101 Top Tech Solutions

Topics 92-101

Products That'll Enhance Your Business

92. Going Old School
You may think that most typewriters are in museums these days, but they actually remain quite useful to businesses that deal frequently with preprinted and multipart forms, such as order forms and shipping documents. The determination of whether or not you need a typewriter is one only you can make based on your specific operation. A good electric typewriter can be purchased for $100 to $150.

93. Multitasking Machines
Multifunction machines, though they can have their drawbacks, save space and cover a lot of different office tasks like copying, faxing and scanning. These machines are one reason why standalone fax machines are a dying breed in many offices. You also get a lot for the money compared to buying separately. Look for a convenient set of features like a built-in flatbed scanner if you plan on scanning irregular items. Decent multifunctions start as low as $200.

But if you do a high volume of any one of your printer's extra multifunction features, you may be better off with a standalone version. Need to scan a ton of photos all the time? Get a standalone flatbed scanner. Need to handle some high volume copying in house? Get a standalone copier. Same with faxing.

94. Going Flat
You're a professional. Your business is on top of technology, and your hardware is up to the task. It's time to invest in a computer monitor to match your reputation and needs.

You know the score when it comes to flat-panel displays. They're space-friendly, easy-on-the-eyes, affordable productivity boosters. A 19-inch LCD has a screen size equivalent to a 21-inch CRT, with a fraction of the bulk and none of that annoying screen flicker. Entrepreneurs who can make use of all the space include those who work with large graphics, document layouts, spreadsheets and databases. Or you may just want the ability to have two applications open and usable side by side. Once you've experienced a 19-inch LCD monitor, you won't want to go back to a smaller screen. They're not the cheapest displays on the market, but the productivity gains balance out the price tag.

95. Digital Cameras
You can get an insane amount of megapixels in a digital camera these days-for a price. Fortunately, most entrepreneurs will find what they need in a very attractive price range. Only professional photographers or those working with super high-end graphics need to think about a $1,000 8-megapixel monster. For the rest of you who are looking to do your own brochures, upload images to the Web or document projects, you can easily keep it less than $500.

For those on a budget looking for quick snapshots or pics for the Web, a couple of megapixels for less than $200 will keep you busy enough. For those of you who are more photographically experienced and prefer output on the high end of the graphics scale, looking midrange and higher is a good idea. Higher megapixel cameras can produce large, detailed high-resolution printouts if you have a printer (or access to one) that can take advantage of all that digital information. Many also give you the ability to manually control all the camera's functions, a feature that's of interest to more experienced photographers.

96. Global Tracking
GPS has arrived: Equipment sales have doubled since 2000, to $15 billion in 2004, and could grow to $22 billion by 2008, says market research firm ABI Research. More than just sky-high mile markers, the government's GPS satellites can improve asset security, expense tracking and cost control--with location-based marketing, m-commerce (mobile commerce) and supply chain applications in the wings.

Entrepreneurs are the pathfinders. John Stull, 41, president of Global Tracking Communications in Murietta, California, has a growing business helping companies track outbound employees and vehicles. GPS is one of several technologies used by Ira Fefferman, president of Ballpark Pedicabs, to automate checking out and routing bicycles from his downtown San Diego depot. He can pinpoint the start/stop times, movements and locations of his pedicabs, which cost several thousand dollars each.

Large sales, service and delivery fleets dialed into the least-cost routing and expense-tracking benefits of GPS long ago. As equipment prices soften and services multiply, GPS is looking good to individuals and growing businesses, too.

Saving Money on Tech Purchases

97. Setting Up a Tech Savings System

A recent study of IT purchasing by New York City consulting firm McKinsey & Co. says timely purchases, clever negotiation and internal controls can help businesses save megabucks. The McKinsey team estimated that savings of 10 to 20 percent on IT outlays were possible using the following recipe:

1. Renegotiate existing contracts for services such as network support and consulting. Telecom is especially ripe for bargains. Start by setting standards for rates and auditing bills to make sure you're not overpaying. And instead of buying all long-distance, local phone and other telecom services from one vendor, dual-source it. Vendors will treat you better and charge you less.
2. Make sure you need whatever new technology you do buy. Inventory all PCs, printers and software. Look for opportunities to consolidate purchases, standardize configurations and root out duplication.
3. Set up a system to keep on top of things. Pick a team of people from your tech and other departments, and meet with them regularly to discuss what they need and how to save on it. That can save as much as 3 to 7 percent on IT outlays alone.

98. Warranty Warnings
You can't afford to have a key business hardware component go down without protection-a warranty will give you peace of mind. Most products come with some sort of manufacturer's warranty, and you'll frequently be offered an extended warranty when you're checking out. But think hard before you purchase that extra coverage: Many products won't earn back the cost of that extended protection. For example, you don't need a $50 extended warranty on a $200 PDA. But for some items, you may prefer to have the peace of mind. Laptops, for example, often come standard with a paltry one-year warranty. Extending that to three years can get you safely through until the next upgrade cycle.

99. Buying Online
When shopping for tech products, why not try that great bastion of bargains: the Internet. EBay can be a gold mine, but "buyer beware" still applies. EBay is useful if you know what you want, especially if you can narrow down a model number. A few things to watch out for are whether the original documentation is included and whether the warranty is still in effect and transferable. If in doubt, e-mail the seller first.

For some purchases, you can narrow down the seller's location to find someone nearby. That way, you can pick up the product in person and take a look. EBay is a place you probably don't want to go to for your primary computer, but the discounts may outweigh the risks for secondary machines. Items like cords, monitors and peripherals can be had at great savings and little risk if you do your homework first.

You can also try the online outlet stores of technology manufacturers-these stores carry discontinued and refurbished merchandise. Chances are, the prices will be good, but the warranties will be lacking. Refurbs are typically only under warranty for a few months at the most. After that, you're on your own. Still, refurbished can be an affordable option for adding a second or third computer to your business.

100. Bargain-Hunting Sources
Discount clubs like Costco and Sam's Club have decent-size technology sections and can net you good value on everything from laptops to printer cartridges. What you won't get is a lot of one-on-one service. If you're sure of what you want, go ahead and look out for good deals. If you need to ask questions, go somewhere else. You can always check prices on their Web sites before you join the club.

Speaking of shopping locally, you can also save money by working closely with a value-added reseller (VAR). This is a good route to explore for large purchases where you want the reseller to also be the installer. The reseller will be up on the latest special offers and promotions that fit your needs. Selecting the right VAR is also important. See how long they have been in business and whether they have experience serving your particular market. The technology needs of a graphic design business can be very different from those of a personal chef service.

101. Knowing What You Want
When it comes to buying technology products and services, part of the process of getting a bargain is knowing what you're looking for. Before you shop, you should have a pretty solid idea of how much power you need in whatever it is you're buying. For example, suppose you're scouting out a stock notebook with 256MB RAM but you know you'll be running intensive graphics programs and will need more memory than that. The time to buy that extra memory is right away. You'll get a better deal customizing it online to add another 256MB than trying to buy RAM later and upgrading. The same often goes for adding items like a DVD-RW drive. Make a shopping list that includes your bare minimum requirements-plus the extras you'd like to have-before you start shopping around.

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