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Technology Upgrade Solutions for SMB Efficiency

Technology Upgrade Solutions for SMB Efficiency

Tom Gerencer
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Upgrading your business technology is one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to max out your efficiency. Consider that U.S. businesses lose as much as $1.8 billion per year to overblown efficiency costs from out-of-date tech. Yet many companies needlessly balk at technology upgrades because they take too much time or “cost too much.”
We sourced deep insights from Rob Poulin, founder and CEO at Boston-based IT firm ACCURIT, on why and how to upgrade the most vital areas of your tech footprint. The takeaway is that technology upgrade benefits include massive time and money savings for your business. And it’s much easier than you think, especially if you hit the low-hanging fruit first.

1. Upgrade your broadband first

Why is broadband first on our list of technology upgrade solutions for SMBs? Because it’s the biggest bang for your budget buck and we can almost guarantee it’s a big drain on your productivity. Think about it; internet connection speeds increase exponentially every year. That means if you haven’t upgraded your plan in 3 years, you could be at 50% of available bandwidth.
That’s bad, because new apps and efficiencies make use of ever-faster connections. We ignore 5G and the Internet of Things at our peril. It’s kind of like driving a Model T Ford on an 8-lane highway.
“Broadband is like your company’s arterial system,” Poulin says. “If that’s clogged up, you’re in trouble. If employees are clicking and waiting, clicking and waiting, especially as you use cloud apps, it’s the death knell for productivity.” The more work you do online or with Microsoft 365, SharePoint, Teams, and Zoom calls, the more your bandwidth makes or breaks your business.

Take the technology upgrade smell test

When clients complain that they’re slowing down and ask for technology upgrade solutions, Poulin’s first, easiest fix is to upgrade their broadband. “As companies grow, they may need to move to a different provider or a fiber line, and they’ll see a massive efficiency boost.”
How often should you upgrade your broadband? It depends. First, do a quick smell test. Is your video dropping out, freezing, or suffering from pixelation? Take note. Test your broadband and WiFi speeds every six months with an online speed test tool. Finally, ask your provider what their top-speed plan is on a regular basis.

2. Upgrade your hardware, not your software

This will seem backward, but don’t bother doing technology upgrades to your software. Update? Yes. Upgrade? Never. That’s because software is most often optimized for the machine it’s sold with.
“We never recommend upgrading the operating system software on an old machine unless that machine was delivered with Windows 7 and you need to bring it to 10 and it has a license for it,” Poulin says. Trying to ram a new OS into an older machine can cause conflicts with drivers and cause a litany of other headaches.
“It’s like trying to fix the brakes on a car while someone is driving it,” Poulin adds, noting that his firm’s preference is to buy new hardware with the right software already installed, then simply swap out the machines. “That’s a two-minute operation versus an overnight process with potential user downtime if you upgrade, and we avoid that entirely.” The old machine stays on for a short time as a temporary backup while the user starts on the new system.
Looking to buy the best laptops for SMBs? HP® has the most secure, manageable, cost-effective small business PCs on the market.

Remember to update your software, though

While technology upgrades to software are a no-no, updates are essential. They’re often overlooked – at the company’s peril. “I know a lot of people push off general Windows 10 updates and feature updates,” Poulin says, “and I understand that because sometimes they take a while.” But on the flipside, updates patch security issues that can render you susceptible to damaging malware and attacks.
In general, your machine should run the newest stable Windows version. We recommend opening your system settings and checking for updates when you won’t be working for half an hour or so. You should also stay on an OS update version that’s within one update of the newest one for maximum stability. You can even set up automatic software updates with scheduled update times, so you don’t have to even think about it.
“Most of our clients have laptops,” Poulin points out, “so I say, hey, take it home. Don't restart this until you're going to dinner and then let it run.” He cautions that companies should also do technology updates to firewalls whenever new firmware is released to avoid a costly malware attack.

3. Switch to cloud computing

Switch to Cloud Computing
Upgrading to cloud computing can increase your business productivity by as much as 400%, according to a study by Cisco. A cloud-based office lets employees stay efficient regardless of location. Apps like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Webex, OneDrive, Google Docs, and Zoom keep us working from living rooms and back porches no matter what happens in the brick and mortar.
“Cloud tech can host your SharePoint and Teams and make file storage and recovery much easier.” When you store documents in the cloud, hardware upgrades are suddenly easy because the IT team sets up a new machine, logs into OneDrive, and everything is there.
When companies use cloud computing for technology upgrade solutions, employees often switch to a “bring your own device” model. In fact, 67% of employees use their own devices when they’re allowed to. Cloud computing saves on in-house IT resources and works seamlessly with existing systems.
Better still, cloud architecture updates automatically and slashes IT downtime to the core. When market conditions change, the cloud changes to match, letting organizations adapt quickly without a lot of overhead. It facilitates outsourcing and remote work, too, minimizing complex onboarding procedures.
Not sure how to switch to cloud computing? Chances are you’re already almost there. See our guide: A Beginner’s Guide to Microsoft OneDrive.

4. Upgrade efficiency-sapping POS systems

Upgrade Efficiency-Sapping POS Systems
Retail operations often don’t notice how outdated their point-of-sale (POS) systems have become, or how much it’s hurting them. That’s because POS becomes part of the background. But newer systems have more payment options and offer dozens of surprising features, like faster interfaces, customer relations tools, and improved security. Technology upgrades on the POS side are a high ROI business technology investment.
“Sometimes we’ll get frantic phone calls because the internet goes out and a client’s register system forces them to switch to cash,” Poulin says. Look for systems that are flexible, with built-in business management and sales features like product lookup, mobile registers, and customer-facing displays.
Some newer systems let you set up user profiles, so you can track and manage activity, set goals, and keep a handle on security.

5. Optimize your online presence

Optimize Your Online Presence
One technology upgrade that’s often overlooked is a company’s web presence. For many businesses, an out-of-date website means frustrated employees and customers who go elsewhere. “You don't want to be the company that has the website that looks like it's from 1997,” says Poulin. But you don’t have to spend a fortune creating one, either.
“A lot of companies hire full-time staff to change their websites. But it can be as easy as choosing the right vendor,” Poulin notes. Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, and other drag-and-drop products can help you stay cutting edge even without a dedicated web development team. Those web-building services let you choose templates that move forward with the times.
Did a new phone just get released with a different screen shape? The best website builders can handle it, because they update constantly to fit the latest tech trends. “You probably want to update your website every two or three years,” Poulin says. “If you don’t, your site will look and feel outdated and won’t respond as fast.” The end result is customers who seek another, more tech-savvy vendor.
Pro tip: Make sure your site’s copyright year updates automatically on Jan. 1. An out-of-date copyright year makes it look like you’re not staying current with your site.

Create a technology upgrade schedule

Tech moves so fast that if you wait to upgrade, you’ll get left behind while your competition reaps massive efficiency gains. Put a system in place to revisit your tech upgrade needs on a regular schedule. Upgrading technology in companies haphazardly can cost just as much or more than not upgrading often enough. How often should your business upgrade its technology? To find the sweet spot, run a series of regular IT tests.

How often should you upgrade?

  • Every month: Update Windows 10 (or at the very least every 3 to 6 months)
  • Every 6 months: Check or upgrade your broadband service
  • Every year on January 1 run a checklist to:
    • Screen web speeds
    • Check system updates
    • Secure firewalls
    • Take a look at hardware age for laptops, tablets, copiers, and POS systems
  • Every 3 years: Upgrade hardware like laptops and routers
  • As it becomes available: Update network firmware (like router firmware)
“Some companies think 3 to 5 years for hardware is an aggressive approach, but it's that 4th and 5th year that causes problems,” Poulin says. “That’s when things start breaking or falling behind on what they can handle in terms of new software. The user gets tired of it. The keyboard and monitor are ravaged. When that happens, we take the hardware that’s past the 3-year mark and use it for lower-priority situations.”

Summary

By far, the highest ROI technology upgrade solution your business can do is to its broadband. Switching to fiber can make everything about your company faster, and that adds up to an ocean of found productivity. After that, get hardware like laptops, switches, and routers on a 3-year upgrade schedule, switch to cloud computing for a 400% efficiency boost, and let the software upgrades take care of themselves.

About the Author

Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer for HP® Tech@Work. Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.

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