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by Tim Beranek, CPA

Using technology effectively can help small-business owners enhance their profitability, streamline operations and improve client service. Here are 10 tips to make technology work for your small business.

Develop a technology plan. Technology planning is an important step in determining your needs and costs for computers, other hardware and software.

The planning process should include focusing on how using technology can help you meet your business objectives, identifying options for expanding existing networks and determining the resources necessary to implement the plan.

Automate where it helps most. Recognize that you won't be able to implement your technology plan all at once. Use your dollars where they will have the greatest impact. Depending on the type of company you have, you may first have to focus on streamlining manufacturing processes, marketing or operations.

Maximize existing resources. If you've made an investment in technology, be sure to fully explore its capabilities before rushing out to replace it.

Stay away from unproven products. When acquiring new equipment, you don't necessarily have to get the newest product with all the bells and whistles. Before making a major investment, wait to allow the market to reveal a product's true benefits and drawbacks.

Look for flexible systems and solutions. When you do purchase new technology, look for flexible systems to which upgrades and other solutions can be added as needed.

Secure your computer's physical location. For most business owners, their computer holds the most vital information about their organization, from financial information to marketing strategies to competitive data and analyses. Access should be restricted to employees who have a business purpose to use the equipment.

Back up all your data. Mass storage devices are inexpensive, reliable and easy to find. Don't wait until a system failure, virus or other event results in lost data. Frequent backups and off-site storage should be a component of your plan.

Address the Year 2000 issue. Financial calculations that use dates, i.e., mortgages, retirement plans, interest calculations, loan balances, mortality rates, etc., may be incorrect because databases were programmed with "two-byte" year fields. The computer will therefore read "00" in the year-field as 1900, "1" as 1901, etc.

For this reason, take steps to ensure systems adapt seamlessly to the beginning of the next century with respect to data transmission, including electronic commerce and other transactions.

Make the most of information. Determine the kinds of information your company needs about its customers, markets and competition, and establish a plan for obtaining and using the data. Technology alone won't boost sales. It's how you use technology to manage information that can best help you.

Commit to ongoing training. Learning to use a computer or most other technology to gain its full potential takes time and perseverance. Set aside time periodically for you and your staff to be trained on using specific hardware and software. Complete the training process with documented policies and procedures.

(Tim Beranek is a CPA and associate with the Springfield office of Baird, Kurtz & Dobson, certified public accountants.)

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