SMEs need end-to-end IT solutions

It makes sense to look to a single IT vendor to support an SME's IT requirements.
Read time 3min 50sec

IT is an essential element for any small or medium enterprise and covers all areas of business operations. Businesses without a robust IT infrastructure to support growth may soon find themselves with unmanageable, duplicated information, disorganised systems and ineffective manual processes.

It's a huge challenge for business people to implement IT solutions that can assist business growth. It may be an even bigger challenge to do so in a cost-effective manner. The question that business owners and managers should be asking should not be "how much will this infrastructure cost me to implement?" but rather "how much will it cost me if I don't implement the correct infrastructure?"

It's not about spending more on IT but rather what IT infrastructure is required to sustain and grow the business.

Apart from the requirement for industry-specific applications, business owners and managers should look to four key areas when assessing their IT requirements:

* Connectivity and collaboration - what hardware is required to support the business? Is a file server required? How many workstations are on the network? What's the best system that will enable management and staff to operate efficiently?
* Communications - how does the business communicate internally as well as to the outside world? Where is the business Web site hosted? How many e-mail accounts should be set up? Would the business use SMS as a messaging solution for notifications, alerts or marketing? Is mobility a key issue?
* Financial management - how will the processing of transactions be managed? Do accounts need to be integrated with other business processes? What accounting package would best support management reporting?
* Customer retention management - what sales and marketing (outbound communications) and customer service and support (inbound communications) strategies are in place to manage and report on customer interactions? How much business intelligence can be drawn from these interactions to forecast trends, effectively respond to customers and streamline internal operations?

It's not about spending more on IT but rather what IT infrastructure is required to sustain and grow the business.

David Lees, founder of Softline Cape and e2e Business Solutions

These four areas highlight the need for an end-to-end IT solution. It makes sense to look to a single IT vendor to support a business' IT requirements across the key areas both from a cost and management perspective.

A single vendor brings down the overall cost of IT infrastructure and maintenance and maximises business potential to ensure efficiency and stability within the business. The vendor can source IT hardware and software as well as install, configure and support the IT infrastructure. A single vendor will have an overall view of the business needs and be able to offer advice on future needs as the business grows. Possibly the biggest advantage for business people using a single vendor is that a single vendor provides a single contact point for service and support across the entire IT infrastructure.

Business owners and managers should evaluate vendors not only on their ability to offer end-to-end solutions but whether they offer IT solutions that match business needs within their budget and cash flow constraints. Capex spend on IT infrastructure often involves large cash outlays which could be better spent on trading stock or other resources. Where cash flow is an issue, it is advantageous to deal with a vendor who can offer financed or rental options. Financing in the form of a monthly rental fee should be considered as a means to minimise the cash flow effect to the business. Rental options are also an effective way to ensure that equipment is regularly updated and obsolescence is no longer a business risk.

Finally, business owners should consider entering into a service level agreement that ensures the IT vendor provides proactive maintenance to minimise the danger of data loss and downtime as well as guaranteed response times when urgent issues do occur.

The building of a business requires good strategy and a robust IT infrastructure, including what partner a business chooses to support its IT requirements. With these cornerstones in place, business owners and managers have the peace of mind that their IT infrastructure is cost-efficient and well-maintained, that IT solutions will enhance operational efficiencies and staff productivity, and that their IT vendor will advise what IT is required to keep in step with the growth of the business.

David Lees

Director of End2End Business Solutions.

David Lees has been involved in IT since 1988. In 1991, he established Softline Cape and was responsible for creating awareness of Softline in Cape Town and growing the Brilliant Accounting brand in the Western Cape. After Softline was listed on the JSE, and had concurrently grown to become a large company, Lees returned to his entrepreneurial roots and established e2e Business Solutions in 2000. e2e supplies and supports technology-based solutions for SMEs. It emphasises demystifying technology for business people by stripping away jargon and ensuring clients understand what technology they need and how they will benefit from it. Lees has a passion for customer service and is a firm advocate of the use of technology as an aid to customer service initiatives. He has a Bachelor of Commerce from the Witwatersrand University.

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