Accelerator: Technology - Big IT on a small budget

Professional help in planning and maintaining your data-handling and communications systems will ensure your team works smarter, says Ron Condon.

Technology can be so appealing for smaller businesses. It offers the tools they need to do battle with larger corporations and, via the internet, to play on a global stage. It may even help them work more efficiently if they apply it carefully. On the other hand, technology is complicated, hard to manage, constantly evolving - and sometimes goes wrong. If you don't have the skills to make it all work properly, and make no plans for a system failure, you are in a worse position than if you'd stayed with a paper-based system.

Business owners shopping for new computers, networks, software and services face an array of choices. They may have read magazines, taken advice from their teenage children and talked to other people in the same position, but few go properly prepared to make what may be their most important investment.

'People tend to turn up on our doorstep when they've got a problem, or some change has occurred at their organisation to force them to re-think what they're doing,' says Mark MacGregor, head of Connect Support Services, a consultancy specialising in small businesses. Many companies, he says, survive by using a local expert who can come round and fix things when they go wrong, but there comes a stage - possibly through expansion - that the 'one-man-band who's looked after them so far is no longer up to the job'.

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