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Lots of Choices for Info Technology
By: Brenda J. Trainor

If starting a new venture, one is presented with a myriad of choices.  Among the most detailed is what kind of technology to purchase to run the information processing needs of the new operation.

 The good news is that you have lots of choices.  That is also the bad news – making technology decisions can be complex and detailed, and expensive and possibly wasteful.  But if you do it right, it can be economical and efficient.  How can you make the right choices?


To begin this adventure, it is important to assess the kind of operations your new venture will undertake.   Will the start up be retail or service?  What are you selling?  And to who?  A good first step is to thoroughly analyze your customer base.  By understanding your customers, you can best figure out how to communicate with them, and those paths of communication will help you determine what tools are necessary.


There are three basic types of decisions you’ll need to make regarding information technology:  web-based services, hardware, and software. 


Think about your customers:  how will they find you?  Chances are, your business will need a web site.  This is likely the first opportunity to present your brand to a customer.  Web sites can be simple electronic calling cards, or can be full-blown retail operations complete with shopping carts and pages of catalog information.  You should plan to make the creation of a web site a major initiative of any new business.


There are many approaches to building a web site:  you should start with your business plan and a thorough understanding of your operation.  Then you can start approaching how to build the site.  Start first with an internet connection and bookmark sites of other business similar to yours.  Find ideas that you like and services that will work for your operations.  Start building a list of features that you must have on your site:  will you need directions for visitors, links to maps, photographs of your merchandise, item or service descriptions? 


Armed with these essential details, now go about finding the service that can actualize your wish list into a functional Internet service.  Use your local chamber of commerce or business advisor to find the professional services that meet your needs:  graphic artists, web designers, and hosting services are abundant and varied.  You should not be afraid to get recommendations, interview different firms, and start matching up your needs with the providers out there.  There are online resources for do-it-yourselfers, and there are cheap college students; there are expensive full-service firms, and reasonably priced consultant services – spend some time and do your research – find a complement of services that can get your brand onto the World Wide Web and you’ve completed the first critical task for your new start-up.


With your online identity built, the next step is to determine what your own operations will be internal to your operation.  It is virtually inconceivable that a new venture won’t need a computer – the question is how many?  Will they need to be networked together?  Will there be employees with workstations, or a single unit that will be shared?   The workstation configuration will help determine your telephone needs as well, how many lines and how they will operate systematically with each other will be important. These are decisions driven by the operations of the proposed business and can be widely variant.  The critical decisions will be based on a thorough understanding of how the venture hopes to function.


This understanding of functionality will drive what software choices you will make.  The first critical choices will be for an operating system for whatever computer and voice system configuration you will need.  Whether you choose Windows or Apple or some proprietary system or open source facility will be dependent upon what applications your operation is going to need.  A graphic arts firm will probably have a lot of Apple computers to support the graphic standards and practices of the field; but different fields have different needs and your expertise in the business plan will drive your choices.


Remembering how your customers will use your services will drive your choice of other information technology needs.  You will probably want a least one shared laser printer to create good quality printed materials, but there are many good and cheap printers that will meet many needs.  You will likely want a scanner to process paper material and graphics electronically, and this will likely replace any need for a fax machine – again, depending upon the kind of workflow of your operations. 


Getting these computer system peripherals will require doing your homework – shopping for technology and price may require that you spend a lot of time researching products, seeking advice from others, or using a professional consultant to design a system – and if you use an information technology consultant, find one that is not just a single manufacturer’s sales rep, but one that will be knowledgeable about different products and manufacturers for your field of endeavor.  Find an advisor that you can trust.  Information technology decisions can help to make your new business a success and they require a lot of effort to get right.