The small business technology dilemma

, The Small Business Technology Dilemma

Rutland Smith

Director at Harvey Norman Technology for Business & Harvey Norman Salary Packaging, Chairperson Gold Coast Community Fund

Anyone who has ever run a small business understands the daily juggling act involved in managing competing demands for your time and resources:

  1. There are the things you want to do
  2. There are the things you have to do; and then
  3. There are the things you can afford to do.

On top of all of that there is the need for skills and expertise in your many roles as head of Sales, Marketing, Finance, Legal, Human Resources and last but not least, Chief Technology Officer.

It’s easy right, just hire a cast of managers to do the work for you….

Oh wait a minute, then there’s the things you can’t afford……

My whole life has been about small business, whether that be listening to my parents around the dinner table as a child or my adult life running numerous small businesses (some more successful than others , The Small Business Technology Dilemma)

Today I am fortunate to work with small businesses all over Australia assisting them with getting the right technology for their business and ensuring it works the right way. For me there is nothing more satisfying than helping a fellow small business person succeed with their dreams.

As with all areas of small business, the “technology dilemma” is about finding the right balance between productivity, cost and risk.

The questions are many; how much can I afford to invest, what are the must haves’, what do I need my tech to do for me and how do I navigate my way through all the techno babble and jargon. Most importantly, how do I avoid being stung by a fast-talking salesperson? (HINT – do they ask questions that suggest they want to sell you one product once or are they trying to partner for the long term?)

The reality is almost every business in the 21st century is a technology business.

I mean seriously, good luck finding a business that does not have a heavy reliance on computers, mobile phones, websites, email and social media accounts let alone all the additional software to run their business.

This is a really important point for small business owners, because whether you like it or not you are running a technology business. Technology is about as optional as Sales.

In the scheme of things this is a relatively new development.

Small Business owners think nothing of hiring an accountant to assist with taxation or a lawyer to deal with contracts .

Nonetheless, many small businesses are still grappling with the idea of what to do with technology. A recent study indicated that 62% of Small to medium businesses are unable to deal with security issues in-house[1]. I can say from personal experience that most small businesses we deal with have huge exposures to cyber security threats when we first meet them.

This is not a judgement of small business owners but rather a reflection on the difficult task a small business owner faces in understanding technology and the even more difficult task of finding a trusted technology advisor to guide them through the myriad of claims and counter claims from technology companies.

With nearly 30 years of experience in this area my advice is something we have all heard so many times before.

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Avoid the temptation to implement every shiny new toy, focus on building a solid foundation that meets your unique business needs. Consider using a reliable technology partner in the same way you work with an accountant or a lawyer.

A solid technology foundation will:

  • Find the right balance between productivity, cost and risk.
  • Meet your business requirements now and be capable of scaling in the future with minimal cost and disruption.
  • Provide you with several layers of security protection.
  • Allow your staff to work productively with products they feel comfortable with. Complex systems may offer a lot of bells and whistles, but ease of use is the primary concern for staff productivity.
  • Provide you with a support solution that allows you to focus on your core business.

 The #1 technology issue facing small business owners today is security.

The risks are huge, the threats are growing daily, and the complexity is overwhelming. The temptation is to install an anti-virus, put your head in the sand and assume breaches don’t happen to businesses like yours.

Unfortunately, the reality is the cyber criminals are more likely to target a small business than a large business. To put it crudely, small business is the low hanging fruit for cyber criminals. From the criminal’s point of view most small businesses are easy to target because their defences are relatively poor compared to large businesses and because there’s lots to target (2.2 mill in Australia alone).

The good news is you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get great quality security.

The right technology platform will minimise security risks by including many layers of protection:

  • Identity management – in particular using multi factor authentication for logging in to sensitive services.
  • Endpoint Management – a fancy piece of industry jargon for protecting your data regardless of the device used.
  • Network Protection – to ensure your data is not compromised because someone left the office door unlocked.
  • Data Integrity – ensuring sensitive data like customer records is encrypted and only available to those who need it
  • Business recovery – can you recover easily and quickly in the worst-case scenario. You need a fail safe plan should everything else go wrong

 You cannot afford to opt out of occupational health and safety law, employment law, taxation law privacy law and all those other “pesky” compliance requirements. Similarly, you cannot afford to be mediocre with cyber security.

The key is having a trusted advisor who thinks like you.

How do I use my existing investment without spending more money? What are the business objectives and how do I measure cost versus reward whilst balancing risk? The last thing you need is a GEEK.

I would recommend you go with the partner who speaks your language. Chose a partner that you feel comfortable has taken the time to understand your business, a partner that bothers to find out what you need and why you need it. In the same way you select your accountant or your lawyer, chose a partner who wants to be a part of your long term journey, avoid the ones looking to make a quick buck.

If you do your own tax return and write your own employment contracts then my advice is not for you, but if you employ business specialists to assist with taxation and legal then you understand the need for expert advice on complex ever changing matters that are at the heart of your business.

The technology dilemma for small business owners is unlikely to change soon. Finding the right balance between productivity, costs and risks will remain a challenge. There will always be:

  1. The things you want to do with technology
  2. The things you have to do with technology; and then
  3. The things you can afford to do with technology

Nothing would make me happier than to help uncomplicate technology for your business and play a small role in supporting you to achieve your business dreams. Please feel free to reach out via direct message or email rutland.smith@au.harveynorman.com

[1] Underserved and Unprepared: The State of SMB Cyber Security in 2019, Vanson Bourne for Continuum

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