Operating a small business with no technology staff means poaching valuable work time to keep systems current. Here are some tips for a smooth upgrade.
Technology changes at an alarmingly rapid pace and it may not be expected, or even possible, for you to keep current with the latest technology all the time. But when it does become necessary to upgrade to new computers, tablets, smartphones, software or apps, it’s not only the outlay of cash that can get expensive, it’s the cost of the work time that’s lost installing new systems and getting staff comfortable using them. Even with a team of tech professionals, lost time can’t be avoided entirely, but when technology is DIY, the workflow of a company can be disrupted for days. Here are some tips to help smooth a technology upgrade:
Before doing anything
1. Determine if it’s time. There are some clear indicators that something needs to be done with a company’s systems. If the maker of software you are using no longer supports it, an upgrade is necessary. Likewise, if computers are running slow or crashing frequently, or if the network can no longer handle the web traffic on a typical workday, something needs to be done. Valuable time is being wasted and data might be compromised. If there are no obvious signs, you just have to determine if the benefits of updating outweigh the cost of waiting.
2. Assess your needs. Don’t upgrade for the sake of upgrading. And don’t simply upgrade to meet the needs of your company today. Assess where your business is going and then plan for future technology needs. Do you anticipate company growth? Will you be adding staff and therefore more users on your system and traffic on your network? Are there things you do in-house, such as payroll or billing, which you might benefit from outsourcing and vise versa? If that’s the case, upgrade your technology accordingly.
3. Think about mobility. Would your company benefit from fewer desktop computers and more laptops? Can everything your employees do be done on a tablet or even a smartphone? Is it even up to you? A 2014 article in PC Magazine claims, “The business user’s demand has shifted from, ‘Give me the tools I need to get my work done,’ to ‘Here are the tools I use. How do I get my work done with them?’” Talk to your staff about the direction they’d like to see technology go in your office. New hires as well as those already on your staff probably own a smartphone, tablet or notebook computer and know how to use them. The portability of these devices means workers don’t have to be tied to workstations. They can work anytime, from anywhere, providing job flexibility. Your employees may actually be more comfortable using their own devices, but even if you decide to assign company-owned mobile devices, they are often a much smaller investment than traditional desktop workstations.
If desktop workstations are still part of your company’s technology mix, mobile devices can be set up to increase access to data on those workstations, allowing it to be modified from a tablet or smartphone at home, on a job site or pretty much anywhere.
4. Consider storage and security. If your technology is becoming more mobile, your investment will shift from workstations to data storage, because tablets, notebooks and smartphones don’t offer much in the way of storage. You can reduce the amount of on-site storage you need by going with always-accessible cloud storage. This will shift your budget from spending on physical servers and other hardware to contracts for cloud storage and data security.
5. Determine your budget. It’s good to have a dollar amount budgeted every year in order to keep technology up to date. Talk to your accountant to see if and how technology upgrades are deductible. Some large technology purchases may qualify for the Section 179 deduction, which allows a business to deduct all or part of the cost of new or used equipment in the year it is placed in service rather than recovering the cost by taking depreciation deductions.
Once you’ve got a plan and a budget, the big switchover can begin. To make your system upgrade as painless as possible, take the following steps:
1. Let everyone know. Don’t just spring the changes on your staff. Let them know in advance that there will be some downtime and maybe a few glitches. Surprise changes can be stressful for workers and that stress can, in turn, affect customers because their expectations are not being met. Giving a quick heads-up to a customer that the best way to reach you today will be a phone call because email might be down a few hours is better than finding 26 angry emails when the system is back up.
2. Back it up. Be sure all files are backed up and securely stored before starting any upgrading project or implementing any major system changes.
3. Pick a quiet time. Unless it’s an emergency like a total system crash, your slow season is the best time of year to implement any technology upgrades or changes. Evenings and weekends may be a smart time to schedule the actual switchover because no one will be using the systems at those times. Take the old systems down after everyone has gone home and bring the new systems up so the next day everyone is up and running.
4. Allow plenty of time for training before and after the changeover. All new technology has a learning curve and requires training. Train yourself first, and then before you make the switch to new hardware or software, mobile devices or apps, training should be provided for every employee who will be affected by the changes. Once the upgrades are in place and being used in the real world, new questions or problems may arise, so provide access to follow-up training too.
5. Ask for help. No one expects IT to be your strong suit. If it were, you’d probably own a tech company, not a plumbing business. So consider hiring experts. If your company is large you might have enough work for a full-time tech person to install, maintain, train and basically do everything necessary to keep computers, phones, software, servers, mobile devices, apps, storage solutions and networks running smoothly. If you think you only need someone to get you over the hump of upgrading, hire an IT consultant as an independent contractor to figure out what you need and see you through the installation and training. It will be money well spent because it takes the pressure off you to be the jack-of-all-trades. You’ll eliminate stress by knowing you’re buying exactly what you need, getting it installed right and using it to its maximum potential.
6. Don’t assume the job is over. Maintaining technology is preferable to ignoring it and having to do a major overhaul every five or 10 years. Heed those warnings that tell you when apps or systems need updating. And always be open to staff suggestions on how to make technology better for everyone.