The digital economy requires unfettered connectivity, regardless of your circumstances. Employees need access to their data at all times, from any location, using any device in order to quickly respond to customers, close a big deal, and handle daily operations.
Most company IT teams control everything technology-related to improve operational efficiency. The problem with increased technology reliance is that the skills required to maintain your phone system are not the same as those needed to fix printers or manage and secure your company iPads. This expanding diversity of systems, used to keep your company running, requires a highly skilled IT workforce. But for many entrepreneurs, that's expensive and untenable.
Take a step back, look at your business plan, and focus on your core competencies. Are you an email company, a telecommunications provider or in the business of managing a bunch of servers? If not, why are you dedicating precious resources to manage your email, phone system and servers -- efforts taken away from your core business?
You don't need control.
Make peace with not having full control of a system. Why do you need to understand and manage the inner workings of an email system? Use Google Apps or Office 365 because email is their business and they can do a better job than your company. If you're queasy giving that much control to the big guys, get Rackspace or GoDaddy to run your email. Take that responsibility off your company's plate.
Yes, there is a strong and compelling argument around privacy and data ownership. If you're subpoenaed, you have more protection when data sits on servers you manage. But for most companies, the unlikely subpoena isn't worth the hassle of running your own system.
If you discuss something that's hypersensitive over email and don't want it falling into the wrong hands, you're out of luck. Even if a subpoena doesn't grant access to it, there's a digital trail, and always another copy of it with the other email recipients.
Act like a startup.
Do you really need a desk phone? A good number of people today should be able to live with just a mobile phone. Even better, so as not to mix your work and personal numbers, use a VOIP solution like SendHub, Grasshopper, Line2 or RingCentral. For conference calling, look at something like UberConference.
These cloud-based solutions also come with innovative features like voicemail transcribing, virtual assistants, rule-based call forwarding, call screening and a lot more.
Embrace emerging and disruptive technologies. Would you prefer 100 percent uptime and legacy technology or 99 percent uptime with constantly evolving, innovative features? Think like a startup. Choose the latter.
Technology as a service.
At best, most businesses store their files on some central server physically located in their office -- though likely not under lock and key. At worst, files are on a server, stored as attachments in email, on a few USB drives and probably in a few more places.
If your file management plan is more like the former, you're on the right path with centralization. But, is it secure and backed up? What happens when your VPN goes down and you need access to a file while traveling? Who will fix it if it crashes at night and you lose files? You should worry less about these issues and more about making your business successful.
Don't buy a shared file server. Use a cloud-based solution like Dropbox, Box, Skydrive, or Google Drive. I wouldn't even store files locally on my computer. Embrace technology as a service and stop worrying about your computer crashing, your iPad being stolen, or being unable to remotely connect to your office network. Technology should not complicate your life. It should make you more productive.
Securely storing your files in the cloud gives you the ability to access your files at any time, from any location, using any device. With Google Drive and your mobile phone, you can review and make edits to a proposal that your business partner is finishing up, even while you're at lunch. The accidental coffee spill on your laptop is no longer a disaster, because the presentation you were working on was saved in Dropbox.
Manage your budget.
Long-term technology budgeting can be complicated and unpredictable. With rapid industry innovation, what you budget for in January could easily become obsolete by December. You can mitigate a lot of this risk by using third-party service providers. As you shift from a capital to an operating expenditure, your budget will become more predictable.
Fill your business technology needs with third-party services and you will avoid the required three-year investment cycle for hardware that becomes obsolete or breaks at the most inopportune time.
Push your business technology into the cloud and get back to focusing on your core competencies.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Tom Cochran currently works at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of International Information Programs. Prior to that, he was the Chief Technology Officer at Atlantic Media, and served as the Director of New Media Technologies forThe White House.