Categories Technology

The Small Business Technology Maze…Finding Your Way Through Without Getting Fleeced

Managing IT for small business can be intimidating and costly, when it really doesn’t have to be. For each solution needed, there are a hundred companies claiming to be number one in the field and a hundred companies willing to take your money today and be gone tomorrow.

Last week I heard from two associates who each run small businesses without IT departments, (one is a business that produces about $6 million a year in revenue and the other just under $10 million). Each told me of a scenario they encountered regarding their IT and asked for guidance. As an IT professional I agreed to offer input on the two situations:

Scenario One: Company A received a bid to install 35 computers. The computers were already acquired so the scope of the work included loading Microsoft Office, Symantec Endpoint Security, Adding each computer to the domain and configuring printers. This work should take roughly 1 hour per machine to complete. The quote was 4 hours at $110 per hour for each machine, totaling $15,400. After review of the bid, Company A was informed that the bid was $10,000 to high. The opinion was forwarded to the technology consulting company that promptly indicated they “would look into why their bid was so high and get back with Company A.”

Scenario Two: Company B had a need to move 4 aging servers to 1 server through virtualization. The $40,000 cost included a license from Microsoft Data Center, a server and labor. After review and questioning the cost, it was reduced to $15,000. For those techies out there…there was a line item for Hyper-V, which as we all know is included free of charge with Data Center.

These are just two examples where the initial bids each started at over 200 percent higher than the final cost. Many times this is because companies don’t get questioned by businesses without technology expertise; therefore they get the higher fees.

By treating a technology project the same way you would hire a contractor for a construction job…your company could save both money and frustration. Next time a technology project presents itself, try one or more of these guidelines for a smoother process:

Check references: Technology consultants are unlike many professionals such as plumbers and electricians, as there are no enforceable codes to follow or formal certifications needed to be a consultant. However, as a general rule rates should range from $65 per hour to $210 per hour for most things. The lower end rates for general PC repair and software set up to the higher end for advanced networking and security work.

Research: Researching online saves you hundreds when buying a car or booking a vacation…so use those same skills for your next technology project. Many box stores, such as Best Buy and Microcenter, publish their repair rates online. Use those to compare against bids you receive.

Get it in Writing: Scope creep is the term used that describes when a project starts to veer into many unintended directions. When getting a quote, get as much detail in writing to avoid any surprises down the road.

RFP: Any companies worth doing business with comply with returning a request for proposal, or RFP. My standard is any project costing over $10,000 requires an RFP from 3 qualified vendors. This helps you to narrow in on the best deal and allows your business to better define what you need in the process.

Consultant: If available hire an IT professional to be “on call” in times of need. Whether for support or to serve as a subject matter expert, when you keep a trusted consultant on a small retainer it will pay big dividends.

Network: Create a network. By checking with similar businesses and bench marking their technological successes and failures you will have a foundation on which to build.

In the end, it is important to remember that finding a technology solution is a lot like driving from LA to New York…there is not just one way to get there. By having confidence, following a few simple rules and keeping your businesses best interests in mind, the road to finding a trustworthy and efficient IT partner will be much easier.

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