Can you tell a server from a workstation? Do you think RAID is for bugs around the office? Information technology does not need to be a complicated mess that only your system administrator or your IT consulting company knows about. In this series of posts, we will discuss the basics of small business IT infrastructure and why having a little knowledge in this area is important to your business. This first post will give you a rundown of the topics that will be covered in more detail later in the series. Let’s get started…
Small Business IT infrastructure for non-geeks
Do you need laptops for your employees, or desktops, or workstations? Does a simple computer do the job or do you need a high performance machine? Do you need portability? Multiple screens?
There are many decisions that need to be made before heading out and buying a computer. The good news is that even a cheap computer today will do most of what you need for an average employee. Sure, you will need something more for those doing graphic work or other computer-intensive jobs but otherwise, a basic computer will do. We’ll go through some questions to ask yourself when choosing computers.
Software is the important link between you or your employees and the computer itself. Well designed software can be a joy to use while poorly designed programs can be … well, they can be pretty painful. Often, when purchasing one bit of software or another, you pay for usability. And if you thought computers were expensive, just wait until you see the price of software.
If you don’t know the difference between Open Source, SAAS (Software As A Service), and a hole in the ground, we will discuss the pros and cons of each and leave you well informed. Why pay more when you don’t have to?
Printers, scanners, and copiers
Paperless office… we’ve all heard that before. It seems that the more we move toward being paperless, the more paper we produce. Even if your office is completely paperless, chances are that you still receive some paper documents. In this post, you will learn about creating paper using printers of different types, creating paperless documents using PDF printers, and turning that incoming paper into digital documents that you can store, sort, and retrieve quicker than you can say paperless office.
As a small business, your data is your business. Customer lists, accounting, and company documentation are among the many, many bits of information that are often stored digitally. If your business has been around for any amount of time, this information is likely more than you can remember off the top of your head. Let your computers do what they do best, store and retrieve data. Just make sure you have a backup plan in place so the data doesn’t disappear due to crashing computers, viruses, plagues, zombie attacks, etc. We’ll discuss the basics of computer backups and some alternatives.
Having a backup plan is important. Having a great computer is important. Having a server where all your data is stored is important. None of that matters if someone can break into your systems or steal your laptop and access your data. It is our duty as business owners to protect our customer’s information as much as possible. No computer system is ever completely secure, but if you are using your kid’s birthday as your password, you are sitting on a data security time bomb. We’ll talk about how to protect your data, manage your passwords, and give you an idea of what it takes to protect your data.
If you are not connected to the internet in some way, you are missing out on business and important interactions with customers. If you have multiple computers and they aren’t connected together, you are missing out on productivity and cost savings. Small business networks can be as simple as a WiFi connection to the internet or as complex as multiple location networks with a VPN (Virtual Private Network) and firewalls, routers, etc. This post in the series will explain those types of setups and help you understand what to ask for when you need it.
Server and data storage
If you have more than one computer or employee doing work, chances are that you want to share information. Sure, you can print out documents, burn DVDs, use flash drives, or even use smoke signals, but if you want to take that next step toward having a great IT foundation, a server and some form of data storage is a must. It can be as simple as a spare computer with some free software. We’ll discuss the basics of having a small business server, some alternatives, and when you need to cry “UNCLE” and get an IT professional to help.
Unless you are a lone wolf, there are people that you need to work with on a regular basis. They may be members of your team in remote locations, important clients, or even consultants. It is important to create an environment where everyone can work together and share knowledge without technology getting in the way. This post will discuss topics such as video conferencing (low cost and free alternatives), whether it is better to email documents or save them to a central storage location, and how can you take the knowledge that you or your experienced employees have gained over many years and share it with the rest of your business.
Information technology doesn’t have to be complicated. As business owners, we often to try to tackle everything ourselves. This series of posts will give you a working overview of small business IT systems and what is available. Knowing a little about basic IT systems will not only help you ask the right questions when looking for a consultant or IT professional, it will help you envision the future of your business and how technology can help get you there. Good luck and stay tuned.