Most workplaces now rely on IT to ensure its operations run smoothly, and so creating and maintaining a reliable IT system should be at the top of your business’ agenda. Kate Horstead tells you where to start
- Organise a dedicated IT budget. Set aside separate amounts of money to spend on maintenance and support for your current technology, and on new IT equipment or updates. Both are of equal importance.
- Devise an IT strategy. Your IT requirements will change with your business. The strategy should include the types of software and hardware you will use, and you should ensure that these are all compatible to avoid wasting time converting them into different formats. You should also include information about how you intend to connect your computer networks both inside and outside the workplace.
- Review your employees’ IT needs. Individually assess IT needs among your employees – if somebody works remotely on a regular basis, it might make more sense for you to provide them with a laptop rather than a desktop computer.
- Automate your IT processes. Look at the activities of the various areas of your business, and see if you can automate anything to save resources; for example, you could create a template for invoices which automatically combines delivery details and pricing information.
- Select suitable suppliers. Ensure that your chosen suppliers are well-known, established, have a clear understanding of your industry, goals and the specialism they are providing. A good relationship with your supplier and solid after-sales support is essential in order for you to get valuable guidance and a speedy response to your queries. Poorly maintained IT can become expensive, mainly due to lost time when the system fails.
- Keep it simple. Unless you have in-house expertise, it is best to use one supplier for all your IT needs, including hardware, software, support and services, to avoid confusion about who to contact if and when things go wrong. Loyalty to a particular supplier might also lead to discounts on future upgrades or new products. Check the seemingly minor details of your contract, such as whether the support that is included is available on a free number.
- Buy in bulk. If you are sure of the number of computers you will need, buying several at once will usually cost less than buying them separately as you go along. However, be wary of buying excess equipment that you don’t need.
- Create a back-up strategy. Consider all the problems that could occur with your IT system – theft of hardware, physical damage, intellectual property loss or system failure – and ensure that you are prepared for these with insurance, warranties, data back-ups and suitable maintenance contract terms from your supplier.
- Train your staff. Invest some money in internal or external IT training for your staff, as their skills and self-sufficiency will be useful to your business in the long-run. Some IT suppliers will offer training at an additional cost. If your employees are competent at using the equipment, it will save you a considerable amount of hassle and money in the future.
- Look for the Energy Star Standard. Save money on utility bills by choosing computer equipment which carries the European Union-backed Energy Star specification. These products use lower energy consumption for normal tasks and switch into a low power mode while on stand-by. In addition, printers with the Energy Star standard are defaulted to produce double-sided print-outs.
For more advice on yout IT budget, see the Resources box on the right.