Diana Clement

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Taming the IT system crucial for SMEs

As businesses grow they face a number of IT barriers. Diana Clement looks at some of the common headaches - and ways to cure them.

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Taming the IT beast is a common headache for SMEs. The business owner may not be IT-savvy and doesn't know where to turn, or the business outgrows its IT system or its advisers.

Many small businesses use a local one-man band computer bod to set up and maintain their IT equipment. This works fine until the business grows and the IT system gets the speed wobbles.

At that point they may graduate to one of the intermediate-size IT service companies such as CodeBlue or Pulse IT.

As businesses grow they face a number of IT barriers. One is a lack of expertise, says Aaron Clouston, general manager at hardware service company Service Plus. This particularly affects smaller businesses without the cashflow to have a specialist on staff or to afford consultants.

Another barrier is the business that has outgrown its system, says Steve Mills, general manager of corporate clients at Gen-i.

A typical example, says Mills, would be a growing SME that had made an initial investment in its IT infrastructure and then tacked on bits as it grew.

The system becomes unwieldy and the business has a problem.

An IT solutions company such as Gen-I would review the system starting with the business plan and processes, says Mills. It would also identify where the "pain points" are.

Mills cites the case of one growing law firm that had outgrown its existing IT infrastructure when it sought help. The firm's partners thought the business needed new servers because that solved the problem last time.

A review identified that new servers weren't the answer. Instead Gen-i recommended a number of changes within the existing budget, says Mills. They included:

* Upgrading broadband
* Moving its Sharepoint web application onto the cloud
* Virtualising the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which reduced hardware needs
* Replacing an on-premise security system with new security tools
* Outsourcing WAN management to Gen-I allowing the law firm to decommission its virtual private network
* Replacing the exchange server with cloud-based email and setting up the Microsoft Lync unified communications platform

A strategic review of IT systems will also help SMEs deal with issues such as:

* Inflexible IT policies, which are holding the business back
* Getting the best out of smartphones and tablets
* How to handle the trend of staff bringing their own devices to work

More and more SMEs are moving some of their IT infrastructure to the cloud. This simplifies support requirements and saves time and angst, says Arron Judson, ICT sector innovation manager at the University of Auckland.

CodeBlue, which specialises in IT solutions for SMEs, has seen its fair share of businesses suffering growing pains. Executive director Ken Davis cites the example of yoghurt maker EasiYo, which had an antiquated IT system and was plagued with network outages. Branch offices in Australia and the UK struggled to connect to head office. "It was becoming a major impediment to growth," says Davis. "All sorts of things were wrong with the infrastructure."

EasiYo wanted a system that would grow along with the company without soaking up management time.

Davis says CodeBlue audited the company's IT systems and developed a road map to ensure it had a system that would grow with the company.

The audit determined critical work that needed to be done immediately. "Often with (SMEs) that have grown quite quickly, this is around security. It could also be around backups," says Davis.

The road map looks at the way forward. "It may be purchasing new servers or it may be moving to the cloud, which is what we did with EasiYo," says Davis.

CodeBlue installed a virtual private network (VPN) in at EasiYo's Auckland base to link the branch offices and new Cisco routers at each site.

Another rapidly growing SME that needed to take stock of its IT systems was MoleMap, which provides skin cancer detection clinics and services across Australasia.

Each clinic had its own systems, whereas it needed robust and stable business-wide IT infrastructure to enable it to capture, store, and share image files and data.

Davis says CodeBlue began by implementing a standardised common operating environment across all MoleMap's PCs and laptops in both countries. That allowed them to manage, monitor and update the entire system from one central point.

The other big change was to move all the staff members onto one email system Microsoft Office 365. This enabled staff to collaborate more effectively.

- NZ Herald

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