Small business IT Architecture – Part 1: Concepts

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I often get asked to help with IT issues and architecture in both the micro and small businesses, one thing that gets to me is how these businesses spend their money on their IT infrastructure. I thought I would share some thoughts on the IT misconceptions that most people have in these businesses and hopefully help to put these in perspective in a language that can be understood by all.

This series of post is meant to help micro to small businesses by explaining where to adjust spending in the organisation and maybe save on both IT and reputational costs.

In part 1, I want to discuss some misconceptions and concepts that you will need to understand later posts in this series. Whether you are a 1-person micro-business or a 50-employee small business, these will apply to you.

I will also later in the series recommend different setups for a 1-person micro-business, 2-10 employee business and a 10-50 employee business.
These concepts are the same even if you are a global enterprise.

Information technologies = Communication

Wikipedia describes an IT System as follows:

Information technology (IT) is the use of computers to store, retrieve, transmit, and manipulate data, or information, often in the context of a business or other enterprise. IT is considered to be a subset of information and communications technology (ICT).

Notice the “communications technology” part? This applies to all communications of information or data, such as audio, video or text. In relative terms, nearly all kinds of data or information are transmittable via a network or if you prefer a collection of networks such as the internet.

The fact is that in today’s business environment, the terms “information technologies” and “communications” are nearly indistinguishable from each other, this is an important concept.

Without at least a phone, answering system, text messaging, calendaring and email, no matter the business you are in, chances are you will not be taken seriously. What if I told you that in our modern world, these primary five means of communications are all directly made possible through IT?

In fact, you probably own an entire IT infrastructure already, and it’s all on your hand. Your smartphone provides the requirements, the ability to transmit and receive data in the form of voice, messages, email and it even can answer your calls and record them, schedule appointments and much more. You probably thought the IT was out of your reach and only for the experts, it is not. The smartphone is the most basic IT system in today’s world; the cool thing is you probably have one and someone else is maintaining it, your mobile provider. It is not the cheapest route and connectivity may be a problem at times, it may also be the best place to begin.

Segment your users, spend accordingly

Not all users have the same requirements, and thus they do not all need the same IT spending, for example, would you require the cleaning staff in your office to have a computer? Is that a necessary expense? The short answer is no, a broom and cleaning equipment is all that is required for this type of work.

The same applies to other jobs; a secretarial staff member does not have the same IT requirement as a finance person, the former only needs a computer capable of running an office suite whereas the finance person will need a financial package and maybe access to the bank. I often meet directors with high-end laptops when a much lower spec machine would do just as well, and those who need higher spec machines do not have them.

Unfortunately, in most businesses, the machine specification has become a status symbol, the same as cars or watches. Spend smartly on everything from email providers to the phone in your hand. I will be going a little further with this topic in upcoming posts.

The importance of licensing and up to date software.

Having valid supported software licenses for your business is critical, it ensures far more than just having the latest software, it provides security for your valuable data. Imagine losing all your documents, quotes, invoices, spreadsheets, photos and other files? Some businesses never recover from this kind of loss. Could you? There are also the legal implications; pirated software could cost you your business, it’s that simple.

Or worst, you could become compromised which could be as bad as losing all your hard work.

I must note that there are great open source solutions out there. You will notice I did not use the word “free”, the software may be free, but it may cost you to get support on it.

I need to own everything from hardware to software

This is a tough one to explain, a hybrid of ownership, where you own the hardware and software as a service (SAAS) is probably the best; I will delve into this in a later post with the pros and cons.

The requirements will differ from businesses to businesses; some things may even need to be outsourced. There is one business requirement that is easy to overlook, software, whether it be an office suite, financial suite or an antivirus, software as a service (SAAS) should always be your first option.

Your brand is more important than you think, and it will affect your IT decisions!

Many small businesses forget that their brand is how clients recognise them, in modern companies, there is more to branding than a name.

You need to consider your name carefully, is that name available as a domain name (www.yourbussinessname.com for example) to use for both email and a website?

It does not stop there, what about a Facebook page, Google Business page, LinkedIn Business page, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat to name the more important ones.

Your brand needs to be everywhere so that you can customers can find you from anywhere. Your business naming decision is now more complicated than before. It needs to be unique and easily remembered.

The importance of a Web Presence

Let us be honest; the traditional phonebook is dead, if you need any services, you will pick up your phone and search on Google or Bing, maybe even ask a recommendation on Facebook.

Having a website helps your exposure and ensures you control the narrative presented to your potential clients.

It also enables you to use emails with your name in it. I often see small businesses that have websites with their name in it, but they have a yourbussinessname@Gmail.com, Hotmail/Outlook.com or Yahoo.com email address.

If you have your domain name, use it, it will be easier to remember sales@yourbussinessname.com than some generic email address.

You need a permanent dedicated IT person

This one is easy; the answer is no, no matter if you are a 1-person company or a 50-persons one.

A well designed IT system needs little to no intervention and you should only call your IT person to add users or functionality.

When things go wrong, it should be something beyond your control such as a cable being cut outside your premises cutting you off from the internet or a lightning strike burning out some of your equipment to smoke.

I will explain how to mitigate these and ensure business continuity in future posts.

In my next post, I will be talking about setting up a web presence and the costs involved.

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