For growing companies, choosing and upgrading their information technology is an important decision to avoid ending up with obsolete systems. What factors should small business owners consider to ensure they choose IT solutions that can scale with their companies?
Step 1. Assess your current problems
Talk to your employees and managers to find out what problems each department is having—not just with technology, like computers that keep crashing or printers that constantly jam, but with work processes. Remember, technology is only a means to an end. You may discover that slow printing is slowing down shipments from your warehouse and reducing efficiency as well as customer satisfaction. This is a bigger problem than just slow printing.
Step 2. Look ahead
To predict how rapidly your business will grow (and what type of technology that will require), look at your internal forecasts, such as sales projections, cash flow projections and hiring plans. Will you be adding new locations, expanding to new geographic or demographic markets, adding employees or relying on independent contractors?
Also look ahead to the future of your industry as a whole. What challenges will you face in remaining competitive in the next five to 10 years? How will technology affect your industry and what types of technology will be most important? For example, if you own an export/import business, robotic warehouse workers might be on your horizon, while a retailer may be more interested in virtual reality fitting rooms.
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Step 3. Plan for revamping inefficient processes
Assess your business processes. Which ones are already inefficient? Which ones work well for your current business but have the potential to create bottlenecks as your company grows?
For instance, if you’ve always had on-site employees and just one location, having half of your documents on paper and half of them digitized and stored in the cloud might work fine. But if you open a second location across town or start using remote workers, that haphazard system won’t work anymore.
The time to streamline inefficient processes is before business growth starts. That way, you’ll be able to keep running smoothly as the demands on your business ramp up.
Step 4: Focus on the big picture
With so many technology solutions out there, it’s easy to lose sight of your ultimate goal: growing your business. Technology is only a means to that end. Identify what you want to accomplish (such as better communication, faster workflow or easier document sharing) before you start researching solutions. For instance, Xerox’s DocuShare Flex document management solution grows with your company, scaling based on changes in user numbers, storage space and process requirements.
Step 5: Narrow down the contenders
Here are some questions to ask yourself about any hardware or software you’re considering.
- How easily will it integrate with your existing network, software and hardware? If there are certain apps you rely on, make sure they’ll work with your new solution. Xerox® printers work with a wide range of popular business apps.
- Is there compatible hardware or software available from the vendor and its partners that can enhance the technology’s functionality?
- How much start-up training is required? Products that are intuitively easy to use or include software or wizards that take you through installation and set-up are more efficient.
- Can it multitask? For example, some “multifunction” printers only let you use one function at a time, which can cause problems in a growing business if someone wants to make copies while others are printing. Look for true multifunction solutions like Xerox® multifunction printers.
- What types of security features does it offer? Fast-growing businesses can be especially vulnerable to cybercrime. Protect your network with tools such as Xerox® ConnectKey® Technology-enabled printers—they exceed industry security standards for data encryption, device detection and intrusion prevention.
- What use capacity does it have (i.e., number of users or seats, print jobs per day, pages per minute)?
- What is the true cost of ownership (TCO)? For example, inkjet multifunction printers cost less than laser printers upfront, but when the cost of ink is added into the equation, inkjets often have a TCO higher than laser printers.
- What type of training, support and customer service is provided? Downtime will hold your growing business back.
- What do others have to say about the technology? Check out online reviews from users with similar size businesses. Also read expert reviews and look for quality indicators such as industry awards.
When it comes to IT, you should never scrimp—but you can spend wisely by using rebates, and signing up for marketing emails to get special offers and discounts. Focus on technology you truly need; then make the necessary investments to fuel efficiency and growth.