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Most small businesses are stretched thin, with little or no time to devote to computer hardware and software, networks, Internet connections and other technology issues. Regardless, many of these businesses need technology as much as, if not more than, their larger competitors and are forced to deal with these issues and costs. This post outlines 10 ways that you can reduce the time, costs and problems associated with IT and get on with the task of running your business.

1. Standardize as much as you can

For businesses on the move, standardizing procedures is the last thing on the to-do list but when it comes to technology, it can save time and money in the long run. Start with computer hardware. Buy everyone the same computer from the same company. Once you make the PC vs. Apple decision, go with a single company for purchasing all your hardware. If it is Apple, the choice is easy. If not, pick a single company like Dell or Hewlett-Packard and set up an account. If possible, run all purchases through that account.

Document everything and store it in a single location so that you can refer back to it later after you have forgotten all the important minutia, passwords, warranty information, etc.

The same applies to software. Pick the same applications for the entire office. A good suite of applications like Microsoft’s Office should cover everyone’s needs.

2. Business computers are for business only

No matter how many times you tell your co-workers not to download music or open attachments in emails, somebody will do it and the costs can be high. We had one employee who downloaded music and brought the entire network to a grinding halt.

The computer and IT you provide should be for business only. The Internet should be for business only. The closer you can make people adhere to this policy, the less clean up work you will face later.

3. Protect yourself

Select a good suite of computer protection software, install it and make sure it is updated on a regular basis. Here at our office we use Norton Utilities which has an anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall protection all built into one product.

4. Buy as much computer as possible

You can never have a processor that is too fast or too much memory or too much storage for your computers. We have always stretched to buy as much computer as we could afford and we have never regretted it.

This is true for either Apple or PC and even though it hurts up front when making the purchases, you’ll be able to extend the use of the use of the computers into the future.

5. With software applications, stay away from the bleeding edge

The benefits that come with the newest software releases are seldom worth the trouble that often accompanies them. There is no need to purchase applications until you are sure that all the bugs are worked out and the migration will be relatively painless.

The advantage of subscribing to software via the Internet, like Salesforce.com CRM is that the upgrades are automatically installed and supported for you.

6. Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM

It is an old cliché but good advice to stay with industry leaders, like Apple, Dell, HP, Cisco, Palm, McAfee and Microsoft. It is just common sense that the leaders in the industry are more compatible with each other than more fringe brands and you will have fewer problems.

You might save a few bucks on your PC but if you then spend 10 hours to get it to work with your printer, what have you really saved?

7. Always buy the extended warranty

When you buy computers and other hardware, like printers, get the extended warrantees. I don’t know if it is just us, but we have used almost every extended warranty we have purchased.

Keep all the information in a single file because it is not a matter of “if” you will need it, it is a matter of “when”.

8. Backup regularly

There are two kinds of people, those who back up regularly and those that have never “lost” data. We automate this as much as possible so it takes as little time as possible. Then we draw up a schedule and adhere to it. It takes a bit of discipline but the payback is enormous if hardware fails, which it will. Make sure you back up everything, including each individual’s PC.

One of the big advantages of Web-based collaboration software like Office.com is that it is automatically backed up for you so that you have one less thing to worry about.

9. Invest in ergonomics

Nothing will cost you more than an employee with carpal tunnel syndrome or a pinched nerve. There are many articles on the Internet which explain this in detail. Most deal with having the proper chair, monitor position, keyboard and mouse placement.

Encourage employees to create an ergonomically correct workspace and to take stretching breaks.

10. Hire a consultant

This is particularly true if there is nobody on staff who enjoys or is particularly talented with technology. You don’t have to rely on this person for everything, but they can often set things up much more efficiently and fix things much more quickly than you or one of your employees.

For example, get the consultant to set up the backup hardware and procedure, but then have somebody on your staff do the daily backup. The consultant can make sure everything is being done correctly or fix something if it goes bad, but the daily responsibility stays with the current employees.

If your budget is tight, think about hiring a student from your local high school. Ask others what they do as often consultants are shared between multiple organizations.

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