7 Affordable Tips to Keep Small Business IT Up to Speed

You can ill afford small business networking interruptions and computer crashes; they waste time, and wasted time can cost you money — lots of money.  Imagine this scenario for example:

A deadline quickly approaches, and you have yet to receive that presentation from your colleague.  With moments to spare, it arrives in your inbox, but upon opening it, your computer freezes — or worse yet, your small business network crashes. Is that file simply too large, is it in a different software version than you have or is it time for a network upgrade?

When an outdated small business information technology (IT) infrastructure results in such interruptions, it is critical to upgrade, or to at least weigh the productivity and opportunities lost against the prospective cost of upgrades. Failure to keep operating systems and applications up-to-date can also create holes in your system, leaving it vulnerable to cyber attacks and network crashes. 

Addressing Small Business IT Issues

Unfortunately, software compatibility issues are all too common.  For the long term, though, try looking at the bigger picture.  In most cases, outdated software or hardware is to blame.  IT upgrades are an essential strategy to minimize ongoing frustration, and these very common business interruptions.

Small businesses can take economical steps toward improved IT performance by taking advantage of the auto-upgrade tools that are standard on most computers, operating systems and applications.  However, if you put the burden of action on your employees, be aware that many workers often disregard the update notices, either because they are too busy or because they assume the IT department will push them out. 

End-user training — and regular reminders — can help maintain system security and uptime.  The more informed your employees, the more conscientious they will be of the small business network and their role in business security as a whole.

Hardware upgrades are more complex, and many small businesses are understandably conservative about spending money on new equipment.  Yet the maintenance and conversion costs associated with operating outdated hardware add up, often costing more than new equipment.  Making small, meaningful hardware upgrades can increase efficiency, reduce the overall size of your network and save money in the long term.

Unfortunately, most IT upgrades are not free, and they can be complicated.  Ever-present budget concerns often lead business owners to believe that IT upgrades are a luxury they can’t afford.  Yet many systems can be upgraded without breaking the bank.  We’ve developed seven money-saving IT tips for business/IT managers interested in IT upgrades to improve the overall efficiency of their business.

7 Affordable Ways to Upgrade Small Business IT

1. Purchase hardware solutions in volume.

This decreases the overall price per unit — server, desktop PC, etc., and it often brings manufacturer incentives.  You don’t have to purchase hundreds or thousands of units to reap the benefits.  Sometimes just buying five units can bring down the price, so don’t be afraid to ask.  Further, pooling resources can also pay off.  Industry consortia and buying groups establishing purchasing agreements with vendors can reduce expenditures on hardware and software via group and volume discounts — sometimes dramatically.


2. Take advantage of free IT software tools.

For example, Microsoft’s Software Update Services (SUS) patch management to help keep your small business up-to-date — or CDW’s Software License Manager to help you manage software assets by improving visibility. Businesses with more than a dozen computers should consider purchasing some form of patch-management or license-management software; it will drive down costs and increase efficiency.


3. Upgrade uninterruptible power supplies (UPS).

Newer, more energy-efficient models will help cut energy use and costs.  When considering an upgrade, avoid adding on to an old system.  It’s best to buy a completely new system, as the components in UPS — especially the batteries — have a limited shelf life.


4. Invest in multifunction printers (MFPs) with copy, print, scan and fax functions. 

Eliminating individual devices can reduce the costs of print consumables, such as toner and paper, and save office space and money due to their smaller footprint.  Further, networked MFPs, strategically connected to a workgroup, can save money by eliminating the need to purchase extra printers.


5. Equip small offices with a wireless network.

This option can be much more cost effective than “pulling cable” for hard-wired networks.  While offices with more than 8-10 people may need higher-capacity wireless routers and access points (instead of consumer products available from local retailers), the added cost is still nominal compared to the expense of cabling, and wireless network speeds have improved significantly over recent years.


6. Invest in tiered storage systems and de-duplication software. 

This is critical for companies that store a lot of files. It not only reduces physical space demands (and commercial real estate can be expensive), but it also reduces the need to purchase extra storage.  In typical small businesses, up to 80 percent of a company’s storage capacity may be burdened by a large volume of duplicate copies of electronic documents, making de-duplication a critical step in saving space and reducing costs.


7. Consider the value of someone else’s returns. 

Almost all resellers have a stock of secondary equipment, or “B” stock, that has been returned for various reasons.  The vast majority of this merchandise is returned unopened or unused, and most vendors evaluate the equipment to ensure that it is still in perfect working order before returning it to the shelves.  Because returns are harder to sell, resellers often offer discounts on these items. To avoid paying full price, ask a sales representative about availability of “B” stock

These valuable tips can help any small business improve its IT infrastructure and increase efficiency, while saving time and money in the long run.   

Adam Weiss is a director of sales at CDW.

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