Is your business in its foundation, growth or optimization phase? Knowing the answer can help you determine the core technology investment and road map your business is likely to need.
In the foundation phase, a small business is seeking to get established. Communicating effectively--with employees, customers and suppliers--is especially critical. So your technology road map should take into account the need to provide the easiest possible access to information, offering the best service to customers, and keeping information secure.
Businesses in the growth phase are established and looking to be more efficient and cost-effective. Technology considerations might include offering workers the ability to work from home or on the go. You might also want to enhance your communications infrastructure to provide greater operational efficiencies and cost savings through IP telephony.
In the optimization phase, it's time to differentiate your business with customers and suppliers. To do so, implementing customer relationship management, sales-force automation and call-center applications to enhance information sharing may be your priority.
Step 4: Ensure that the immediate technology choice will help evolve your business over time
Whichever technologies you decide on, only invest in solutions that'll help your business achieve your goals today and also support--with minimal upgrades--the needs you'll have in the future as your business evolves.
Small-business buyers often go for the lowest-priced technology that meets their needs today. This generally means buying products that don't offer as many capabilities as others. But this approach can actually cost you money and time in the long run. For example, to save money, some small businesses purchase PCs with 512MB of memory or less. For about $200 more, they could have a PC with 1GB of memory or more. The more memory a PC has, the faster applications will run. And, by extension, the faster the PC's performance is, the less time you or an employee wastes. The goal is to get the best value over time, not the lowest upfront cost.
To get the best long-term technology investment for your business, make sure any vendor you're considering offers easy financing for its technology solutions. Many technology vendors now provide flexible financing and leasing options especially tailored for small- and medium-sized businesses.
In addition, take into account what's available in terms of service and support for any solution you're considering. Look for vendors that can provide system design and ongoing support for both minor and major software upgrades. In some cases, such services are available from a technology company's local resellers. Also, make sure your solution vendors can help train your staff so they can handle routine maintenance.
A Few More Tips Before You Buy
Now you're ready to make solid investments in 2006 that'll help your business be more agile, efficient and competitive. But before you spend your hard-earned money, I'll leave you with a few more tips.
- Minimize the number of vendors. It might save you money to buy network routers from vendor A, firewalls from vendor B, and network storage from vendor C. But you'll have three vendors to deal with if something goes wrong. And guess what? Vendor A will invariably point a finger to vendor B as the culprit, and vice versa, leaving you caught--without a solution--in the middle. Spare yourself the agony and the time (and remember, time is money) by getting as much of your technology solutions from one vendor as possible.
- Remember, you're not alone. Talk to trusted peers, partners, suppliers, friends--even competitors. Find out what technologies are working for them, and which ones aren't. Ask them about the specific benefits they've received. Find out if they experienced any unpleasant surprises, and if so, how they dealt with them.
- Stay tuned. As for the new and emerging technologies mentioned earlier in this column, keep reading this column. In the coming months I'll explain 2006's hot new technologies and how they can help your small businesses thrive this year--and beyond.
Peter Alexander is vice president of worldwide commercial marketing at Cisco Systems Inc., the leading supplier of networking equipment and network management for the internet.