By Tiffany Bloomer
All SMBs know the importance of keeping a strong IT infrastructure, but planning ahead isn’t always a priority. Why? SMBs are inundated with so many immediate needs and requests that it is sometimes difficult to think of future needs and long-term investments. It’s hard enough to take care of what items are most critical now without also considering your organization’s technology requirements five years down the road.
It should come as no surprise then that many SMBs overlook long-term IT tech investments that can actually save them money in the long run. The old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kicks in and money is allocated almost exclusively to immediate needs. However, it’s time to rethink that concept.
Here’s a look at four IT investments that SMBs should think about to not only help with productivity and security now, but to also save them some money in the future:
#1: Subscription-based Office Services
Cloud solutions that at one time only made financial sense for large companies or enterprises are now affordable and very much within reach for SMBs, so it’s time to consider these powerful solutions.
Many SMBs are still using perpetual licenses for many office services. These licenses are actually quite expensive and, in most cases, keep companies on legacy versions of the programs using inexpensive email hosting providers with less than reliable track records. One significant SMB trend we are seeing is the increasing movement to Office 365 as it becomes clearer how advantageous moving to the cloud can be.
The benefits of cloud-based subscription services are significant, including savings on infrastructure costs, maximum uptime and centralized management of applications. Office 365 combines the advantages of cloud technology with the traditional foundation of on-premise software offerings—that is, the physical, desktop versions of Office programs. It allows Office applications to be available to multiple computers or devices and provides storage space on Microsoft’s OneDrive. Over time, companies find that it is quite a bit cheaper than keeping up with the latest versions and paying the perpetual licensing fees. There is also the added benefit of being able to share things through OneDrive since many SMBs didn’t previously have a form of sharing content from a collaborative perspective.
#2: Hosted Financial and Accounting Solutions
According to a recent report conducted by Capterra on SMBs’ purchasing plans for 2019 and 2020, spending money on business software is often not on the list. But these technology investments can be critical to competing effectively in your market. The report explains how good financial practices are key to keeping an SMB afloat while also giving it room to grow. The authors, in fact, call finance and accounting software an “SMB staple,” stating further that “If you can only invest in one technology in the coming two years, that technology should be finance and accounting software.”
Many SMBs are looking for hosted solutions where a managed services provider (MSP) would host their financial and accounting software. For example, a lot of SMBs still have requirements to use QuickBooks Enterprise versus QuickBooks Online. The QuickBooks Online piece is still fairly limited in its capabilities compared to what the QuickBooks desktop version does, but most SMBs don’t have or want to maintain a dedicated server for Quickbooks, or they have connectivity issues and other problems. So, looking at something like a hosted solution for QuickBooks is a solid IT investment. Not only does it reduce the need for a dedicated server, but it also provides all the benefits of the cloud and, in most cases, offers high-level security features and anti-virus protection through the MSP host, removing that expense from the SMB. Businesses can also rest assured that their system is being kept up to date on security protocols and getting patched regularly.
#3: Cloud-hosted Backup
The Capterra study showed the cloud as the second most-budgeted-for technology, as it offers SMBs a unique opportunity to access the same power offered to Fortune 500 companies by way of platforms from Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.
We are witnessing this trend firsthand. Many SMBs that do not have hosted backup services or that are bogged down with legacy infrastructures are looking for ways to upgrade without breaking the bank on significant hardware purchases. Solutions like this provide easy portability and recovery of any on-premise systems or cloud-based workloads to AWS and Microsoft Azure. The implementation is simple, as well. In just two easy steps, you can maintain business continuity and availability across cloud environments. The benefits are abundant (agentless backups, deduplication and compression, and inexpensive offsite backups) and does not require an additional hardware appliance. However, keep in mind it does require additional resources on the VM that’s running it, but you’ll experience better control of the resources deployed when a restore is required. These kinds of tools can help SMBs leverage the growing demand for modern data protection and also equip them with the resources needed to reduce expenses, mitigate risk and fully realize the promise of virtualization.
#4: Investing in an MSP Specializing in SMBs
One barrier to many cloud investments is that SMBs become overwhelmed by the process and potential disruption to email and other critical business functions during implementation. In those instances, SMBs should consider finding an MSP that specializes in smaller businesses. An MSP can handle the entire implementation, allowing customers to focus on their business and day-to-day activities.
The initial reaction might be “I can’t afford an MSP,” but you might be surprised. Especially for businesses with 30 to 100 employees the cost of having an MSP can be less than hiring a dedicated full-time employee to manage things. And for that employee, the security aspects alone can be significant. Regardless, the reduction in downtime and peace of mind that all machines are running properly far outweigh the costs of an MSP. These providers are experts in the tools and equipment they service and are dedicated to your business, so they quickly respond to any issues that arise. Not only can you call an expert whenever you need them, you also often have the benefit of newer, more up-to-date hardware with managed antivirus and security services included. And, most MSPs offer training on how to use implemented tools. They can point out underused features that can help with efficiency and collaboration in your organization so that you capitalize further on the investment.
It’s Time to Invest in Your IT Future
Planning ahead with IT tech investments is no different than writing a business plan when you start a business. IT planning is one of those things where you must think about how all the different components are going to work together and also continue working as your business grows. It’s not just about connecting pieces of equipment or loading software on your servers; it’s also about planning out the backbone and infrastructure of your business for the long-term. You’ll find as you look at these IT options, they are well worth the investment and, in most cases, will save your SMB significant time, money and headaches down the road.