23 IT Tips and Tricks for Small Businesses in 2013

By Carl Mazzanti, CEO, eMazzanti Technologies


1. Get all computers on your network running the same operating system and application software. It’s easy to add new hardware and software piecemeal when a computer dies or a new employee is added. Expecting compatibility of the new OS and app software to seamlessly blend in to an old network is asking for trouble. Periodically, get all of your hardware upgraded with similar RAM and storage. Software updates are even more critical. Incompatibilities that interfere with productivity can cost more than the software update.

2. Keep a detailed inventory. Inventory your hardware and software. Record make, model, date purchased, warranty, chip set, OS version and application versions documented and up to date. You can find inventory solution ideas online or ask your IT consultant for a solution that is usually part of the support package offered.

3. Scour the office and get rid of old equipment. Once a year or so, businesses should conduct a thorough search of the office for old equipment i.e. printers, computers, hard drives, monitors, etc. The temptation is to grab an outdated piece of equipment in an emergency. This may trigger a network incompatibility that will take down the whole network and destroy the productivity of the whole office. Hardware is relatively cheap to replace. Being too cheap can be costly as often times what you buy will be incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.

4. Consider replacing older printers with new, energy efficient, faster models. It is more efficient to link PCs to a shared printer than directly connect a small printer to each PC.  A managed print solution from a third party is a great way to easily save time and money.

5. Consider leasing equipment rather than owning it. Leases usually include update costs and, in the end, may actually lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Your computer consultant can run the comparison and help you make a more informed business decision.  There are plenty of fixed fee IT solutions that offer equipment at little or no cost for a small monthly fee, which usually also covers maintenance and troubleshooting of the equipment.

6. Make sure sensitive data is completely removed from the hard drive. When scraping or replacing a computer, merely deleting a file does not permanently remove it. According to the New York Times, a basic privacy measure that is often overlooked is the proper destruction of data on hard drives. According to a British Telecom study, only 33 percent of second hand hard drives had been completely wiped clean. To ensure your drive doesn’t contain any personal data before you give it away or sell it, you need to reformat the hard drive or use digital shredding software if you want to completely eliminate all traces of data.

7. Eliminate private or business documents permanently from your hard drive. If employees take laptops home at night or on road trips, this can be a huge problem in terms of exposing private information to theft from a lost computer or public network hacking. Robust encryption and server/cloud-stored files are part of the prevention solution.

8. Install Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) on all hardware. For example: servers, key PCs, printers, phone systems, and equipment providing your Internet connections could minimize costly failures from temporary power outages or power spikes.

9. Get multiple layers of backup. Even if computers and hard drives are new, there is no guarantee against data loss. Several layers of onsite and offsite backup are critical.  Cloud storage is popular, but consider the download speed of your Internet connection. If massive restore files are Gigabyte or Terabyte in size, a 7Mps download speed may take much longer than your business can afford to wait. Talk to your IT firm that offer business continuity and data recovery solutions to get options to match your business.

10. Avoid the temptation to use USB drives (thumb drives or flash drives) as a permanent storage option. Flash drives are great for moving files from one machine to another, but you should consider a different, permanent storage solution.

11. Flash drives can provide an instant RAM solution. If your PC runs Microsoft Vista or Windows 7 operating system, you have a ReadyBoost option that uses a flash drive inserted into a USB port to instantly give more temporary RAM memory to speed up your computer. This capability is particularly helpful with infrequent use of large spreadsheet or graphic files. Of course, if there is a regular need to manipulate large files, a RAM memory upgrade or new computer makes more sense.

12. Carefully open and save USB files. Opening a file from a USB drive and then saving back to the same file has been known to cause issues, including the loss of the file itself. It is recommended that you save to another filename if you are going to open the file off of your USB drive.

13. When purchasing PCs in quantity, consider buying an extra computer. Most come with a one- to three-year warranty that allows you to mail in your PC for repairs, or you can purchase an extra service agreement that allows for quick onsite service. However, it might be beneficial to forgo the extra service coverage and stock an extra PC to temporarily replace units mailed in for repair. Similar benefits could be realized by stocking an extra printer.

14. Avoid illegal dumping of old hardware. In most states it is illegal to dispose of computer and printer equipment in the regular trash as the equipment contains hazardous materials. A disposal process should be developed and communicated to employees. Specialty equipment disposal companies may be available in your area or a charitable donation may be another option.

15. In-house vs. outsourced IT. For small businesses the choice between building an in-house IT department and outsourcing to an IT consultant is a challenge. Generally, the pattern in most small businesses is to “get by” with a part time employee wearing the IT hat then jump to an outsourced solution until the company is big enough to bring the support function back inside. That said, outsourcing may be better sooner. The reason? Focus and costs. Keeping your eye on running and growing your business is probably more important than running an IT department. With the competitive nature of the IT consulting business, many firms offer a fixed-fee, all-you-can-eat option. Businesses can control costs and get the latest technology and service. Besides, trying to fix your own IT problems may be like fixing your own teeth…not a good idea.

16. Take extreme care doing business with your cell phone. Because smart phones are so powerful and equivalent to laptop or desktop computing capabilities in many respects, it’s easy to forget that security and anti-virus solutions are still in their infancy. Accessing emailed business files, any Internet connection and mobile banking are particularly vulnerable to hacking or viruses. Don’t automatically assume a favorite online store or site is safe. Your IT partner can give you the latest information on safe mobile computing practices.

17. Use shortcuts and shortcut links instead of multiple copies. If you need to get to the same file from multiple locations, don’t create copies of the file. Create shortcuts to it instead. Shortcuts are links to files or programs and are represented by icons with an arrow in the lower-left corner. To create a shortcut, right-click the file and then click Create Shortcut.

18. Quickly get to the items you use every day. Jump Lists, a fun new feature in Windows 7, are lists of recently opened items, such as files, folders, or websites that are organized by the program that you use to open them. You can use a Jump List to open items, and you can even pin favorites to a Jump List. To see a Jump List for a particular program, just right-click the program button on the taskbar.

19. Use abbreviations. Keep file names short by using common abbreviations, such as “MTG” for meeting or “ACTG” for accounting. This makes the file names more descriptive, and you can more easily find files through the Search function, if necessary.

20. Use thumbnails or icons. Change the view to display the files as icons in Windows 7 or Windows Vista or search through folders in the Thumbnail view in Windows XP. To view icons in Windows 7 or Windows Vista, click the Change your view button (Windows 7) or the Views button (Windows Vista) in the toolbar, and then select the icons size you want to use. To view icons as thumbnails or icons in Windows XP, click the Views button in the toolbar, and then click Thumbnail or Icons.

21. Consider storing documents online. You can also keep documents your company’s Microsoft SharePoint 2010 site or on Windows Live SkyDrive so that you can easily access them from outside the office, share them, and edit them online by using Office Web Apps.

22. Find files faster. The Windows operating system provides easy access to the Documents folder, and its subfolders, in many places, including the Start menu, the task pane in Windows Explorer, and common File Open and File Save dialog boxes.

23. Keep files separate from programs. By separating document files and program files you reduce the risk of accidentally deleting your documents when you install or upgrade software programs. To move files or folders from one location to another, right-click the file or folder name in the existing location and then click Cut. Navigate to the new location, and then click Paste. You can also drag a file or folder from one location to another. To display two folder windows simultaneously in Windows 7, hold down the Shift key when you click to open the second



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