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Do your eyes glaze over when confronted by the seemingly zillions of new business technology options in the marketplace? Don’t feel bad. Even the pros sometimes feel nonplussed by this embarrassment of riches. “Every need has a saturated market of solutions, and it quickly becomes overwhelming--even for IT guys,” says Vincent Panico, technical manager and enterprise architect at AFScott LLC, a managed-service provider supporting small and midsize businesses.
The important thing for all SMBs, and especially for startups, is to have a solid technology plan in hand before you start buying up all those shiny new objects. “Technology that runs efficiently and keeps the business protected is the primary objective,” says Carl Mazzanti, vice president and co-founder of eMazzanti Technologies, an IT consulting firm focused on SMBs.
Not every state-of-the-art gadget is necessary, but if your equipment doesn’t work, neither can your staff. “Efficiency is so important, and considerably more so in the startup years,” he says. “So plan for the minimum tech that is reliable and meets your data security and efficiency needs.”
Start by Identifying Objectives and Needs
A critical first step is determining your core objectives and any unique business needs you may have. Nicol Pasuit, CEO of TechStak, a firm that helps small businesses find and hire trusted technology partners, suggests asking these six questions to guide your planning process:
- What are likely to be your biggest pain points? (Look for trends here.)
- How will your work environment be structured (remote/gig workers, site-based, both)?
- What key business functions can you streamline or improve (HR, collaboration, customer support, etc.)?
- What skill gaps do you or your team have that tech might solve?
- What are your greatest opportunity areas to save time and boost productivity and efficiency? (Think automation of tedious tasks, workflows, communication, collaboration.)
- What industry-specific requirements must you meet (compliance, regulatory, security, etc.)?
Make Sure Your Starter Kit Can Grow With You
Startups and small businesses should approach their technology plan the same way they approach their business plan, says David Rabin, vice president, global commercial marketing at Lenovo. “Think in terms of milestones,” he advises. “What do I need in my first year? What do I need for my first 10 employees? What do I need as I hit certain revenue milestones?”
Because many entrepreneurs don’t really know what their business will be like two or three years out, they tend to act like consumers when it comes to technology purchases. “They have some money left at the end of a quarter or a year and think, let’s go buy something. Tech acquisition really needs to be part of a master plan,” Rabin says. “Otherwise, you get to 20 or 40 employees, you look back, and you have this ‘Franken-monster’ of technology. That’s really what you need to avoid.”
Buy, Lease, or Something Else?
A major consideration for SMBs is access to capital, so it’s a good idea to get your accountant involved when considering this aspect of your office technology plan. Businesses that are cash-heavy or have consistent and stable cash flow might consider buying outright and depreciating their tech investments over the useful life of the asset, generally five years for hardware and three years for software, Pasuit says.
Leasing or financing through the supplier are other options, although they have become virtually indistinguishable, says Panico. Unlike other types of business leasing (vehicles or buildings, for example), IT leasing involves equipment that ends up with virtually no residual value, so most lease programs have $1 buy-outs at the end of the term.
An emerging trend is an approach called Device-as-a-Service (D-a-a-S), a subscription model that offers budgeting predictability and flexibility along with built-in upgrade cycles and product support.
Leverage a Competitive Marketplace to Your Advantage
While you should avoid falling prey to shiny-object bedazzlement when putting together your office technology starter kit, do take advantage of what a crowded and competitive marketplace has to offer.
Many hardware suppliers offer 0 percent financing, and many business apps provide free trial periods. Stick to name brands on the hardware side for the warranty, support, and backing of a large company, Panico suggests. Check out business-app review sites like Capterra and G2 Crowd for personalized reviews, price comparisons, and satisfaction ratings, Pasuit urges.
Finally, whenever possible, seek out peer-to-peer guidance and support. “Most small-business owners associate with some kind of like-minded group,” Rabin says, “and that can be a valuable source of information and support.”
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