The Top 10 Technology Mistakes Small Businesses Make
Small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) typically focus their energy, time and resources running their operations, not monitoring daily technology needs, changes, innovations and threats. Subsequently, it’s not unusual for important technology elements to be overlooked or skipped altogether. In an ever-changing world in which organization’s tech strategies are more important than ever—due in part to pandemic issues, employment trends, new advances and innovations and even threats from state-sponsored actors working with impunity—these shortcomings offer SMBs tremendous opportunities to improve efficiencies and operations and more effectively compete within their own industries.
Here’s a look at each of the 10 most common technology mistakes SMBs make. Focusing on errors, of course, doesn’t do much good unless you also explore how to prevent or correct such issues, so common recommendations and resolutions are also included.
1. Weak Security
Hackers work 24/7/365 to access, steal, compromise and ransom your data. Malicious actors have long practiced social engineering efforts designed to provide them access to your systems and information, and we now know ill-intending state-sponsored actors are actively working to attack private-sector American businesses.
The US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have jointly issued alerts encouraging American businesses to adopt a comprehensive list of best practices to better protect against vulnerabilities and risks. Such guidance and cybersecurity recommendations commonly include many of the same practices.
For example, SMBs should deploy and maintain centralized endpoint protection and a strong anti-spam solution. Organizations should provide continual user security training, insist on users using complex passwords and require multi-factor authentication on all supported systems and application. SMBs should also prioritize regularly updating network device firmware and operating systems and applications with the latest patches, while also being sure to deploy hardware-based firewalls with active security services.
Addressing and monitoring such cybersecurity issues should be an important initiative for all SMBs, which often exceeds the capacities of one or two in-house employees. In such cases, a reputable technology partner can assist.
2. Insufficient Data Backups
Natural disasters, human error, ransomware attacks and other disasters regularly plague private-sector businesses. According to published reports, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) states 40% of businesses do not reopen following a disaster. FEMA reportedly warns another 25% of those that do reopen fail within one year due to the disaster. Data reported by the US Small Business Administration is even more dire, with published claims stating over 90% of companies fail within two years of experiencing a disaster.
SMBs should review their systems, data and operations and confirm what platforms and information are critical to the business and develop a corresponding plan to ensure all the corresponding data and information is backed up as frequently as the organization requires. This is particularly true, as industry experience demonstrates that critical information from newly installed programs is sometimes overlooked and even previously confirmed backups sometimes malfunction.
Simply storing backups locally, even when these data protection routines collect all the proper data, doesn’t always meet a firm’s needs. Floods, fires and other disasters can render both the production systems and backups unusable. So, while backups can be stored locally, offsite backups provide even greater protection.
In-house staff should continually monitor and check data backups to ensure they’re working properly. And backups should be tested. SMBs short on staff can find relief by teaming with a reputable technology partner to review needs, specify recommendations and implement and monitor corresponding solutions.
3. Ineffective Disaster Planning
Organizations should also develop comprehensive disaster recovery strategies that ensure the firm understands how to recover operations at a different site using its backups, should a disaster or event occur. SMBs should also appoint a technology partner or internal staff member to continually monitor backup operations, and update backup routines whenever new systems, solutions or software versions are installed.
As previously mentioned, SMBs should also explore implementing cloud-based offsite backups, which can automatically back up important information and data throughout the day to a safe location. Such solutions also permit faster recovery in the event of a disaster, including the ability to recover operations at an alternative site, should such circumstances prove necessary, as can occur with floods, fires, tornados, earthquakes, thefts, civil unrest and other events.
Disaster plans should be written, reviewed and updated regularly. Periodic tests should also occur in which technology professionals practice recovering critical systems and data at an alternative site to confirm the organization’s current solutions work as intended.
4. Low-Grade Network Infrastructure
If the past several years, and challenges accommodating the needs of working through a pandemic, have taught SMBs any lessons it’s that organizations’ technology infrastructure plays a key role in a firm’s flexibility, readiness and ability to take advantage of swiftly changing environments and market conditions. Judging from the regular occurrence with which consumer-grade equipment is found powering many SMB operations, it’s clear SMBs sometimes don’t understand how infrastructure investments—the purchase and proper deployment of network switching gear, firewalls capable of not just filtering inbound traffic but also running active security services on all inbound and outbound connections, business-grade wireless access points and proper telephony equipment—can prove so critical to an organization’s success.
Business-grade network infrastructure boasts many advantages. Such devices are typically manufactured with more robust components (such as power supplies and processors) designed to withstand and service the rigors of business environments and include features (intrusion detection and intrusion prevent systems, for example) better matched to business needs. An SMB’s technology infrastructure is also often the deciding factor in whether mobile employees can work effectively outside the office and others can securely access data when working remotely.
SMBs that were quick to make the move to supporting remote and hybrid workers know the adoption of such arrangements pays immediate dividends in the form of employee retention and productivity enhancements. But professional-grade network gear helps technology partners or in-house staff better secure and control an SMB’s security posture, too, while minimizing critical threat surfaces. For these reasons all SMBs should conduct periodic reviews of their network infrastructure to ensure not only that all equipment is business grade but that the corresponding devices are properly patched and updated and are not being forced into extended service beyond their intended lifecycle when support, security patches and parts needed for repairs and proper operation are no longer available.
5. Old, Outdated and Disparate Computers
SMBs often fall into a trap of using outdated and disparate hardware. Older systems, specifically those four years or older, are typically understood to cost more to maintain, support and keep running than are new systems. Lesser quality components are more likely to introduce incompatibilities and problems, while the older an operating system is, the greater the likelihood the system will prove more difficult to patch and secure. Considering older systems are more likely to fail with no notice, such aging systems also contribute to unplanned outages and downtime with higher probability.
The use of disparate computers—such as various brands of laptops, desktops and tablets—often introduces other problems, too. For example, strange software compatibilities can arise, as can driver inconsistencies. Tracking warranties becomes more difficult, and when problems occur, different and sometimes frustrating and unfamiliar service processes must be navigated to address repairs. The more an organization can standardize on specific hardware components, typically the better.
With worldwide supply chain challenges well documented, it’s important SMBs plan hardware lifecycles and replacement strategies in advance. Working with a reputable supplier or technology partner helps ensure SMBs consistently deploy high-quality hardware designed for business environment demands while also maximizing technology investments. Implementing a hardware lifecycle plan also helps ensure organizations run the most current software versions and avoid the expense and inefficiencies that sometimes result from being unable to load updated software that’s more secure and performs more effectively.
6. Undocumented Software
Many SMBs don’t realize they don’t “own” software. Instead, they license it.
Some businesses, however, rely upon “gray market” or illicit software. BSA, the trade association representing the global software industry, estimates 16 percent of North American software is unlicensed and malware resulting from that unlicensed software costs companies almost $359 billion annually.
Fortunately, the widespread adoption of software-based subscriptions has helped discourage the use of improperly licensed or pirated software. Still other applications that haven’t yet switched to subscription models use activation and usage reporting to continually verify a license as valid, which also helps combat such issues.
Yet, illicit operating systems and applications remain in use and pose yet other liabilities. Improperly licensed software complicates support and recovery operations when things go wrong. Further, failure to properly store and document software licenses (an option rarely available or practiced with illegitimate software) impacts an SMB’s ability to replace older systems and return failed systems requiring OS and application reinstallation to operation.
SMBs should understand there are no software shortcuts. Operating systems, applications and system and device software should only be licensed and maintained using reputable vendors. Product and activation keys, certificates of authenticity, licenses and purchase confirmations should always be stored in a single, safeguarded location. And firms should read all license agreements carefully to ensure the proper version is being deployed and used in a legal manner.
7. Outdated Software Solutions
Similar to old, outdated and disparate computers and undocumented software, outdated applications are a common ailment, particularly among smaller firms. While it’s tempting to sometimes hold on to applications too long because they’re paid for or the licensing costs are less than for newer, modern equivalents, new features and capabilities available in contemporary solutions often justify the cost of upgrading.
Considering the explosion of cloud services and the capabilities offered by such innovative products as Microsoft’s hosted Exchange email, Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI, SharePoint and Teams solutions, just to name a few, it quickly becomes evident how the labor- and time-saving abilities these new apps offer can materially assist businesses in lowering expenses, improving efficiencies and productivity and enhancing operations. Long-in-the-tooth legacy solutions are ripe for replacement, many SMBs simply aren’t aware of all the options available to them or they’re unsure how to leverage the corresponding benefits. A trusted technology partner and even local business associations are two common sources for SMBs being introduced to opportunities they might well be missing.
8. Poor Training
Even when the right applications are in place and running on the correct hardware and business-grade network infrastructure, success still isn’t guaranteed. It’s estimated office workers understand just a minor percentage of the capabilities available within the software packages they use every day. This limited understanding means employees sometimes work harder than they need to. Inefficiencies often result, and there are frequently ways to more quickly complete tasks and solve problems using software programs than users are aware. For example, Louisville Geek recently assisted a client in automating manual tasks that were previously consuming 40 hours of dedicated labor each month using applications available within the client’s existing Microsoft 365 subscription plan.
Consulting with a capable technology partner helps ensure users better understand the applications they use, while also having access to the help desk support needed to better navigate a program’s features and capabilities. Webinars, video tutorials and computer-based training initiatives are other options SMBs can tap to better educate users and become more streamlined and efficient without incurring considerable additional expenses. And by building software training requirements into employees’ performance reviews, organizations can help ensure employees continually maintain relevant application skills and expertise.
9. Insufficient Tech Support
Often SMBs depend upon a single “quasi” support technician. If this one individual is occupied with other tasks or unavailable to users, technical glitches can accumulate and employees may be unable to complete regular daily tasks. Plus, it’s unreasonable to expect a single individual to stay current on all the technology trends that enable and impact a business. From workstation issues to network problems, from hosted email and cloud services to database management and security expertise, today’s information technology demands are typically too great a burden for any single individual to master.
Working with a technology partner provides access to a range of professional technicians, on the other hand, who solve problems quickly and often faster than a single individual merely assisting in the role is able. Consultancies boast an advantage in that they can employ technicians across many disciplines. Such professionals also typically command greater experience, expertise and knowledge.
Considering managed services providers (MSPs), value-added resellers (VARs) and other technology consultancies employ a variety of technology professionals collectively possessing skills and understanding across such a wide range of technical fields, the advantages of a technology providers’ knowledge and capacities directly address knowledge gaps and provide SMBs with the best of both worlds: the breadth and coverage of topics the business requires with the ability to pay just for the knowledge and expertise needed at the time those skills and experience are required.
Further, effective technology partners are capable of fulfilling specific technology needs, including niche tasks. Working with a technology consultancy, too, assists receiving cost-effective, proven solutions when those solutions are required, including evenings and weekends, and typically, working with a technology partner eliminates issues arising when an in-house IT staff member takes a vacation or is sick. That said, a consultancy’s range of staff typically proves a great aid and complement to any in-house IT personnel.
10. Inadequate power protection
Last, power protection may prove one of the most insignificant expenses packing outsized impact for SMBs. Computers that lose electricity abruptly or that experience brown outs and power surges can become corrupt and/or damaged. Operating systems, databases, documents, spreadsheets and other information can be scrambled or otherwise compromised due to abrupt outages. Brown outs and surges that repeatedly occur over time are also known to shorten the life of common electronics, including power supplies, network cards, hard drives and motherboards, all of which require time and expense to repair and replace.
Further, as industry experience demonstrates over time, no network gear (including switches, wireless access points, servers or firewalls) should be powered directly by a wall outlet. Common electrical fluctuations can result in scrambled switching and routing tables or the inadvertent shutdown of a server the rest of the office relies upon to fulfill their operational responsibilities.
The purchase and proper deployment of battery backups, even simple inexpensive desktop models, can help prevent intermittent failures, lost data and unplanned outages. As these devices are typically in operation all day every day, SMBs should consider replacing the battery backups every three years or so. And such battery backup and surge protection equipment should be carefully matched when deployed with critical equipment, such as network switches, routers and servers, to ensure they provide the corresponding requisite power, connections and reporting.