Big IT to small biz: Listen up, little dudes!

Large corporations have a lot to teach small businesses -- like these six lessons (some painfully learned) from the big boys on the tech block

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Plan your IT future

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Dedicating more money to IT won't help if you don't have a plan for what you hope to accomplish. It's not just about budgeting more, says Brewer, but also about allocating your budget properly.

"Small businesses tend to think in terms of replacement. When they make their technology purchases, they're buying to fill a gap -- to replace technology that's worn out or unsupported," says Kevin Karcher, vice president of the infrastructure IT outsourcing team at Electronic Data Systems Corp.

Problem is, such companies tend to use whatever versions of the operating system and software are on the new machines when they buy them. The result can be a collection of mismatched systems that is harder to administer to and that makes training more difficult. "That's not strategic thinking," says Brewer.

Another danger to that behavior pattern is that small businesses can end up not with just a hodgepodge of systems, but a hodgepodge of cheap systems. Making ad hoc buying decisions based on immediate needs tends to lead to buying whatever is on sale at the local electronics superstore. That in turn means a network assembled from less-robust routers and switches, a consumer-level firewall and other technology unsuited to the needs of a growing business.

Karcher says that major corporations don't look at such "point" solutions; they spend more time and energy on integration, which in turn allows them access to best-of-class applications. Through research, planning and understanding of the business units' needs, enterprise IT is better able to acquire and integrate leading technologies from multiple vendors.

And paying attention to integration from the outset can give a small company not just access to higher-quality applications, but standardization and consistency as well.

"There's a benefit to the process discipline associated with doing routine things in the same repeatable fashion in an efficient way," Karcher says. "Standardization brings definition to process, roles and responsibilities, and this consistency and repeatability allows an organization to become more efficient."

Make IT part of management

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IT's influence extends beyond just getting the best equipment. "The [small business] owner needs to think of IT as a part of the management team and include them in discussion of what the business is about and where it's going," Hoover says.

Involving IT managers early in discussions about business direction allows them the opportunity to meet the business owner's expectations for timing and costs. The department may even find ways to improve business direction through the use of technology, Hoover suggests. "Enterprise IT organizations have used [technology] to reduce labor costs, speed time to delivery and bring process discipline to their organizations," he says.

Technisource's Baschab points out that IT sits at the intersection of numerous vendors -- Internet providers, management consultants, hardware suppliers, staffing firms, telecom and datacom providers and more. That means managing relationships outside the organization, which is properly a management-level task that shouldn't be left just to technicians.

Karcher agrees: "If you do not have an IT professional on your team who can interact with your business team and decision-makers -- get one."

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