You wouldn't dream of tackling your accounting on your own, so why take on your information technology strategy by yourself?
Fortunately, there are thousands of service companies dedicated to helping with that problem. We call them technology solution providers, but you know them as IT consultants.
Solution providers can decide which hardware and software you should use, where to host your Web site, or how to protect yourself from hackers or viruses. "[It doesn't matter if] you're a start-up with one employee or a company that's been in business for 10 years with 20 employees. You still need to protect your intellectual property," explains Michelle Drolet, 40-year-old CEO of Conqwest, a security technology and services firm in Holliston, Massachusetts.
Conqwest, which expects more than $5 million in sales this year, works with companies with 250 to 3,500 PCs. But it also has smaller clients, such as a local 15-person company that acts as a mailhouse for larger organizations. When the owner of the company sought to protect his customers, he was referred to Conqwest for help. Conqwest then suggested a firewall and antivirus software. In addition, Conqwest offers ongoing maintenance, a service that costs $350 to $400 per month, Drolet says.
How much can you expect to pay a solution provider? It depends. An electrical contractor asked CHIPS Computer Consulting to troubleshoot problems with its billing system. Brian Okun, director of sales and marketing for the $9.2 million Lake Success, New York, company, says the contractor's tape backup wasn't working, its antivirus software was outdated and its network printer was not set up efficiently. CHIPS' proposed solution cost $3,000, a price tag the contractor found too big to swallow.
But one of CHIPS' small accounts, a seven-person firm that helps larger companies outsource HR functions, invested in three high-powered servers with a firewall. Such solutions can start at $5,000, but the firm found the investment worthwhile. After all, says Okun, "They needed to be up and working all the time."
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