In the modern world, it is very difficult to do business without the help of Information Technology (IT). This broad term covers everything from personal computers, smartphones, network architecture, business software and databases, the internet, and more. The common theme between these different tools and technologies is that they all process electronic information.
How does Information Technology get used in small business?
Due to the versatility of IT systems however, there are nearly limitless possibilities to enhance business functions through the use of IT. The two main components of IT are hardware and software.
Hardware components are physical tools that store data or allow for input or output. The most common hardware components of small business IT are likely to be a keyboard (input), a mouse (input), a monitor (output) and speakers (output). Together, these allow a user to interact with the data which is stored in the computer and on the internet. More specialised hardware can include digital drawing pads for artists and designers, servers designed for storing large amounts of data and network infrastructure for connecting to the internet and managing traffic.
Software components consist of encoded information that users can interact with through the hardware. Often these are called computer programs or apps, though they also include libraries and databases. The coding that goes into designing these systems is incredibly complex and powerful, allowing software to fulfill a near infinite number of functions. The most common software in small business IT is word processing and email programs, but specialised software exists by the thousands. There are general use programs like Client Relationship Management (CRM) systems that assist businesses in tracking and delivering on client requests, and there are niche programs used for creating 3D models, planning circuitry, analysing data, designing artwork, predicting outcomes, producing music and editing video.
What is the most common small business IT setup?
Almost every small business owner will utilise a basic IT setup, consisting primarily of a computer (equipped with word processing and spreadsheet software, an internet browser and an email client), a network (to connect to the internet) and a smartphone. This can be considered the baseline, below which a business may struggle to keep up with the demands of modern business.
In addition, most small businesses support this basic setup with a website and utilise a custom email address to instill a sense of trust and credibility. Professionals are often required to set these features up to work with a standard email client, such as Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird.
In recent years, cloud computing and cloud services have become very popular, with many businesses forgoing the use of an internal server and storing all of their data on the cloud. Services like Google Drive allow for easy access to this data by all members of the business, and with online software like Google Docs and Google Sheets, it is possible to run a business entirely through the cloud. The downside of this practice is that if the cloud is compromised and you have not kept backups, you may lose valuable data. It also requires your business to have an internet connection in order to function. On the other hand, many businesses choose this approach to allow their staff to be location independent and contribute to the business from anywhere in the world.