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How to Determine Your IT Needs

Q: How do business owners and tech pros differ when reviewing IT needs?

Seldom do these two factions sing from the same hymn sheet. Business owners want to know what their IT professional is going to do to keep things running smoothly within the parameters of a tight budget. They reason that until the business starts bringing in money, every penny used to achieve that goal is precious, so costs must be contained and understood.

To tech pros, saving a few dollars on a technology or process that is unreliable or will need to be revisited a few months later is a waste of time and money. IT pros are concerned about management: What happens when something breaks? How do I track it down and fix it? What about backups and key data? How do I offer 24/7 support and still manage to sleep at night?

Francis Sullivan is co-founder and CTO of Austin-based Spiceworks, a suite of free management applications and an online community of IT professionals. He says functionality is another tech concern that is tied to costs. And when it comes to IT implementation, functionality is changing big-time. We asked him to explain.

When you talk about "functionality,"do you mean cloud services?
That's part of it. I also mean mobile. The IT professional is thinking about scale at a level much higher than a company would be able to afford if it tried to build its own solution. For instance, today's business owners fully expect to be able to conduct work both at their desks and while on the move. Smartphones--and more recently tablets--are providing businesses with mobile access to key functions from home, at the office and on the road. All that happens through the cloud. According to our latest "State of SMB IT" report, we found that for small and midsize businesses, 53 percent support tablets on their networks, making them almost as popular as smartphones, which are supported by 59 percent of SMBs. And IT pros have to figure out how to make all that work together.

How big a deal is security to making everything work?
When it comes to security, business owners want things to be secure at a macro level, but they may not actually know what this means. They don't know how much goes into making a company's systems safe. Just saying you want things to be secure isn't that helpful to IT pros. From their perspective, security concerns are a major nightmare that keeps them up at night. They have to know how to keep your intellectual property secure; track who has access to key passwords; make all the latest updates to computers to fend off known viruses; know what to do if a laptop is stolen or an iPhone is lost; and manage who has access to the data in all those fancy cloud services.

It's important for business owners to understand that a shiny new app or cloud service is never perfect, no matter how much money or efficiencies it promises. Roping in your IT pro to help make a decision on whether to move to a new system can save many headaches later.

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. For more information, visit MikalBelicove.com.

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This article was originally published in the July 2013 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: An Un-meeting of the Minds.

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