The COVID-19 pandemic has hit small business owners particularly hard. Many are struggling to stay afloat with fewer employees, fewer customers, and less money than before. Others, however, are discovering that technology offers unique tools and opportunities that can be leveraged to boost business growth, bring in clients, and reduce business expenditures. IT experts around the United States weigh in on the technology trends that are keeping companies afloat during this difficult time, offering advice and practical tips that entrepreneurs and small business owners can use to grow their companies now and in the future.
Will Buchanan is the president of Philantech3 Consulting Group in Spokane, Washington. His company, an IT managed service, specializes in handling jobs typically delegated to in-house IT departments. Given this fact, it’s not surprising that he suggests companies assess their payroll to see if important jobs can be done with fewer people than before. Tasks such as cybersecurity, IT employee training, cloud management, disaster recovery planning, mobile management, and data management can be easily outsourced to a third-party service, enabling a company to not only save a significant sum of money but also gain access to large teams of IT experts who have the skills and tools needed to bring about digital transformation within the business.
At the same time, outsourcing to third-party vendors isn’t the only solution for businesses that want to save money. Automated technology can also help a business reduce the number of full-time employees on the payroll while speeding up operations and reducing error rates. Anthony Buonaspina from LI Tech Advisors puts a premium on Microsoft and all the tools and technologies the tech giant offers to make it easy for remote workers to connect with each other, supervisors, and potential customers. Buonaspina recommends that companies that already have a Microsoft 365 subscription update it to include more cloud-based services, thus enhancing staff members’ ability to work remotely now and in the future. Specific tools he recommends include Hosted Exchange for email, OneDrive with 1TB of storage space, Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft Flows. Other, non-Microsoft tools that LI Tech Advisors uses for its own office include Slack, Dropbox for Business, and Datto for backing up files. Cameron Call from Network Security Associates Inc. highly recommends Power BI for any company that needs to visualize data as the program can help a business find inefficiencies that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. The program is included with some Microsoft 365 licenses and it’s not too hard for those who are familiar with Microsoft Excel to learn how to use it.
It should be noted that the programs outlined above aren’t the only good options on the market. As Buonaspina aptly points out, communication needs to be a priority. Any tool that can help company employees communicate efficiently, securely, and easily should be considered when upgrading an existing IT set-up. Amazon’s AWS and Google Cloud are viable alternatives to Microsoft Azure; Microsoft 365 alternatives include LibreOffice, Zoho, Google, and Polaris Office. However, it’s worth noting that Microsoft invests $1 billion in cybersecurity every single year to ensure its tools and platform offer full protection from data breaches. Using Microsoft doesn’t guarantee that a company will never experience a cyberattack but it does lower the odds of being targeted by cybercriminals looking about for easy prey.
What’s the First Step an SMB Should Take to Improve IT Operations?
Business owners eager to improve IT operations shouldn’t feel they need to do everything at once. It’s best to start with a single step and gradually update IT hardware and software instead of trying to achieve immediate digital transformation with limited resources.
Making an appointment with a reputable IT managed service is a wise idea. Many of these services offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation and IT assessment to help you understand how to improve your IT department in order to increase revenue, save money, boost employee efficiency, etc. Take advantage of this free advice as IT services will tailor their consultation to meet your specific business needs. If you have a limited income, your consultation will include low-cost yet effective solutions. If you have specific industry requirements you must adhere to, the consultation will provide solutions that will enable you to stay in step with local, state, and federal regulations.
Don’t be afraid to make needed IT changes in order to keep the business afloat long-term. Granted, upgrading your IT department will take time and involve some disruption but the results are well worth the effort. With expert help and a willingness to change, a business owner can stay ahead of the competition by taking full advantage of all that technology has to offer now and in the future.