Joe Balsarotti

Is Technology Working For or Against Your Business?

By Joe Balsarotti

Technology relentlessly marches on. Just think back ten years, when Blackberry and Palm were the phones of choice, computers ran Windows XP and the iPod was everywhere. Now, connected thermostats, Dick Tracy watches, tablets on the job site, and constant attacks by hackers are the news of the day.

The lifeblood of small businesses is contained in their computers: customer lists, invoices, accounting, designs, tax returns, bank registers and more. To lose this data is usually the death knell of a business. Only six percent of all businesses were still around five years after a “major loss” of computer records, 43 percent of firms taken out almost immediately, according to a Gartner survey.

As startling as those statistics are, what is even more startling is that many small businesses turn to ‘the kid down the street that they’d never, never, never let their daughter date’ for IT help, giving them extensive access to financial, legal and personal information. As Grand Moff Tarkin said to Princess Leia, “You’re far too trusting my dear….”

With the advent of the smart phone and tablet, technology seems much easier and information so much closer, but it is also much easier to lose. ‘The Cloud’ brings lightning and rain if you seed it with easy-to-get goodies. It isn’t some mythical place where everything is secure. In reality, it encompasses data centers across the world where some of our rules (and laws) don’t apply.

Target, Home Depot, and Apple are ripe targets to be sure, with millions of users, but when those entities harden their defenses, where do you think the hackers will look next? Your business is the next front in the battle with techno-terrorists.

  • How vulnerable is your business? Ask yourself these questions to get an idea.
  • Does someone perform regular maintenance on your equipment? Computers, servers and the like require the equivalent of an ‘oil change’ just as much as any other machine in your business.
  • Is the person you trust with your most valuable asset, your data, a professional or a hobbyist? Professionals keep up with industry news, they have colleagues to confer with on more involved projects and they can articulate their value to you. Hobbyists, know a lot about the specialty they are interested in, but what good is a hardware guy, when your software doesn’t work right?
  • As with any other tool, you need the right one for the job. Are you buying Yugos when you need panel vans, or a backhoe? Could that computer advertised right next to toilet paper really be the right machine to run a business on for 3-5 years?
  • What disaster plan do you have? If your office burns to the ground, where is the second set of tax records, A/R, A/P and all those drawings, models and customer notes? How much time will not be spent ‘doing  business’ but instead trying to put the digital pieces together?
  • What security have you implemented to keep your financial, legal and customer data safe? Does every employee have to ‘log into’ their machine with a password? Does everyone, including the janitor know that password? Can you track their usage?
  • Are you using a ‘free’ antivirus, trusting that someone worked hundreds of thousands of hours to develop a piece of security software out of the kindness of their heart? Really???
  • Do you REALLY have a technology plan?

Computers and technology can be a boon to businesses, especially small businesses by allowing one to do the work that used to take many. They allow free exchange of ideas and allow designs to come to life in proposals before a single beam is lifted, increase cash flow by allowing instant information on invoicing and payments, and free staff up to deal with clients and prospects instead of pushing paper around, but computers can only work well, when they are treated and maintained as the invaluable tools they are.

In future installments of this column, we’ll look at these pitfalls in depth and explore the rise of new, exciting technologies which can benefit your business. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send it to me.

Joe Balsarotti is President of Software To Go and is a 35 year veteran of the computer industry, reaching back to the days of the Apple II. He served three terms as Chairman of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Missouri Leadership Council; was Chairman of the Clayton, Missouri, Merchant Association; Chaired Region VII of the Federal Small Business Regulatory Fairness Board; and currently serves on the Dealer Advisory Panel of the ASCII Group, an organization of over 1000 independent computer and technology solution providers in North America.