While we are inundated with daily news of the advantages of acquiring information and communication technology, there are still businesses out there that view ICT as a so-called ‘grudge purchase’, writes Paul Luff, country manager, SMC Networks South Africa. This perspective continues to adversely affect the way companies – especially within the small-to-medium market segment – experience technology.

There is a clear pattern or cycle in play here. The more an investor in technology views the purchase as a ‘necessary headache’, the worse his or her experience of the technology will be. This will then impede progress or the transfer of benefit of the infrastructure – and fuel the negative impression of the technology that already exists.
In actuality it is possible to literally set up a fully operational, sustainable small business with an initial capital outlay of less than R10 000. Sounds a little optimistic at first – but if one sits down and calculates the cost of resources required, the fact is that a strategic purchase of hardware, software and peripheral devices needn’t break the bank.
It all begins with a full understanding and appreciation of what the business is established to do and what strategy there is to ensure that this is done. Investigate needs and do the homework. It is prudent to go engage with credible IT service providers and gather as much information about what product would suit the environment and what real advantages it offers as a solution.
As with any industry, there are people that will take advantage of the consumer. There will be unscrupulous dealers that rely on people that are not fully aware of products and their critical function within a business. It is for this reason that those who need to invest in technology adopt a cautious approach and match their requirements with the right infrastructure.
There are a number of factors to consider before making that transaction.
Firstly – and, quite honestly, most importantly, the business has to communicate. The principle of ‘no man is an island’ applies strongly – no business can survive in isolation. The first step in seeing a company or small to medium sized operation through the tough times is to ensure that it has all necessary equipment.
Faxes, e-mails, Internet, Voice over IP should immediately come to mind. With communication and connectivity comes the need to store incoming data.
Given the extent to which businesses are now being regulated, through the introduction and application of legislation that governs information dissemination and retention, it is crucial to ensure effective, secure storage of information.
All incoming data must be administered and controlled, whether it is communicated through electronic means or in fax format. A credible archiving system must be implemented. Again, this will not necessarily have a major price tag attached. It depends very much on core functions, requirements and usage.
One of the more common pitfalls for companies, especially those that are relatively new or have just started, is that decision makers run out and purchase a range of peripheral office production and communication devices like photocopiers, fax machines, printers and answering machines.
They forget that each device needs to be integrated and maintained, each one is a separate cost and each one will quadruple the levels of frustration within the business. This is primarily a hardware issue.
From a software point of view, it is disturbing, for example, to see how few people understand the simple workings of a spreadsheet. Realistically, one can acquire and implement a straightforward accounting package and effectively manage accounts, payments, taxes etc.
The fact is that IT is much more than a screen and keyboard. It goes way, way beyond that. It is an inextricable part of any modern operation.
It is fair to suggest that many a start-up operation or small business development fails to see the light of day in commerce because of past experiences with technology and the distorted image decision makers have of infrastructure.
A change in approach and attitude will make a substantial difference to the situation. If people began to view the purchase of technology in the same way they would, say, a car – the results would be radically different.