SMEs should act more like large businesses by managing their IT investments and IT use proactively. Think - and measure - before you jump in.Specifically, SMEs should:Mine SME peers for knowledge and experiences.First and foremost, arm yourself with knowledge. Finding and talking to others of your ilk is easy through online communities. There are communities designed specifically for small businesses, mid-sized businesses and startups; the full spectrum of technology domains;and very specific vertical industries. Moreover, some technology vendors sponsor communities specifically for SMEs. These communities embody a great deal of experiential knowledge that can be used by SME decision-makers, not only for IT, but for general business knowledge.Find the time to perform due diligence and metrics.Customer references are there for the asking from technology vendors and channel partners (if they are not forthcoming, you are working with the wrong vendor or channel partner). Before making a final technology decision, ask for five customer references, of a size and sector similar to your own. No IT implementation or usage expectation is perfect cut through references’ glowing reports, and pin them down on something that did not turn out as anticipated. Moreover, just as you do with your business plan, write down your expectations and goals. This will make it easier for vendors and channel partners to deliver to your needs, and will give you a sense of whether and how fast your IT investments pay off.Look for vendors that offer more value than just their products.Technology vendors have accumulated a wealth of business knowledge around their products, knowledge that savvy SMEs should look for and can tap for nothing. After all, technology vendors claim they want customers to be their partners. That means they should be able to provide SMEs with knowledge and content concerning best practices, business processes, business metrics, and integration. For example, have you ever wondered how to shorten your sales cycle, given your regional business conditions? Ask a customer relationship management vendor.Look for solution providers that can act as your vendor management office.IT licences, contracts, payment terms, usage parameters and maintenance agreements have become more, not less, complex. In particular, maintenance and upgrades are the most costly long-term factors. Channel solution providers should be able to provide you with total cost of ownership metrics and proactively manage vendor relationship complexity for you.Do not be taken in by the SaaS siren song.Software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors will be the first to tell you that SaaS solutions are less expensive than on-premises implementations. While this might sometimes be the case, it is not always true. One of the hidden costs in any IT decision and implementation is integration - the uniqueness of the solution for your business and IT environment and integration can sometimes be harder and more costly with certain SaaS products. Look for vendors and channel partners that have built-in integration ease via a proven service-oriented architecture. Tim Harmon is an analyst with Forrester Research. Visit http://www.forrester.com/computinguk for several complimentary reports made available to Computing readers by Forrester Research.
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