Businesses today are more dependent on their technology than at any time in history. New technologies have created a wealth of opportunities for entrepreneurs and have spawned a “work from anywhere” culture that spans the globe.
But the opportunities that come from our interconnected, data-driven economy also create numerous challenges, particularly for small business owners who may lack the time or the resources to effectively solve them on their own.
Here we cover five of the most common technology challenges that small businesses are facing, along with tips and strategies to turn those challenges into opportunities for innovation and growth.
Problem #1 - Handling Security Risks
While high-profile hacking has been well publicized, from data breaches at Home Depot and Target to the Equifax hack in 2017, small and medium-sized businesses are quickly becoming the preferred target for many hackers.
According to CNBC, “In the last 12 months, hackers have breached half of all small businesses in the United States…”
The reason? Most small and medium-sized businesses don’t have the resources of a dedicated IT staff to prevent cyberattacks.
For some, though, it’s merely ignorance. A recent survey on Manta revealed that 87% of respondents did not believe their business was at risk for a data breach.
Worse yet, 60 percent of small businesses that suffer a cyber-attack go out of business within 6 months, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
More and more small businesses are being attacked each day through a variety of means including:
- Phishing attacks
- E-Commerce hacking
- And many more…
It’s clear that most small and medium-sized businesses need help with this issue. But even those businesses who have taken steps to protect their networks can still be vulnerable to attack.
These days, it’s not a question of IF you will be attacked, but WHEN.
That’s why it’s so important for small and medium-sized businesses to invest in network monitoring. Constant monitoring can detect cyber-attacks more quickly and minimize the damage they cause.
Fortunately, thanks to advances in technology, network monitoring is now affordable for small and medium-sized businesses, through many managed IT service plans.
Problem #2 - Backup & Disaster Recovery Challenges
Another big challenge businesses face is establishing reliable backup and disaster recovery systems. But the issues go way beyond tape and disk backups versus the cloud.
Today, businesses don’t ask IF they can recover from a data loss, but HOW SOON they can be back up and running. The integration of data and technology into almost every facet of today’s businesses makes it critical to retrieve lost information in hours, not days or weeks.
Compounded with the need for speed is the necessity to back up and recover data from many different sources - servers, workstations, laptops, tablets, and phones.
As BYOD (bring your own device) policies allow more employees to choose their own hardware, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage information from such a diverse array of operating systems, apps, and inputs.
The key in managing backup and recovery, though, is balancing each aspect of the disaster recovery process.
The Recovery Process
Much of the recovery process is dictated by the amount of data you need to back up. The more data you have to recover, the longer the recovery process generally takes. The process will also be affected by where the data is stored - either locally or in the cloud. Many businesses use a mix of onsite and cloud-based systems to better manage the recovery process.
Time to Recovery
One of the most critical steps in choosing an effective backup system is determining the amount of recovery time that your business can handle without significant negative effects. Businesses that need almost immediate recovery will require more sophisticated backup systems than those that can easily live without valuable data for a day or two. Still others will be comfortable with some of their data being unavailable for a period of time, but need certain types of data recovered more quickly.
Cost of Downtime
The cost of downtime will likely be one of the biggest factors in your decision about the right backup and recovery system for your business. The costs associated with downtime on critical systems include lost productivity from employees and lost revenue from the inability to serve customers.
Want to evaluate your current recovery time and recovery objectives? Check out our Recovery Time Calculator.
You can also download our informative guide to help you find the right backup system for your business needs.
Problem #3 - Data Protection
New privacy laws, both in Canada and the European Union, have made it more important than ever for businesses to protect the data they collect from their customers.
Public outcry over recent security breaches, both in Canada and abroad, have reached a fever pitch. As a result, new privacy laws, PIPEDA in Canada, and GDPR, in the European Union, have been enacted to force businesses to be more proactive about the security of customer information.
These laws require businesses to follow new procedures that are at best unfamiliar, and at worst, daunting in their implementation. From evaluating the types of information that can be collected to properly handling the way records are maintained, businesses must adapt new systems to suit their needs. Businesses must also comply with new procedures for reporting data breaches that could result in the loss of customer confidence.
Navigating these new rules is tricky. Even companies that don’t do business in Canada or the European Union may be required to comply with the new regulations under certain conditions.
We talked about Canada’s PIPEDA regulations in a recent blog post and provided some tips to make sure your business is prepared for the new regulations. Most of those tips also apply to the new GDPR regulations, as well.
Problem #4 - Understanding & Integrating Technology
New technology is being developed at a startling pace, leaving most small and medium-sized business owners feeling like they are behind the 8-ball.
- Should they implement the new accounting software a staff member brought up in last week’s meeting?
- Would the company benefit from combining all of their customer data into the latest CRM?
- What about that new cloud service that promises to streamline processes and cut hardware costs?
The trouble is, there is so much out there that business owners are often afraid of what they don’t know.
What if they adopt a new system that doesn’t work? What if the new technology doesn’t integrate with the systems they already have?
Even if they do decide to add something new, the next problem is properly implementing the technology.
- Who will handle training new employees?
- Will customer service suffer in the switch from old to new?
- What other problems are waiting that they haven’t even considered?
The truth is, most business owners built their businesses because they are experts in their field, not technology experts. That’s why it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the technologies that claim to drive innovation, cut costs, and accelerate growth.
To compete in today’s accelerated market, business owners need technology professionals to lead the way. The key is finding the right IT partner - one that understands the complexity of the technology landscape, who can ask the right questions, and implement solutions that improve customer experiences and the bottom line.
Going it alone is no longer a smart option.
Problem #5 - No Strategic Planning
Most small and medium-sized businesses don’t have a strategic plan when it comes to their technology. Caught up in day-to-day concerns, most small business owners just don’t have the time to evaluate their technology objectives and plan effectively for their future needs.
The result is a reactive approach to technology that means unexpected downtime, lost productivity, and angry customers.
But strategic planning isn’t all about preventing fires or eliminating problems. It can also improve processes that streamline business functions, help businesses make better use of available data, and take advantage of new technologies sooner.
In other words, strategic planning can help business owners leverage their technology to fuel future growth.
So how can small and medium-sized businesses find the time to create a strategic plan?
Many IT companies have begun to shift their service objectives from simply fixing problems to more strategic frameworks. These services can benefit small and medium-sized businesses who don’t have the resources to hire a CIO or dedicated IT team.
At Technical Action Group, we create a technology roadmap for each of our IT clients that clearly defines strategic technology objectives for the next 3-5 years. We start at the beginning with each client’s current systems and technology and create a detailed timeline for upgrades and expansions.
Through our CIO service, we also provide regular reviews to improve leadership, evaluate risk management, and create process improvements that benefit businesses in the long and short term.
It’s clear that small and medium-sized businesses have a lot on their plates these days, especially when it comes to technology. But, it’s important to remember that, as a business owner, you don’t need to face these challenges alone.
Just as your customers trust you to deliver the product or service that has become your specialty, IT professionals can offer a wealth of information, strategies, and value-added services to lighten your technology load.
At Technical Action Group, we’ve been providing business-focused IT support for small and medium-sized businesses in the Toronto area since 2003. Contact us today for a free network audit and learn how we can help you turn your technology into your best asset for business growth.