By Ash Patel, Director of Business Transformation at Cobweb Solutions

Every day new applications and tools are released that could rapidly transform how a business is run. This has been accelerated by the rise of mobile and cloud computing. For small and medium sized businesses, technology is an opportunity to level the playing field, but they must make sure that they are investing in the right tools.

Using the right technology can help a business to work smarter, enhance productivity and streamline day-to-day activity; small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often have limited resources at their disposal so need to know how best to spend their IT budget.

To help navigate the challenging environment, I have created a check list to ensure businesses are making smart IT investments.

  1. Consider a mobile business
Most small business owners will agree that heading up a business isn’t a typical 9 – 5 job. You need to eat, sleep and breathe your business. Often long hours are required, which means you'll likely need to check work emails and access business documents outside of the office.

Increased mobility has had a greater impact on how SMEs are run than any other factor over the last few years; businesses that have switched to mobile and flexible working have reported significant increases in productivity. For those working off a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone, the cloud will be a boon to your business, enabling you to manage your business, even whilst on the go. For instance, with cloud software, you can process credit card payments, share files and host conference calls from wherever you are working.

Businesses should also use the cloud to facilitate collaboration whilst out of the office. For instance, the ‘always on’ availability of cloud services, such as Microsoft Lync, enables hassle-free collaboration and communication across the business, whilst cloud-based productivity tools such as Office 365 should be used for email, calendar and file-sharing.

  1. Recognise security is a priority
For a business to thrive, solid data security is critical. Protecting businesses assets, confidential employee information, and client data is vital to your business’s reputation. Implementing a structured data security policy will help to reduce the risk of a breach and ensure you remain in control of your IT strategy, even if staff are working off personal devices.

First and foremost, SMEs should ensure wireless networks are password protected, and install anti-virus solutions on all systems. You should ensure software and web browsers are kept up-to-date; exercise control over who has access to sensitive data; and restrict the use of removable media, such as USBs, where possible. Finally, check that your employees are using security apps or virtualisation technologies on their mobile devices to ensure sensitive company data is encrypted and can only be accessed by authorised users.

  1. Harness the benefits of BYOD
When it comes to maximising IT budgets, small and medium sized firms should embrace a Bring Your Own Device policy. The advantages of implementing a programme whereby employees can work off their own device are certainly enticing. It not only means less expenditure on fixed, physical IT infrastructure, but by increasing productivity and enabling workers to get more done in less time on the devices they’re familiar with, it can ultimately enhance your bottom line.

The benefits don’t stop there. The flexibility BYOD delivers by empowering staff to become more mobile can be transformative in creating a more satisfied, loyal and engaged workforce. However, you must consider implications regarding compatibility or data security further down the line, and ensure you have reliable IT support in place as well!

  1. Use a data storage provider for scalability
Thanks to “pay as you go" style services, SMEs have access to enterprise-level storage solutions at a low monthly cost, and can easily scale their subscriptions as business requirements dictate.

If you’re seeking to grow quickly, public cloud options should be considered for storing data as an alternative to expensive, conventional on-premise storage systems. What’s more, storing information under a robust cloud provider agreement guarantees data backup in the event of an IT disaster, and greatly reduces the chance of your business falling victim to a data security breach.

  1. Embrace the cloud
Technology is without doubt having a liberating effect on small and medium sized businesses. Cloud technologies in particular are enabling SMEs to keep pace with their larger competitors, without blowing their budget.

It offers practical and efficient solutions that can be scaled up or down according to purpose, and enables businesses to reduce their dependency on physical infrastructure, high cost IT solutions, and traditional working hours and restrictions. The result? SMEs can streamline everything they do; becoming a more efficient and profitable business.

By following these simple steps, small and medium sized organisations can reap the benefits of agility, scalability and flexibility – key ingredients in the recipe for business growth.