What Small Businesses Miss with Technology
This week a Facebook friend reached out to me with an interesting request–his wife was in desperate need of help and not just any kind of help either, she needed help with their small business technology that was running the business.
The guy that reached out to me, who I won’t name, has been Facebook friends with me for quite some time now. I don’t know him personally, and just like any other digital connection it’s more of an acquaintance or a casual passerby than anything else. But I knew who he was and he knew me well enough to reach out and ask me for advice.
I think this underscores how much people really do pay attention to your social media presence, but I digress. That’s another blog post for another day.
But, here is the short exchange from my inbox on Facebook between him and I…
As you can see, my thinking was that he was interested in some kind of direct sales, multi-level marketing scheme. Something I’m not part of but something I could have helped him with if he needed direction.
But what was so interesting is that his wife wasn’t just a small business owner, she was the General Manager of a very busy movie theater in Chicago. My first thought was, why would she need her husband to help her find tech help on Facebook? Why wouldn’t she call a vendor or a company that does this for a living? These are very relevant questions.
I’ve been a technology consultant for over 15 years in a variety of capacities and currently I work for a very large financial firm in Chicago. The husband, the Facebook friend, had been following me for quite sometime and knew that tech was my area.
Now let me say that, I do a limited amount of consulting outside of the primary organization that I work for. But when he reached out to me there was definitely a sense of urgency there so I was happy to help.
Small Business Technology 911
Technology enables business in just about every way imaginable. It’s interwoven into almost every aspect of a business, from the way sales of products are facilitated to the way the business communicates with customers. Inside and out the entire business in most instances relies on technology.
The problem here is that the majority of people are not that well versed in how it all works. There are many businesses, mainly small businesses, where a significant investment in tech and tech support is cost prohibitive. In other words, they just can’t afford it so they have to rely on piecemeal strategies to manage the tech within the business.
So it’s not surprising to me that when I received this call it was interesting to find that none of the technology at this business was being managed, by anyone. The manager wasn’t even aware of some of the most basic of technology questions.
Keep in mind she’s at the business day-in and day-out, and she’s not even the owner of the business.
I decided to make a trip to the theater the next day after I got the message from the General Managers husband. Upon arriving I had to ask a series of questions to understand if the issue was something that I could help her with.
After an initial 5 to 10 minutes of conversation it was clear that the cash registers where credit card payments are processed wasn’t working. It was also clear to me that someone changes something and when that something was changed it brought down the system.
Whenever you go to any business, a store, retail outlet, etc., if you make a purchase with your debit or credit card the system that processes this payment has to go out over the internet to get an authorization from your bank. This simply means that outside internet access is required.
So in the same sense you would open a web browser and go to a website like cnn.com, a point-of-sale system processes credit card payments almost the same way.
Someone, perhaps the internet service provider or a vendor, came in and changed something. After asking several more questions I came to find out that the Internet Service Provider changed the router that brings outside internet connectivity into the building.
When you change a device that brings internet access into a building; if the other devices aren’t setup to connect to that device automatically connections will be lost. The business has a point-of-sale system that is tied into a network that was pieced together by a lot of different technologies. So of course, if you have a lot of technology that has to interoperate with each other there are a ton of manual steps that need to be taken to get them all to work together.
The business had an IT technician that worked on the businesses network at one point but he decided to leave.
This causes a cascading domino effect of problems that can really cripple and cost a business in terms of sales, which translates to lost revenue. Not only that, mismanagement of a businesses network can pose operational and security risks that can potentially cost businesses even more money.
Here are 5 things to avoid in preventing small business technology nightmares:
#1: Losing contact with the IT technician that you hired to work on your network
After talking to the General Manager of the business I came to find that the individual that worked on the businesses IT systems had moved to another State. Its challenging enough to manage small business technology, when the business is small and budgets are constrained. It’s even more challenging when staff come and go without being managed properly. Not only did he move to another state but they did not have any contact information. So here we have a technology problem where something was changed and the only person that would understand the impact of the change had left the business. If an employee leaves an organization where their absence can cause a significant amount of disruption to the business steps need to be taken to ensure that the business can help mitigate any problems that might occur as a result.
#2: Failure to get proper documentation from an IT technician when they leave the business
The business had one individual that worked on their IT systems. There were also vendors that came in to do different things, but this one person that worked for the theater was solely responsible for all IT operations. He was also the only one that knew specific details about the network and how it was configured. So it’s no surprise when I asked if there was documentation, the answer was no. There was nothing that was documented for anyone to come in and look at in the event of a problem or outage. So when something breaks its difficult to know where to start and it’s difficult to hunt down the source of the problem. When it comes to small business technology, a business should always require anyone that works for them to document as much as possible in detail of every aspect of a network, servers, routers, switches, IP addresses, cabling, location of devices and where they’re connected. Without this it could take days or weeks to resolve an issue or get a business back working after an outage.
#3: Leaving the operation and management of business technology to IT techs and outside vendors
Businesses are already constrained with operations, marketing, and a host of other issues that sometimes take precedence over everything else especially technology. Even though technology has advanced to the point where most solutions are “set it and forget it”, small business owners still need to take ownership and be proactive in managing and understanding their technology solutions. To think that you can operate a business and be exempt from not understanding the impact of technology problems, is a problem within itself. Just because you don’t understand something does not mean that you should not take the time to understand it. Gather as much information as you can in the event that someone leaves your business or organization.
#4 Unorganized hardware and equipment
When I walked into the business what I saw was quite common at any business. Technology hardware stacked up in corners, networking equipment laying around on racks, equipment spread out all over the room, some of it used, some not, and other pieces of hardware that no one knew why it was even around. The room was very unorganized with hardware and wiring all over the room. This further adds to the confusion and the challenges of fixing any issues that come up, especially given the lack of documentation. Not only do we not know what we have, we’re also unorganized. Small businesses should require IT technicians that work on their network to ensure that they do as much as they can to keep their hardware closets organized and labeled.
#5 Failing to separate technology hardware pieces and systems where possible
One of the things I quickly realized after spending some time on site was that with one piece of hardware being replaced or changed it caused other systems to go down. The theaters’ entire network was so intertwined that multiple issues were coming to light even though I was there to assist with the point-of-sale system. Some bloggers will separate their hosting provider, their email provider, and the company that hosts their domain (website address), and for good reason. The benefit to this is what most refer to in the technology industry as “single point of failure”. This simply means that the failure of one piece of hardware or software will cause an entire system to go down. If you separate your technology segments and one fails, you can still operate the other pieces of your technology environment. This saves time and prevents everything from going down all at once.
Read my previous blog post below.