When I started working in the family business in 2006 we had exactly 3 computers in the building and a dozen employees. My father had a laptop for travel, the bookkeeper had one for running QuickBooks, and we had one piece of CAD/CAM tech that had a dedicated machine. 5 years later we had almost a dozen machines and 16 employees. Today we have servers, laptops, tablets, phones, and more desktop computers than we do humans working here. Yeah, I meant what I said. More computers than people. I also have a dedicated Managed Service Provider proactively monitoring our systems day and night for a small monthly fee. I didn’t always have that.
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that there is a delicate balance between using technology and playing with technology. Due to being a geek from an early age, I was fascinated with improving systems and workflows with technology. I was working 50+ hours a week doing my regular “on the bench” job and even more hours trying to make sure all the technology ran correctly. I was studying “Windows Server for Dummies” and killing myself trying to make an old desktop computer work as a PFSense router to load balance two internet connections because our service was so slow we were dying waiting for things to load.
So, in the interest of saving you that type of pain I’m going to share my hard-learned lessons with you.
- Cheaping out on technology is just trading time for money. I thought that because I knew how to build, service and maintain computers that I it was in my best interest to do it all myself. It’s not. As we grew the system became more and more complex, and I was pulling my hair out trying to maintain it all and keep parts on hand to repair things. We still lost data and lost time waiting for parts.
- Backup, backup, backup. Identify all mission critical data and make sure it is backed up either daily or weekly. Back it up to redundant sources. The bare minimum is something like this Western Digital My Book external hard drive. I use a device like this to back up all critical information from my personal desktop weekly. I use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device like this QNAP NAS 2Tb device to back up all generic business data (images, archive files, etc) and send it off to Amazon S3 Storage service (ask a geek friend for help configuring, but it’s cheap and “set and forget” friendly). For our servers we actually use a Datto appliance that is managed by our MSP group. It takes full backups of all financial data and company data twice a day and takes snapshot backups every 30 minutes. It does all this for $300/month and acts as an emergency server if ours fails. How much is a lost day or production worth to you?
- Keep it in the family. I purchase (almost) exclusively Dell systems: specifically their Optiplex desktops, Latitude notebooks, and Precision workstations. Why? Well, by keeping all of my tech purchases under one roof I have minimal points of contact when something does go wrong. Further, when you purchase “business class” machines like these you get better parts and labor coverage. Dell sells their business class machines for 18 months (only 6 for consumer products lke Dimension and Inspiron) and keeps parts on hand for 5 YEARS or more. It doesn’t make sense to purchase consumer grade or off-the-shelf crap when you know that. HP and Lenovo have similar setups for their business machines, but I like Dell. You should stick to one product family.
- Upgrade on Schedule. You should have a set time frame for replacing your machines. Most larger firms have a normal 3 or 5 year cycle for replacing machines such as desktops and laptops because in most cases they’re daily use and they take some serious wear. In our lab we use a 5 year cycle for two reasons: Dell keeps parts on hand for 5 years and we have lots of dust. LOTS OF DUST. Factors like dust and humidity can take a toll on machines beyond normal wear and tear. Choose a replacement schedule and keep to it. Don’t just let technology sit until the last minute because then you’re facing downtime, you’re likely to make poor choices (such as the aforementioned off-the-shelf purchases) and you’ll start a vicious cycle.
Obviously if you’re a startup or if you’re boot-strapping your new venture every dollar is critical, but for more established businesses it’s important to take the time to establish your objectives and how your technology purchases affect those outcomes.
Technology is not just some annoying, unavoidable expense. The right technology managed the right way makes doing business easier and saves you time, money and headaches. You might need an attitude adjustment about it, but it’s true.