From the April 2007 issue of Entrepreneur

A business is the sum of its parts--and that includes the technology that goes into making it run. From your computers to your network to your cell phones, keeping your technology functioning well is a crucial task. Beyond that, the right technology choices can improve your efficiency and help your business hum along. Upgrading your technology isn't just about keeping up; it's about getting ahead. Every business should take some time to assess its technology needs and look at areas that may need improvement.

It helps to formulate a plan, even if it's just a general set of technology goals. Look beyond just upgrading your desktops or buying larger flat-panel monitors; investigate some of the newer technologies out there. Rick Buddine, CIO of technology consulting company Buddine Information Technology in Orange, California, says, "Think outside the box. Don't try to just improve what your given process is, but try to think of new processes that will improve the bottom line." He suggests looking into VoIP as a strong option for upgrading your phone system. There are services for every budget, so you're likely to find a good fit for your company. Services include outsourcing your phone needs to your broadband data provider or looking at investing $15,000 to $20,000 in equipment for an in-house system. Rich features like unified messaging and call forwarding can help boost your business to the next level.

Growing businesses face the challenge of scalability when it comes to technology. The equipment you buy now will need to handle your company's future, which will likely include more employees or an expanded office. For example, when it comes to your computing backbone--your network--Buddine says, "if you're moving or re-wiring, run twice as much cable as you ever think you'll need." He suggests adding a wireless network if you need to expand to cover a warehouse or other space where a wired Ether-net network would be difficult to install or use. Just be prepared to handle the wireless security properly.

Here are some simple things you can do to improve your technology standing right away.

Upgrade your network. If you're running an old 10-megabit Ethernet network, it's a small expenditure to move up to a 100-megabit or even a gigabit network.

Set up remote access with affordable VPN technology. This is a smart way to connect your main office with satellite offices, remote workers and home offices.

Bring in an IT consultant on a regular basis. If you're in between the do-it-yourself IT level and the full-time IT staff level, hire an IT consultant to come in weekly for maintenance, security, upgrades and any other tech needs you might have.

Use your buying power. If you're buying more than a handful of new computers, cell phones or other hardware, use the opportunity to negotiate for better prices. You can even negotiate mobile phone voice and data plans with cell carriers.

No entrepreneur has to be an island when it comes to building a business technology foundation. A good IT consultant or on-staff IT person will be able to offer guidance, installation and maintenance services. A little forward thinking about technology can go a long way.