Buying small business software can feel a little like grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Everything you pass looks appetizing, and it’s hard to resist placing items in your cart. Even with the best intentions and a detailed shopping list, you usually end up with more than you need and come in over budget. Sticking to a list may not be easy, especially when you crave most everything you see, but it helps to protect you from excess and to save money in the end.
Tech websites and store aisles are stocked full of small business software, designed to solve any problem you may have -- and many you don’t even know you have until you see the software. From management to accounting, marketing to healthcare; if you can conceive it, software probably exists. Small business professionals are always looking for new ways that IT can help them reduce costs and increase productivity.
Small Business Software: Total Cost Versus Value
While small business software can help in many ways, investing in too many random or uncoordinated applications can complicate your work and increase your IT support costs significantly. The best approach is to buy only applications that enhance the systems you already employ, that save your business money over the long term or that make your life easier.
Before you invest in a new small business application on an impulse, pause for a bit to consider your business’s unique needs and what you already have in place. Consider the costs of associated with deployment, training, technical support and ongoing management. Now compare those costs with your best estimate of the value you’ll gain.
The decision can be easier when you work with a knowledgeable software vendor and discuss where your greatest opportunities and need for improvement lie. Odds are, your vendor will have some good insight because, while every business is different, there are some similar pain points that many small businesses share. For example, here are two high-value software solutions that most small businesses can implement to save time and increase productivity.
Prevent Email Overload
Office efficiency can suffer a serious hit when employees have to spend too much time deleting or wading through unwanted email. You can increase productivity, save time and limit the hassle of unwanted email by installing spam filtering applications at your email gateway. Also, consider an email archiving program to reduce the storage required for active emails, to preserve or enhance the speed of your email server, and to facilitate easier searches for old emails when the need arises.
Save Storage Space
Companies that store large volumes of files should consider de-duplication software as well as a tiered storage system, which can reduce space demands and the need to purchase extra storage. De-duplication alone can conserve tremendous amounts of storage space, as up to 80 percent of a small business’s storage capacity may be occupied by duplicate copies of electronic documents. Tiered storage classifies your business’s data according to need and value. It then directs the most actively used and highest-value data to high-speed, high-availability storage equipment. It stores older, less-used or less-critical data on slower, lower-cost equipment.
These are not one-size-fits-all solutions -- every small business has different needs and requirements. It is important to consider your unique business needs before making a purchase, no matter how great products in the software aisle may seem.
4 Tips to Consider When Buying Small Business Software
Once you make your decisions and begin to deploy new applications, follow these tips to make the best use of your purchase and achieve the greatest savings:
1. Check Compatibility
Ensure that your hardware and operating systems are compatible with – and will adequately support -- any new applications. If necessary, install one copy as a test before rolling out across your entire business. In isolation, it may appear that your standard desktop or laptop computers have sufficient memory and power to run new applications, but in tandem with applications already in use, new software may require beefed up hardware or an updated operating system
2. Track Software Licenses
Implement software license tracking and management to be sure that you maintain current licensing and that you match the number of licenses to the number of users you have at any given time. This is a time- and money-saving service that may be available from your software vendor at low or no cost
3. Active Versus Total Users
Wherever possible, look at changing your software licensing from “total users” (on your network) to “number of active users.” Availability of this option varies between software providers and applications, but it may save you money on licensing fees
4. System Patches
Keep your system up-to-date to avoid security issues or software malfunctions, which can cost your business much more than the software itself over the long run. To simplify this process, small offices can often use free tools such as Microsoft’s Software Update Service (SUS) patch management to automate most routine updates while reducing support costs
As with other technologies, purchasing software is only the first step, and ongoing management and support can chew away at the anticipated benefits of a small business software program. Plan your small business software purchases, and consider the total cost of owning it against the benefits that you anticipate.
Liz Eversoll is the vice-president of software sales at CDW.
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