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5 IT Challenges That SMBs Face—and How to Overcome Them

In many ways, technology has helped level the playing field for small-to-mid-sized businesses, from making it easier to access global markets to streamlining operations and offering up whole new revenue opportunities. But with the benefits, also come challenges. As SMBs continue to explore how to take advantage of what’s next in tech, their IT teams are working hard to ensure that budgets remain in check, data stays secure, and employee skills keep up.

Here are five of the top SMB IT challenges and suggestions for how your company can overcome them to make the most of your tech investments.

1. Staying ahead of cybersecurity

Fears about cybersecurity are at an all-time high among businesses of all kinds; SMB IT leaders have even more reason to be concerned. That’s because SMBs are the favorite target of cyber criminals, representing 60% of all cyber attacks, according the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SMB smart move

No business can completely eliminate the risk of a cyber attack or data breach. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and decrease the damage if such an incident occurs. For example, consider:

  • Encrypting your data, which renders it unreadable to unauthorized users.
  • Installing software updates and patches promptly. This is your best line of defense against viruses, malware and other online threats.
  • Establishing data security protocols. Train employees on cybersecurity best practices, including using strong passwords for all business accounts.

2. Keeping pace with new technology …

From artificial intelligence to automation to the Internet of Things (IoT), there is a host of new technologies available to SMBs. But the challenge for smaller companies is determining which of these to take advantage of and how. In a Forbes Insights survey, one third of small business owners cited understanding their technology needs and deciding which products and services to use as their biggest challenge.

The SMB smart move

Evaluating all the new tech can feel like drinking from a firehose. And frankly, there’s no need to try everything. Instead, IT teams should work with the business side to understand the business objectives for the near and long term, and then prioritize technology that helps achieve those.

For example, if your company is planning for a big growth period, then investing in cloud-based applications offers a cost-effective way to try new software and then scale it to your needs. Or, if employees are spending an undue amount of time on repetitive tasks, explore whether automation could free them up for higher-level work and potentially save your SMB money in the process.

3. … But also staying in your SMB budget.  

Whether you’re upgrading your hardware, buying new software or training your IT team on security best practices, technology initiatives cost money. In fact, global SMB IT purchases will top $676 billion by 2021, with hardware, software and IT services accounting for the vast majority of those dollars. But don’t let the big figures fool you: at the individual SMB level, every tech dollar is precious and there’s less room for failed projects or needless purchases.

The SMB smart move

Small companies spend on average 6.9% of revenue on IT, and mid-sized businesses spend 4.1%. But a study by ROI consultancy Ailean, Inc. revealed that the size of the spend doesn’t necessarily equate to performance. In fact, the top-performing companies are “conservative in their approach to IT, avoiding large projects and demanding quick investment payback.”

To ensure that your budget doesn’t get blown, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Prioritize tech investments that improve efficiency and productivity.
  • Consider leases when upgrading office equipment and hardware. These eliminate upfront costs, while providing access to technology you might not otherwise be able to afford.
  • Maintain an updated inventory of your IT assets. Use that to better understand when assets will need upgrading or to be replaced, and budget for those well in advance.

4. Finding IT rockstars

SMBs face fierce competition when it comes to hiring and retaining top tech talent. As expected, larger companies can woo candidates with hefty salaries and lots of perks. Combined with the general shortage of tech talent, SMBs often face an uphill battle when it comes to finding and recruiting IT employees.

The SMB smart move

That said, as an SMB, you do have some advantages over your larger peers. For example, smaller companies usually provide less bureaucracy, closer colleague relationships, unique company culture and more opportunities for growth.

The key is to play to your strengths. Sell potential IT candidates on the opportunity to contribute more directly to the success of the company, or the chance to wear more hats across the business.

5. Making use of big data 

From giant e-commerce companies to well-known social media platforms to national healthcare players, big businesses digging into customer data to identify trends and new business opportunities. Yet most SMBs are still in the early stages of unlocking the power of their data. Even if you’re collecting it, your company may still be unsure of how to best put that information to use.

The SMB smart move

Leveraging data doesn’t have to be complicated. By simply analyzing the information collected from email lists, customer purchases, social media and other sources, SMBs can gain a variety of insights into their customers. Explore implementing data analytics tools that can pull in data from your website and your accounting and customer relationship management (CRM) systems to give you additional customer and business insight.  

As an SMB, you’ve got a lot of technology choices on your plate. And the decisions made by your technology team have the power to make or break your business. Understanding the challenges and planning for how to overcome them will set your SMB up for IT and business success.

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