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Technology mistakes that small businesses make and how to address them

Small businesses need to dedicate their time and focus on knowing their own industry and that often means that effective technology practices are sometimes overlooked.

In today's SME industry, having a stable, reliable and highly scalable infrastructure is crucial for business growth and security. If you're not particularly tech savvy, the prospect of purchasing, maintaining and securing technology for your business can be confusing and alarming. As a result small businesses frequently make certain technology mistakes.

Here are five common mistakes that small business owners make and preventative measures to protect businesses, mitigate risks and prevent serious problems.

Illegal/unlicensed software

Possessing illegal software may be the easiest trap into which many organisations fall. According to the 2013 Global Software Survey released by The Software Alliance (BSA), an average of 73% of the software installed on personal computers across East and southern Africa in 2013 was not properly licensed. The global software industry watchdog found that South Africa is the top piracy destination in Africa with the commercial value of unlicensed and pirated software installed in the country peaking at $385 million in 2013.

This makes it one of the highest issues plaguing the small businesses. Problems for business owners arise either in the form of audits and penalties or challenging delays (due to product activation conflicts and other licensing issues) when returning failed systems or systems that licences had expired and now need to be renewed back for operation. Businesses must understand that there are no short cuts to running legitimate organisations.

Business owners can protect their businesses from penalties or licensing errors and help ensure that licensing risks can be mitigated by carefully documenting and tracking all software licence purchases and deployments. Furthermore, software licensing should be purchased only from reputable technology partners. Lastly, businesses need to pay very close attention to licence agreements when accepting.

Lack of experienced technology resources

Many businesses go without experienced technical staff who can offer the correct technical support and, instead, rely on an employee who loves playing Warcraft or Duke Nukem 3D online and make him the company's 'computer guru'. Other organisations depend on a friend or relative who may have done an MCSE certificate for advice or when critical systems fail or are unacceptably slow. Some turn to their hardware manufacturer's telephone support line for help, only to be disappointed as the warranty plan offered does not cover certain or all aspects of the required technical support. Without any disrespect to the Warcraft enthusiast, family relatives with an MCSE certificate or manufacturers, this is the reality that businesses face and the most important question is: How do you overcome this challenge?

These methods may seem cost-efficient in the short term; however they would become costly over time. They also may not be the most effective IT investment, troubleshooting, management or administration options.

Small businesses need experienced, knowledgeable, trusted technology IT partners who are proficient with current technologies and willing to help learn their industry's operations requirements. Once a qualified technology expert is familiar with a client's needs, appropriate services and solutions can be recommended and implemented. This allows you to focus on running your business and not your IT.

Poor backup planning

Failure to plan effectively or have backup strategies put in place can sometimes lead to loss of crucial data and hold back business from being productive. Statistics reveal there is a 50% chance an organisation will cease operations immediately when critical data is lost. As data back-ups are critical to an organisation's sustenance, small businesses should work with proficient IT consultants or technology partners to ensure the right data is being backed up and that it's being backed up as frequently as required.

IT partners can work with small businesses to identify what data, folders, files and other information should be backed up, how often these data sets are created, where to locate this backup information and how often to test that the backup process is working efficiently. Automated solutions should be taken into consideration as this makes it easier for small businesses to direct their focus. IT partners should also offer small businesses the best advice in terms of the latest back-up technologies and what the best solution would be for the client's business.

Lack of power protection

Running a small business in South Africa can prove to be very challenging, principally when it comes to the aspect of load shedding. Eskom systems are constantly constrained and any extra load or faults on their system often necessitate the need to go into load shedding. For small businesses, a single power outage, surge or spike can damage expensive electronic components and result in critical data loss.

Consistent power outages and blackouts tend to shorten the lifespan of computers, printers, network devices, monitors and other electronic equipment.

Organisations should deploy quality battery back-up devices (with built-in surge suppression) for all critical desktop PCs. Furthermore, technology consultants should connect all servers to UPSs (Uninterruptible Power Supplies). They should also test these devices regularly to confirm that adequate failover protection is in place. Small business owners again need to keep in mind the quality of the product being purchased and procure from trusted vendors.

Security, Security, Security ...

While small to mid-sized businesses (SMB) don't have the luxury of information security teams and resources that large enterprises can afford, they still face many of the same threats. The cyber world may sometimes be regarded as utopia; however this utopia comes with security breaches to your systems and businesses need to constantly ensure that their have the correct technology to protect their company's data and stop illegal infiltration.

According to Ellen Messmer from Network World, business managers need to gain the basic knowledge of where the most important data is held, whether it's on site in traditional desktops and servers, or in cloud services and mobile devices. Whether this knowledge is presented by the in-house IT manager or an outside technology provider, the data storage, access permissions and data processing should be documented, including whatever security controls are in place. There needs to be a conscious decision by business and technology managers, preferably with legal advice, that these security controls are adequate relative to risk. That lays the foundation for what is also needed: a back-up and disaster-recovery plan. Deploy the security basics. That means firewalls for wireless and wire-based access points, and anti-malware on end points and servers, acknowledging that traditional signature-based anti-virus is a limited form of defence.

About Sufyan Mkwanda

Sufyan Mkwanda is the founder of a small IT managed service company called SM Global Tech

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