized businesses keep in mind to avoid disastrous mistakes when making everyday technology choices?

As a simple guideline, basic IT products that hit the mark with small businesses usually are:

  • Clear to understand in terms of functionality or task actually performed
  • Clear in terms of short-term benefit
  • Simple to setup and configure without third party help
  • In need of little or no maintenance
  • Backed by a solid warranty

The mantra is clear: simple is better. The future of technology is in simplicity and that goes for small business choices, too.

When it comes to larger choices that influence multiple aspects of the business, involve multiple types of products, and possibly require integration services, it is really difficult to understand which solutions are the best. In most cases, individual business challenges can be tackled through different approaches involving different products and associated services.

So many factors play into these decisions that prioritizing the actual requirements can be a daunting challenge in itself.  A few simple guidelines may help understand how to successfully approach complex IT challenges.

  1. Maintain clear business objectives. Have a very clear understanding of your true business needs and make those drive your technology choices. Research products that support your needs and don’t get bogged down with what might be cool
  2. Seek guidance. Do not divert precious time from your business core competency to become a technology specialist. Ask information technology professionals about solutions that support your business' functional and budgetary needs
  3. Develop a plan. Introduce technology into your business in a well organized manner based on:
    1. Urgency of the need
    2. Potential benefit
    3. Costs and availability of funds
  4. Consider carefully the impact of technology. Understand how a new technology will affect your processes and the people performing them.

Simple solutions are often the most successful at addressing complex problems. Your business is your life and your life is your business. Keep your business technology simple; make your life easy.

Andrea Peiro is president and CEO of the Small Business Technology Institute, a non-profit organization created to foster the adoption of information technologies among small businesses.