Small Business Information Technology

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Computers and Business Information Technology – some of the basics

A guide about some of the basic IT considerations for new and start-up businesses.

Really understanding what technology your business will need is a good start to getting the right solutions.  In this article I look at some of the basics of small business technology.

It's no longer ideal to run a business, even a small one with few employees, using paper based systems.  Even if some of the paper based methods (such as hand-written sales ledgers and colour-coded paper memos) are relatively effective, they can be hard to manage.  These days, businesses have access to all sorts of useful technology that helps them communicate, keep accurate records, work more efficiently and reach new markets.

It can be extremely daunting when you are starting a new business, particularly when you are trying  to understand what technology you need to invest in.  The following is a very basic guide to some considerations, and likely decisions to be made about IT Hardware, IT Software, Networking the Internet and the ‘Cloud’.

Ultimately its a good idea to try and start as you mean to go on with your basic admin systems.  It's a lot easier to deal with the set-up of at least some basic electronic communication and record keeping systems before your business really takes off and there simply just aren't enough hours in the day.

Business IT Hardware

When starting your new business the types of hardware you might need to include are as follows:
  • Personal Computers (PC) – both desktop and laptop (also known as notebook computers)
  • Accessories – including monitor (display), webcam, keyboard and mouse
  • Storage Media - such as USB memory sticks and portable hard drives, which are important for information sharing and making back-ups
  • Printers and Scanners – which can often double as photocopiers
  • A Network Server – for a business running several computers, this links them together and provided centralised services and data back-up.  However, now careful consideration should be made about using the 'Cloud' as an alternative
  • Networking Equipment – such as cables, routers and an internet connection.  Here there are also decisions about using wireless (WiFi) or wired connections
  • Mobile Devices – including equipment such as smartphones and tablet computers (computers with no external keyboard that are operated by a touch-screen)
If you don’t have any technical knowledge, it can be hard to understand and compare different types of computer hardware.  Look closely at the specifications, and seek expert help when you can.  For Free advice and a Free initial consultation, please contact AWP Computer Services.  We can help your small business through this difficult decision making process.

As a general rule, instead of getting caught up in all the available features, try and think about what those features will help you to do.  Will they give any benefit to you and how you'll work with the technology.

For example, high-powered computers (ones with lots of memory, processing power and data storage space) may look impressive, but can often be an over-investment if all you need them for is spreadsheets and documents.  Alternatively, if you are frequently on the move, a tablet computer could be invaluable for helping you catch up with business when you're away from home or out of the office.

Business IT Software

Just like with hardware, your choice of computer software will depend on your business needs.   It's important to think about what you need to do, and to try and match up those tasks to the software available.

It is likely that you will want to think about:
  • The Operating System – these often come already installed on any new computers you buy, and allow you to manage your data files and run other programs.  You will likely be set-up using Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X or Android, dependant on the device
  • Office Software – allowing you to use spreadsheets, documents, create presentations and access email.  A big consideration here is whether spend money on software you install on your individual devices or whether you subscribe to a 'Cloud' based option, such as Microsoft's Office 365 or Google Apps for Business
  • A Web Browser – there are many to choose from, but popular choices include Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Google Chrome.  This is probably the most important software, after the Operating System, as a Web Browser is essential for accessing 'Cloud' based services and this could include your Office Software and Email
  • Anti-Virus Software – is essential to protect your computer from Internet security threats.  Having your individual computers or all of your information systems infected by a virus could equate to loss of critical business data, lost time and potentially loss of earnings.  That's not to mention the cost of sorting out the infection
  • Other specialised programs – these will be related to your business.  For example, graphics software for a design company or CAD for an Engineer or Architect
In rare cases, custom software designed especially for your business will be required.

It is essential that you plan ahead and make sure each employee has a standard set of software installed onto their computer.  This way, it is much easier to train staff, get IT support for the programs you use and manage licensing and upgrades.

You also need to be aware of how software licencing works, and make sure you’re using your software legally.  For example, some software will only be licenced for installation onto one computer.  If you want to use the same software on several computers, it may be cheaper to get a ‘multi-user’ licence.  There are a large number of free versions (often what are known as open source) available.  However, whilst the will provide a viable alternative to a paid version, often you will be forfeiting and software support (from the supplier) when you have a problem.  Typical examples of these perfectly suitable, well written software include the Firefox Web Browser (www.mozilla.org) and Open Office (www.openoffice.org).

Cloud Computing

Increasingly, businesses are turning to Cloud Computing – the are web based services that you access on the internet and pay a subscription for.  You can use Cloud Computing for:
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Email
  • Office software functions like word processing, spreadsheets and presentations
  • Sharing, managing and storing documents
  • Sharing calendars

Cloud Computing can be really useful to help people in your company work together, especially from different locations or on the move.  All you need is an Internet Connection and a Web Browser to access services, instead of connecting to your own Server based in the office.

However, whilst it can offer many advantages, you should think carefully before using Cloud Computing for important functions.  For example, if the host of the services is hacked, or suffers a failure at their end, you won’t be able to access your services and may lose sensitive data.

To really take full advantage of the 'Cloud' and use it effectively, you will also need a reliable and fast Internet connection.

For Free advice and a Free initial consultation, please contact AWP Computer Services.  We can help your small business through this difficult decision making process.

web: www.awpcomputers.co.uk
phone: 01772 698078
mobile: 07547 337059

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