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The technology gap: how can a small-business manager make certain the computer network is being managed correctly without becoming a technology expert?

Many management methods that are taught in business schools or found in books are out of touch with the reality of managing a small business in Alaska. Most business managers need to maximize the time they spend working on their core business in order to provide the best value for their clients, and this means minimizing the time and effort it takes to manage services that support the firm. Managing technology in a small-business environment can be particularly tough because the business manager is typically not an expert in information technology and doesn't have time to become one. This article is designed to help the business manager make the best decisions related to its computer network in the least amount of time.

THE GAP

Most small businesses either contract out their computer support, have an internal employee performing computer support, or some combination of both. Typically, these methods are fraught with difficulties because all of the know-how related to the computer network is known to only a few people. Consequences of this are:

* The business manager may receive an incorrect picture of the security of confidential data stored on the network or the reliability of crucial systems since he or she is not a technology expert.

* The firm may over invest, and in many cases under invest, on technology because of incorrect advice from an unqualified person.

* The firm may be left out in the cold due to turnover of the employee or contractor in charge of their computer network. Many small businesses routinely lose all of the expertise associated with their computers and computer network.

* The business manager has little or no confidence that the computer network is being managed correctly and feels that the company is constantly behind the curve and suffering from constant issues.

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BRIDGING THE GAP: HOW DOES THE BUSINESS MANAGER MINIMIZE THESE RISKS?

A business manager needs to divide responsibility between multiple parties, learn the basics of the computer network, and then manage the parties involved in order to make sure that the right technology decisions are being made. Contrary to what many people believe, a business manager doesn't have to have technology expertise in order to make good decisions related to the computers and the computer network; he or she only needs to delegate responsibility and keep informed about any changes that may affect the network's ability to provide for the business.

DIVIDING RESPONSIBILITY

A business manager should rely on more than one resource in order to minimize the risk of relying on one person and to make certain that he or she is receiving reasonable recommendations. Many small businesses cultivate a relationship with an IT partner organization that specializes in helping similar businesses solve technology problems. There are several qualified IT partners based in Alaska. Having an appropriate relationship with an IT partner can substantially reduce the risk of having a single party responsible for the computers and computer network. The business manager should make decisions based upon recommendations provided by his team. An effective structure looks like this:

* Under this model, day-to-day maintenance can be provided by either an employee or as a service from a qualified IT partner, such as a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner that provides computer support. Often, IT maintenance can be done remotely.

* The IT partner provides recommendations based upon experiences with companies with similar needs.

* If the employee leaves the company, the business manager can rely on the IT partner organization to provide support.

* If the relationship with the IT partner ends, the business manager has internal documentation and expertise.

This strategy requires the business manager to work with a qualified IT partner organization. The level of involvement from the IT partner can be more or less depending on the business' needs and level of internal expertise.

LEARN THE BASICS:

A business manager shouldn't be concerned with the specific configuration of his computers and computer network, but he does need to know the basics to make sure that other parties are doing their jobs:

* Are regular backups being conducted and stored off-site?

* Is current network documentation with passwords available on-site?

* Are the antivirus, firewall and security patches up-to-date?

* If the system breaks, how long will it take to fix it? Can the business live without its computers for that long?

If done correctly, a business manager can keep abreast of the state of the computer network with little effort. Many IT partners have services where they provide a monthly report of system status that a business manager can read in a few minutes.

MANAGE FOR SUCCESS

By combining the services of a qualified IT partner with knowledge about the business' requirements, a business manager doesn't need to become a technology guru to be confident that the systems supporting the business will continue to do so. By following these recommendations, a business manager can be confident that he or she is making good decisions and won't have to worry that the termination of any individual relationship could result in the loss of all know-how related to the operations and maintenance of the computers and computer network.

Bryce Coryell

Account Executive

Network Business Systems

Bryce Coryell is an account executive with Network Business Systems and has six years IT-consulting experience with Alaska business.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Comment:The technology gap: how can a small-business manager make certain the computer network is being managed correctly without becoming a technology expert?
Author:Coryell, Bryce
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Sep 1, 2007
Words:876
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