Evaluating your IT infrastructure as your business expands and contracts will ensure that you are maximizing your technology investment. Using scalable IT solutions is one way Sam Card, CEO of Cards Technology, recommends. Sam goes into detail in this month’s Q&A.
Q: When is it necessary to re-evaluate my current IT approach?
Sam Card: A good rule of thumb is to look at your IT whenever you hit a limitation in your business. When you can’t add more clients or increase revenue because your team just can’t handle anything more, technology can revolutionize your business. Technology will improve your efficiencies with automation and quicker access to information. For example, you can automate your invoicing with software which reduces manpower and increases accuracy. Reports that are being done manually now can be scheduled and sent through automation.
Q. As my business grows, what can I do to prevent making costly errors when it comes to my technology?
Sam Card: The main error businesses make is not planning their IT with the assistance of their IT provider. You have to begin with the end in mind. If you’re adding one or two more people to your organization, your technology stack won’t change much. But, if you’re going from 10 to 25 employees, significant changes will have to be made to your technology. You may need more wireless access points, a larger firewall or an additional switch. You have to be able to accommodate more activity on your network. Make sure to contact your IT provider during the planning process – not after.
Q. I’m planning to open a new business location. What are the most important technology considerations I should think about?
Sam Card: Assess your current infrastructure first to find out if it can support another location. If you’re set up with an on-premise computing infrastructure, you will most likely need to add more servers, additional software licenses, or make changes to your phone system and file sharing infrastructure. If you have migrated to the cloud, you will need to make sure you have a reliable internet connection at your new location.
Q. I want to reduce my IT costs. What are the ramifications?
Sam Card: When you are looking at IT cost, you must take the total cost of service into account: the sum of the bill you’re paying each month coupled with the outcomes of your service requests. If you’re paying less than the competitive market rate, it’s likely you are receiving lower quality service. For example, if you pay your IT provider $150 an hour and they work for half an hour on an issue, you’re charged $150. If you go with another provider who only charges $75 an hour but it takes them an hour to fix your problem, your staff was down for double the amount of time. So, the total cost of service needs to include the cost of the extra downtime in addition to the hourly rate. Lower cost providers usually have limitations on the resources they devote to your overall cybersecurity as well. They may not provide employee training, be aware of compliance requirements or have a security incident response team in place. Less security and lower staff productivity aren’t worth the risk of saving a few dollars a month.
Gordon Moore said it in 1965 and it still holds true – technology increases at an exponential rate. If you’re trying to keep your business up with technology, it may be a good idea to take it slowly. Cards Technology CEO Sam Card shares some best practices when you’re considering adopting new software for your business.
Q: What advice do you have for business owners who want to adopt new technology?
Sam Card: Stay away from the latest and greatest applications. They’re usually fraught with problems – bugs, compatibility issues – and they’re expensive to fix. They have unknown, unexpected behaviors. Wait until they’ve been tested for a while.
Also, be sure to involve your IT support early in the process. It can be very problematic to make an executive decision about technology without talking to your IT team. When IT is involved from the start, they can make sure the new applications are compatible with your systems before you make a substantial investment of time and money.
Take your time. Not rushing will make implementation a whole lot smoother.
Q: How does a business owner encourage staff to use new technology, especially those staff members who are hesitant to adopt?
Sam Card: To get staff on board, whether they’re not tech savvy or don’t want to change, takes support from the top. They have to see their manager, or upper management using the new technology. Upper management has to use the new software themselves to show the value. When implementing new technology, make a plan to ensure the correct priorities are set and everyone is aware of what the change is and why it’s taking place. Share the business reasons for the new technology and how the new tool will be of value to the organization as a whole.
It’s a good practice to implement new software with a pilot program. Have a small number of people start with it and try it out for about a month. This way, any issues can be worked out before the entire company switches over. The pilot participants can help the others when the software is rolled out to everyone. Also, the software vendor and your IT support partner can troubleshoot any problems on a small scale during the pilot program.
Some people fear change of any kind, so if you can make them comfortable with change, transitions are much smoother. Assure your staff that even if they were the go-to person for the software being phased out, they are still valuable. It takes time to trust new software. Even if your old software had to be updated every month and it always went sideways causing downtime, its behavior is still “comfortable” to users. Once the new software behaves as expected repetitively over time, people will trust it.
One of the fastest-changing technologies since its invention is the telephone. Telephones are integral to business communications and specifically to generating sales. Sam Card, Cards Technology founder and CEO, reviews the business benefits of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones this month.
Q: What’s the difference between traditional phone lines and VoIP phone systems?
Sam Card: VoIP uses the internet to make phone calls. Traditional landlines use copper wiring to transmit. VoIP has many advantages over landlines – you never miss a call, your customers never get a busy signal and it costs much less. It’s important for businesses to keep up with all technology, not just computers, as you can realize significant cost efficiencies with current technology versus old technology. Telephones are a perfect example of that.
Q. What are some of the unnecessary expenses you have seen on phone bills that businesses should look out for?
Sam Card: We’ve worked with businesses with multiple locations and numerous phone lines which means they get several phone bills as well. Typical charges we see for landlines include lines that aren’t being used, long-distance charges and overpriced administrative fees. Businesses are paying for phone lines for fax machines, dial-up credit card machines and alarm systems to name a few. All of these can be set up on a VoIP phone system converted to wireless or wired network connectivity for much less than the cost of standard phone lines.
With traditional phone service you are paying per phone line and phone number. With VoIP, you can have as many simultaneous calls (call paths) as your business needs, with as many phone numbers as you want.
We even saw charges for directory assistance on one business’s phone bill recently! That’s crazy – most people just search the internet for phone numbers.
Q. What advantages does a VoIP phone system give businesses?
Sam Card: The primary advantage is cost. VoIP is inexpensive to set up, hardware costs are less and call pricing even for international calls is nominal. Extra features like faxing, call waiting, call forwarding and caller ID are standard.
In addition to decreasing overall costs, VoIP makes it so you never miss a call again. Your customers don’t get a busy signal or a voice message. Also, since you can have as many phone numbers as you want with VoIP, your salespeople can have their own unique, direct number so prospects can get through to the right person every time.
Technology is entwined within almost every business function in practically every industry and organization today. It’s imperative to consider the implications of business decisions – from changing your copier brand to firing an employee – on your IT systems. Cards Technology CEO Sam Card discusses common business transitions that impact IT.
Q: What are common changes businesses often fail to realize will impact their IT systems?
Sam Card: Two common business systems that impact your IT network are copiers and phones. Both rely upon your network to function properly but often businesses will switch their copiers out or change to a different phone system without contacting their IT provider. Your provider collaborates with vendors who have products connected to your network to ensure everything is operating correctly so they need to be in the know.
Moving your office, acquiring another business or installing new software are other areas you need to make your IT provider aware of, so you don’t experience excessive downtime during implementation and can capitalize on the benefits of the new product or facilities. It’s important to have your IT provider check out new physical spaces before you purchase or sign a lease to make sure there’s adequate internet and phone service infrastructure to support your technology functions.
Q: There shouldn’t be a problem if some of my staff start working remotely, right?
Sam Card: There are a couple of different options that allow employees to work securely from home. Setting up a VPN connection behind your corporate firewall or if you have a remote desktop gateway with SSL encryption in place, your information will be protected. But you need to inform your IT provider if you have remote employees so that they can be provided access. It’s important that security practices and policies are set up to manage the safety of your business’s data. With Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS), you can set up “conditional access,” so the system will block connections from computers or users not meeting compliance requirements.
Q: I had to fire someone on my team, and they didn’t take it very well. What can my IT provider do to make sure that our company remains secure?
Sam Card: It’s important to notify your IT provider right away as they are responsible for creating user accounts and establishing the level of access each employee has to your network. Microsoft EMS offers security rules for mobile device management that can give you control over your employee’s phone to wipe company apps and data if they leave the organization. Whether you’re hiring or terminating employees, let your IT provider know so your network is protected and the billing on “per user” services and applications can be adjusted accordingly.