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By Steven Vicinanza

Owners of small to medium-sized businesses wear many hats to keep their businesses competitive in today’s marketplace. But maintaining control of their companies’ technology and keeping pace with technological advances is one hat that even the best business managers struggle with–leaving them vulnerable and in a position where their limited knowledge of technology can have devastating results.

A recent survey of 100 business owners in Atlanta, home to more than 100,000 small businesses, shows the need for control. The survey revealed 95 percent of Atlanta small businesses would be “devastated” if they unexpectedly lost the information contained in their computer networks. Nearly 75 percent depend on outside companies or independent contractors to maintain those networks¬–but a third of them don’t even trust their provider with confidential information such as social security numbers or banking data.

But the most interesting result is the disparity between their perception of control and the reality. When first asked what level of control they felt they had over their computer systems, most businesses surveyed said they felt “complete control” over their computer networks and how they operate. Yet when subsequently asked how they felt about the security of their networks, 82 percent said they are “somewhat” or “very concerned” about the security of their network from forces outside their company. These survey results and the level of vulnerability would be alarming if we didn’t run into these issues so frequently when we deal with small and medium-sized businesses.

Many think they have a handle on their technology but when we dig deeper we find they’re more troubled than they’re willing to admit – or even realize. They wonder how much their technology is really costing the business; they worry about what would happen if they had a disaster that took out their computers and how long it would take to recover; they wonder if they are using technology effectively. They also wonder what would happen if they lost their current IT outsourcing provider or how costly and painful the transition would be if they had to change providers. These are signs that they really don’t have the control they might think. The biggest issue here is not rapidly advancing technology, viruses, computer hackers and the like. It’s actually an issue of control: Who controls the technology and how.

Because of their size, small businesses typically have to rely on outside providers for their technology and computer networks. At the same time, however, they struggle with the same big technology issues faced by the largest companies. Regardless of whether a company decides to outsource some or all of its technology support, the primary consideration should be based on the executive management maintaining control of the technology. If all the power is held by the outsourcer or the internal IT department, the consequences can be devastating to the organization. Instead, companies need to establish with their provider a system that creates management level control over their own technology. This involves keeping an active voice in setting and managing technology resource priorities, defining acceptable levels of service, and automating the monitoring of these thresholds. If done correctly, the business executive can measure how technology is performing, just like any other functional area of business.

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Dr. Steven Vicinanza is the Founder and CEO of Blue Wave Computing.
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