How to collect cash quicker and fuel growth with document management

Business owners need cash to grow. That’s why it’s critical to streamline your receivables process to ensure you’re collecting cash as quickly as possible. Developing a document management strategy can help you do just that.

Having these technologies and efficiencies in place to manage the growth also enables you to do so without adding bodies.

“For receivables, order processing and applying payments, if you’re growing and need to add bodies, this is a no brainer,” says Heather Stump, business process analyst at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions. “Software doesn’t go on vacations or need medical benefits. That’s an instant ROI, if you’re interviewing to hire more people.”

In addition, your high-paid employees may be doing low-paid tasks right now. You can automate many tasks so they spend more time processing and less time shuffling paper or filing, she says.

Smart Business spoke with Stump about how efficient document management will improve your accounts receivable processes.

What are pain points for companies when it comes to accounts receivable?

You want to limit your DSO, or days sales outstanding, and collect money quickly. Some of that is dependent upon customers, but you can minimize the time it takes to process orders, apply payments to those orders and follow up on troubled accounts.

Also, if your company has a manual or paper-based process for processing and applying payments, it lowers the visibility — and cash flow projections aren’t as accurate.

When you’re shipping goods or delivering services, your business needs to be able to respond in a timely manner to customer inquiries or payment disputes. Quick and responsive customer service will result in repeat orders, referrals and more business.

How can document management help?

Document management solutions are able to streamline the entire order to cash process. Documents are stored in a central, digital repository, linking all documentation associated with an order, such as the invoice, proof of delivery and check remittance. This comprehensive view allows staff to respond to customer disputes quicker and focus more time on processing and applying payments.

Additionally, electronic forms can replace the paper forms that you may be using today. Distributing the data entry responsibility throughout your organization, such as your sales staff for orders, ensures real-time information to your order processing department and faster billing turnaround.

Finally, you can proactively stay on top of late payments through automated searches and notifications to the receivables team.

How does this tie into existing software?

Document management technology is not meant to replace your existing line of business systems; it’s used in conjunction with what you already have. For example, advanced capture technology can be used to extract critical information from incoming documents, validate that information with data in your accounting system and then post it to the correct account. This helps to avoid multiple cases of data entry, which takes time and increases the possibility of errors, such as misapplied payments

There are many levels of integrations you can explore. Once you’ve identified your process bottlenecks and business needs, you will need to work with a technology expert to find the right solution.

What are best practices for using document management with your accounts receivable?

Document management, like any technology, should be phased in slowly. Focus, first, on taking your file cabinets and paper folders digital. Once you’re storing documents electronically, users must be trained to access them. Then, you can add process automation and integration.

Management should identify the top problems within the department. Then they can work with a technology adviser to determine where it makes sense to begin.

Document management can provide efficiencies for any sales organization run on orders. Distributors, in particular, find it useful because their invoices may be low cost, high volume; but a professional service firm also can benefit. In those instances, it may be less about collecting cash quickly and more about processing orders and delivering products correctly, quickly and efficiently, to generate repeat business — and growth.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

How companies big and small are protecting their business information

With Sony, Anthem and Home Depot all recently experiencing data breaches, fear is generating interest in data life cycle management.

It can be easy to dismiss the recent data breaches as something that only happens to large companies. All businesses, regardless of size or industry, however, possess valuable information, such as strategic plans, customer financial data, and confidential personal data such as Social Security numbers, employee medical data, wills and trusts. If that information is lost through a data breach, the consequences could be catastrophic.

“We’re living in a time where people are taking a lot of things for granted in terms of privacy and protection,” says Douglas C. Williams, CEO of Williams Data Management. “Losing sensitive business information can lead to a company going out of business.”

Smart Business spoke with Williams about the sensitive information businesses may not realize they need to protect and the consequences of inaction.

Where are the common threats of a breach of business information coming from?

A breach of sensitive business information usually happens within the storage, retrieval and destruction phases of the data life cycle. The misconception is that company staffers are following the enterprise security policy to protect sensitive information throughout that life cycle, and they typically aren’t.

This is because employees are accessing company servers through personal mobile devices and sharing information through cloud services. Once information is stored off-site in a shared ecosystem, it’s difficult to defend against leaks because information governance can’t exert any control.

Some companies think that documents are destroyed when they’re recycled. There is, however, a time before they’re shredded and put in collection units that documents can be recovered. Unless the information is destroyed by a certified vendor, it can’t be certain that a breach has been avoided.

And guess what? Companies that lease copy machines may not recognize that inside each one is a hard drive that contains images of all the documents they scanned, faxed or copied. At lease end, the machine goes back to the lessor along with all the information transacted on it. This creates another opportunity for a breach to happen.

Should a breach of sensitive business information occur, what could be the fallout?

In the Sony breach, for example, the fallout was that the private conversations and opinions of company employees were made public. That resulted in more than an embarrassment, it was a complete breach of trust that’s been difficult to repair. Sony CEO Amy Pascal shined the light on the risk to CEOs for an incident that could have been easily prevented by a proactive data protection policy.

If the information that gets leaked in a breach is regulated, like HR data, job applications and private health information, there are significant financial penalties.

There’s also the chance, should the breach occur, that a company gets a visit from a government official who wants to see what policies and procedures are in place to remedy the problem. Companies that have no plan may be subject to high fines, penalties and negative publicity.

What is the average cost to an enterprise due to a business information breach?
Penalties can be significant for a breach of protected health information (PHI), which is not just a problem for companies operating in the medical field.

Manufacturers of automotive parts, for instance, could be holding PHI, possibly because they have a self-insured health care plan. That makes those manufacturers covered entities and subject to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act regulations.

Generally, losing sensitive business information is costly. Target Corp., which lost confidential customer information during a data breach, may potentially have to settle a $10 million customer lawsuit and win back the trust of their customers.

Think of the impact that a breach can have on your business and plan accordingly. Call a data life cycle management expert to help your company plan, store, retrieve and destruct data for greater security. Rely on the experts to devise a business continuity and disaster plan before an incident happens. ●

Insights Technology is brought to you by Williams Data Management

How document management enhances project collaboration for legal

More than ever, law firms and corporate legal departments have multiple people, offices and teams working on the same case, as the resources inside the firm or department spread across practices areas and offices. It’s not uncommon to have attorneys in Cleveland, Chicago and Cincinnati collaborating on the same matter. And in the case of a large corporate legal department, that collaboration could stretch across the globe.

With so much electronic content flowing back and forth to facilitate that collaboration, it’s best to implement a document management solution.

“If there’s not a good solution, system or process in place to follow, then it’s very easy for something to get lost, not be properly understood or missed,” says David Cramer, manager of business development in the Legal and Professional Services division of Blue Technologies Smart Solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Cramer about document management in law firms and corporate legal departments.

What are the benefits of document management solutions for law firms and corporate legal departments?

Without a document management system, electronic content is probably in multiple places — file shares, a local hard drive, email folders, SharePoint or an enterprise content management system with no legal focus. Document management organizes all that content in one place.

Users can easily find existing content with robust full-text search capabilities. The solution collects email, email attachments, scanned images, Microsoft office documents and audio and video files, in order to organize them in a manner that makes sense for users.

The other advantages are productivity and efficiency. If there is a litigation or discovery need, the firm or department needs to be able to produce the right document quickly. Employees don’t want to have to recreate a misplaced document from scratch or look at an out-of-date version.

How does document management work with mobile devices?

More people today, including lawyers, paralegals and secretaries, work out of multiple offices, from home or when traveling. Document management solutions can provide remote access by interfacing with smartphones and tablet computers in a way that’s compatible with your security solutions. They also can provide the ability to work offline so you can access electronic content in court where there’s no Internet.

Do some document management solutions work better in the legal vertical?

You’ll want to select a document management solution that’s designed for the way law firms and legal departments work, with the language of attorneys, paralegals and secretaries.

You should work with a technology partner to find the best solution, but you can get started on research with third-party organizations like the International Legal Technology Association.

In many large corporations, IT declares that the enterprise will use only one solution; unfortunately it may not fit with the legal department. This in turn leads to poor or minimal user adoption.

If the return on your solution isn’t what you expected, what would you recommend?

Your business’s approach or practice groups may have changed. Every two to four years, do a health check of the system with the help of your technology partner to see what’s working well and what needs to be improved.

The solution’s design can be adjusted to better match business workflows. You may need a software upgrade that could provide new features or functionality. Or, perhaps it’s time for refresher training.

What else should employers know?

Some large firms have been using document management for 20 years, while many smaller firms, 100 users or less, are getting into it now because cloud technology providers handle the IT services.

Whatever your size or history, document management can help manage the day-in and day-out of drafting, editing and storing all components for a matter or case. But after a matter is closed, many firms or departments declare it a record, locking it down and applying a retention policy. Consider implementing a records management solution to manage those electronic and paper records.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

Without a plan, your business may never recover from a natural disaster

Business information, whether stored on paper files or in electronic form, must be safeguarded against natural disasters. Fire, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes could destroy or render information unavailable for a period, creating a time gap during which a business cannot access its data. The more time that goes by without access to that information, the higher the likelihood the business never recovers.

To a lesser degree, businesses are subject to accidents, such as a burst pipe, that can drown servers and soak critical documents. In either case, a disaster recovery plan is critical.

Smart Business spoke with Douglas C. Williams, CEO of Williams Data Management, to learn more about the risks natural disasters pose to companies and how to recover if one strikes your business.

What assumptions do companies make regarding the safety of their business information?

CEOs falsely assume disasters or accidents will never happen to their businesses or that they’ll somehow be able to persevere without a plan. It’s a costly assumption businesses of many sizes hold to.

Natural disasters are common. They can cause loss of property and prevent the workforce from tending to business operations.

If employees can’t get to work and have no access to data, the result is a complete and total breakdown of business infrastructure. This could mean an inability to access capital or credit lines, an inability to fulfill accounts payable or collect receivables, and can compromise the business’s ability to file an insurance claim.

The cascading effect of the disaster could result in the inability of that business’s ecosystem to function, and a catastrophic loss of infrastructure, leaving a business no way to recover.

What is the financial impact to an enterprise due to a natural disaster?

There is a common assumption that a business with $15 million in annual revenue can lose $60,000 each day that it is unable to perform its business functions.

While many companies have insurance that covers reconstitution, not everything can be recouped from an extended period in which operations are shut down.

How can companies ensure their business information is protected from loss?

Primarily, a company needs to form a disaster recovery plan.

Sit with your stakeholders and determine where you’re vulnerable and determine how to address it. Talk with strategic advisers in risk management, at your financial institutions, your insurance agents, your largest suppliers and clients, and any equity holders and put together a plan that ensures everyone can stay connected and share information in the event of a disaster.

Another aspect of that plan should include data encryption and off-site back up. Business information should be held or available somewhere that a team member can safely go to recover the data necessary to continue essential business operations. A recovery site could be a co-location, or even the owner’s home if he or she has the necessary equipment to sustain operations.

Another option is to take advantage of an outsource partner who has systems in place that would allow you to execute your backup strategy. The partner should be outside of the impact zone of most disaster occurrences that could hit your business.

How can companies determine the right amount of protection and not overspend?

Determining the right amount of money to spend on disaster recovery is a matter of deciding what you must cover and how much time you can afford to give yourself to reach full recovery.

If you fall short of that goal then you’ve underspent, which would be an unfortunate fact to learn while in the midst of disaster recovery. It’s better to come in at a penny overspent instead of a penny underspent, because the latter can mean you don’t have a viable recovery mechanism.

Ultimately you need a disaster recovery plan in place that’s available and preserved somewhere it can be accessed regardless of the situation. It’s a good idea to have a strategic partner on the data side and in the insurance world that can help your enterprise think through potential disaster scenarios.

They can help formulate a plan and method of risk transfer to keep your business running through any disaster. ●

Insights Technology brought to you by Williams Data Management

How to use data capture technology to eliminate bottlenecks

If your organization manages content and data flow, whether that’s printed invoices or electronic data, you’re engaging in enterprise content management (ECM). ECM is the technological name for document management solutions. From large corporations to small businesses with a few employees, an ECM strategy can help your organization organize and track data.

“ECM solutions allow you to eliminate silos, where each department or individual manages their own documentation and information,” says Nano Zegarra, chief technology officer at Blue Technologies.

When you’re sharing information across the organization, an ECM system can manage it and access it from a central area. It keeps data from going missing and minimizes duplication. But even if you’re already using an ECM system, data capture technologies can help speed up data entry.

“These solutions don’t take vacation days or get sick,” he says. “They don’t go for water and get stuck talking for 20 minutes. They just keep processing, which makes your people more efficient and able to do more with the technology.”

Smart Business spoke with Zegarra about the benefits of data capture solutions.

What is the biggest bottleneck of ECM?

In almost any organization, employees manually type data from paper or one screen to another, using programs like Microsoft Dynamics, QuickBooks, SharePoint or others. This is considered indexing or manual data entry. It’s always the biggest bottleneck of ECM because it is a low value, time consuming task.

Not to mention, if someone enters data incorrectly, the mistake could be costly. Payment might be sent to the wrong vendor. Or, you could miss an early pay discount.

How do capture technologies help with the painful task of indexing?

Capture technologies scan documents and extract values, pushing the information where it needs to go, whether that’s QuickBooks, Great Plains, SAP or another business application. You might even have two systems that don’t connect, but today’s data capture technology can help fix that.

When using data capture, employees don’t type. They serve as quality assurance, overseeing the process if something is read wrong or an anomaly pops up. The technology can even validate data picked off of the document with existing information in another system. The benefits include:

  • Reduced costs. There are reduced labor costs to ship documents, manually enter received data, store the physical data, etc.
  • Faster processes. Automation means fewer touch points are needed along your process line. Accurate information is more immediately available for your staff.
  • Optimized workforce. Automating low-level tasks frees up time, allowing employees to work on higher-level tasks, maximizing productivity.

When a small or midsize company grows, the last thing it wants to do is add bodies in the back office so staff can enter data and process information. Data capture solutions can bridge the gap when a company has a large acquisition or sale, and more business and documents start coming through.

Does there have to be standardized forms so information is read correctly?

This technology has evolved considerably — it learns as it goes. It can capture unstructured data. If you have 500 different vendors, you don’t need to create templates. You can set rules, such as, no invoice should be over X amount; if it is, flag it because something isn’t right. Or, look for shipping rates, states and logos in order to identify the vendor and validate the data against the enterprise resource planning system.

How can employers get started?

Business owners may not realize how much time data capture technology can save. They just see people typing away, or stacks of paper, and the errors every now and then.

Data capture technology brings efficiency in the long run, because people’s time is always expensive. So, find out: Does this make sense for us? Is it worth the investment?

Also, plan for the future and get the right advisers involved early. Don’t put a Band-Aid on the problem because of cost. The savings won’t be worth it if in eight months your company outgrows the solution. This technology has all types, prices and functionalities.

Work with your technology adviser to find the right capture solution that will change and grow with your business.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

Ongoing communication is the key to a strong relationship with external service providers

Businesses often turn to outside firms to manage their IT services to give personnel a chance to focus on other priorities. It’s a logical step, but care needs to be taken to ensure that these efforts are not pushed too far away.

“This company you are hiring should be looked at both as a partner and as an extension of your business,” says Charles “Scott” Davis, director of IT at Meritech Inc. “It should be viewed as a partnership and not a client relationship. Hold that partner accountable, no different than you would a person working in your office.”

In these times where every dollar is so carefully considered, external service providers can provide targeted support that is also easier on your budget.

“To hire a full-time employee to handle these services is a lot of money, plus benefits and everything else that goes along with it,” Davis says. “With a managed service provider, you only have that service to manage. One bill to pay, one hand to shake.”

Smart Business spoke with Davis about finding the right IT partner and about how to help this partnership succeed.


What are some key things to consider when looking at potential IT service providers?

Take a look at the facilities that house the company with which you are looking to partner. Does it have redundant systems? Does it seem like the company is an accurate reflection of the product it is trying to sell you? It’s one thing to say it in a sales pitch. It’s quite another to walk the talk in terms of the service that is provided to clients.

You also want to get a sense of workflow and how assignments are managed with this firm. How does the firm manage tickets? What is the process for bringing in new hardware or launching a project? How does the firm work with other clients who are in a similar industry to yours? You should also look at companies that have different work situations. The goal is to get a well-rounded sense for how this company approaches its work and whether there is a fit with your business.


How should a company prepare for an exploratory meeting with IT service providers?

Compile data on your current infrastructure, documentations, drawings, processes and procedures and have that information available at your first meeting. Know, for instance, that you have five servers, three firewalls and a virtual private network point-to-point for these three sites along with their IP addresses.

It provides an opportunity to ask specific questions that pertain to your company. Being prepared to ask questions is very important.

One area where customers make a huge mistake is when someone comes in from a managed service provider and says something that the customer takes as the absolute truth.

‘This is the way it is, that’s what the guy said.’ The reality is you need to remember that you are the customer. This company works for you. You need to know what you are getting out of your contract and then hold the vendor accountable.


How can you help your IT service provider?

You need to help employees understand what to do when an issue arises. Who do you go to? What’s the procedure to open a ticket? You need to clearly articulate how the system will work so that when problems do arise, the provider can resolve it quickly and minimize any loss of productivity.

A fault management system is the cornerstone for managing any infrastructure and needs to have the correct tools in place to allow you to remotely see utilization, bandwidth, circuits, servers, routers, switches – all of those things. The second your service has a hiccup, it sends out an alert and the problem can be quickly resolved.


What’s the key to managing the partnership once an agreement is reached?

Maintain a weekly business review for the first 90 days. From 90 days to six months, meet with the provider monthly and then from six months on, you should meet quarterly.

Make sure you establish those business reviews right from the start so you understand what’s going on with your infrastructure. You don’t just hand over the keys to the kingdom and then walk away. You want to know what’s really going on.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Meritech Inc.

Why managing data and information is critical to being an efficient company

A strong document management system is a critical tool for any business trying to stay on top of the work it is doing for customers. But in order to maximize the value of these systems, you need to make sure everyone understands the system’s capabilities.

“It’s not just store and retrieve anymore,” says Ken Vanden Haute, vice president of sales and marketing at Meritech Inc. “It’s the process of how you capture the information and create a work flow so you can do what needs to be done with the document before it gets stored.”

Vanden Haute says you want a system that strikes a balance between security and accessibility.

“The process can be designed to protect your information while providing efficient access to keep staff working at maximum,” Vanden Haute says. “A good system can scan, capture, distribute, index, store, search and retrieve any document in seconds.”

Smart Business spoke with Vanden Haute about how a strong document management system can make your company more efficient.


How would you categorize the process of managing documents?

The process of managing documents can be categorized into 3 groups:

  1. Capture: Capture is the process of getting data into the document management system. This includes scanning paper documents, importing existing electronic documents, saving emails, etc. How automated can you make this process? The less you have to type manually, the better.
  2. Storing and retrieving: Once the documents have been stored, how can you make them accessible to others? Security, permissions and user access are important parts of the system set-up. How quickly can a document be found using keywords, index fields and searching for text inside a document? Can they be accessed from a remote location?
  3. Document workflow: This encompasses any process that distributes documents electronically among many users and allows for paperless approval or sign-off. Workflows can range from a simple vacation request to complex processes involving hundreds of actions and users.


What are the benefits of an effective document management system?

One of the biggest hidden costs that paper-intensive businesses face is the time it takes to work with paper files, which includes searching, archiving and replacing paper documents. By increasing productivity 50 to 300 percent, organizations can enjoy significant savings by redirecting valuable resources to other areas of the business.

Document management systems protect your paper records by creating electronic copies that can be backed up in multiple ways. They also can include off-site data backups and other steps to ensure that a fire, flood or break-in won’t cripple your business.

Document management systems can also provide several layers of security from threats such as competition, identity thieves and even disgruntled employees that could otherwise risk the integrity and value of your most important information.

Audit trails show who has accessed or updated documents. Every time somebody looks at a file, touches it, emails it, prints it or faxes it, the system will track it. You know what’s happening, who is seeing it and where it’s going. It gives you full security with every piece of data and information that you’re storing.

Document management systems are also by far the best way to ensure compliance with strict security and record-keeping rules. Any audits will be fast and painless and compliance will avoid costly fines.


Where do you begin developing a state-of-the-art document management system?

Choose a knowledgeable professional services team. Reach out to a firm that specializes in developing and deploying document management solutions.

Make sure you get a thorough assessment of your business including organizational goals and performance indicators as well as current business needs and day-to-day processes. You should also do a cost-benefit analysis and have a plan in place for how documents are created, stored and distributed.

Look for a solution that can get you up and running quickly. This will have a big impact on the return on investment. A key factor to consider is a solution with an easy-to-use interface. The quicker the users can work with the system, the shorter the ramp-up time will be and the more likely they will embrace the change and use the system.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Meritech Inc.

How to enhance your existing IT staff with managed services

It’s 11:40 p.m., and one of your company servers has a file system that becomes corrupted. Normally, the information technology manager would get an alert and have to head into the office to fix the problem before employees arrive. But even if he or she is able to solve the issue quickly, they won’t be as efficient the next day.

You want your IT staff to be available when your employees are in the office, and not overburdened from lack of sleep or an excessive workload.

By monitoring systems and servers 24/7, this is just one of the many ways managed IT services can enhance an existing IT staff without replacing it.

“We want to help them do their job better,” says Paul Sems, general manager of Blue Technologies Smart Solutions. “And it’s more than just having an extra IT guy. When a company joins up with a managed IT service firm, they are getting the experience of a team. They get experience and best practices from different industries, and are able to tap into a large pool of resources.”

Smart Business spoke with Sems about how managed services can be designed to help existing IT staff be more productive and efficient.

Why do some IT directors and staffs feel threatened by managed IT services?

They are worried that someone is going to come in — without any context of the constraints and budget considerations — and find problems everywhere. They also are concerned about job security because they fear managed services will lead to the business completely outsourcing IT.

How are these misconceptions?

While some small businesses outsource all of their IT, it’s not the best option for many companies, depending on their size and needs.

Managed services should be something an IT staff benefits from because the company is making an investment in their department, which allows them to do their job better.

Managed IT services are about creating a partnership with the existing IT person or staff, where there is communication anywhere from daily to weekly. Managed IT can even help coach the IT staff to the next level.

What are the main benefits to adding managed services to your existing staff?

You can maximize your existing resources, and free up your team’s time to focus on high-level tasks. If you picture a bell curve, managed IT can help out on both ends — with the routine, time-consuming, straight-forward tasks that can be automated like backups, patches, security, etc., as well as complex tasks in an emergency situation.

You proactively reduce risk, as well. An outsourced partner will provide 24/7, proactive remote monitoring and maintenance to reduce downtime, mitigating impact on your operations. Your IT staff won’t have to waste time reactively dealing with crises and putting out fires, and the rest of your staff’s workday doesn’t get disrupted. Improved security is good for everyone.

Managed IT also promotes a healthy schedule, by freeing up your IT teams to work a standard workweek. An outsourced partner will proactively monitor your network and address any issues during nonbusiness hours, such as evenings and weekends, as well as business hours, so your staff doesn’t have to stay late or come in on weekends to address issues.

When employers are trying to do more with less, why does it make sense to spend more money on IT with managed services?

If your company is growing, you may be able to save money because managed services can be more cost effective than hiring additional staff. The outside firm has extensive experience with computer systems as well as additional automation tools.

Even if you’re not growing, your IT employee understands your business, such as your customer base and how you go to market. It’s not something that can be replicated. The managed IT service firm provides IT knowledge that is relatively generic and standard, allowing management to focus employees in a more strategic way as innovators and entrepreneurs.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

How outsourced data centers allow your employees to be more efficient

Employees working at or near capacity often show visible signs of stress.

Data storage systems can’t demonstrate the same traits of being overworked, but their inability to continue processing additional information can be just as big an impediment in your company’s efforts to be productive.

“You’re only capable of holding so much data in storage and when you go past that, you start having problems,” says Ken Vanden Haute, vice president of sales and marketing with Meritech Inc. “There is a reason why it’s not operating like you think it should. The system is being asked to do too much.”

Data centers have become popular in recent years as an alternative to storing all your valuable information onsite. It’s more than just files and documents that need protection. Equipment and systems that allow your company to perform are also housed in these locations.

“It’s not just a place to back up everything,” Vanden Haute says. “It includes systems that help you operate your business.”

Smart Business spoke with Vanden Haute about the value of outsourced data centers and how they help your company work more efficiently.

How do you assess your current data storage capacity?

You want to start looking at budgetary pieces. What are you spending for what you’re getting? How secure is the data and equipment that you need to protect? What capacity do you have to add more to it? What would it cost to expand your current system?

It’s not uncommon when a business starts to find a simple solution for data storage because other aspects of building your business seem more pressing. But then you start growing and you get hit with increases as those needs multiply. Before you know it, you have a 40- or 50-person organization that is spending $4,000 or $5,000 for a service when you could be spending less than half that to store it with a professional provider.

Also, if you’re spending more time adding hardware to your custom-built, in-house data center than you are servicing your clients, that’s also a clue that it’s time to look at a better way of managing your infrastructure.

What are the advantages of using an outsourced data center?

You’re building virtual servers that can handle different pieces of your company’s operations.

The advantage of being on the cloud is that it’s unlimited. You can get as much space as you need. It used to be that if you took up so many gigabytes of memory, it cost you so much. But now it’s all based on the number of users and pricing breaks out based on that. The more users you have, the better breaks you get.

Another advantage is that you can include virtually all the protections you need in one contract. When you do it in house, you have licensing concerns and costs for anti-viral software and user profiles. Everything has a little cost that is attached to it. It’s not that way with a third-party cloud data center.

And most data centers are good about constantly upgrading and updating their equipment to ensure that they are providing top-level protection of your information.

What’s the key to making a seamless transition from in house to outsourced partner?

The day-to-day work of your employees shouldn’t change much.

If anything, employees will see a significant boost in performance. Look at the times when you run out of storage space and have to replace outdated equipment.

When you move to a company that takes the headaches out of this process, they will appreciate the time they get back to focus on more important tasks. Before you move forward with any plan, be sure to outline your expectations so that your provider can help you find a solution that is right for you. ●

Insights Technology is brought to you by Meritech Inc.

How to increase the productivity of your operations in 2015

As companies continue to grow, particularly through mergers and acquisitions, many expect their existing employees to do more work with fewer resources.

“This is common in the business world today and throughout Cleveland. It’s happening in about 90 percent of the companies and industries we speak to today,” says Melanie Boyes, sales manager and director of managed service sales at Blue Technologies.

In order to achieve success with your current staff and resources as your company continues to grow and evolve, you need to evaluate new and changing technologies to improve the efficiency of your operations.

By keeping up with technology and being open to change, you’ll be able to work smart and handle the demands of continuous growth while staying ahead of your competitors. Your existing way of operating might not be the best solution available as you look toward 2015.

Smart Business spoke with Boyes about evaluating existing operational processes and inventory layout and then improving upon them to increase efficiency.

How should companies evaluate their existing processes and inventory layout?

Every company should have a dedicated technology plan and/or goal for 2015. The best way to create or improve upon that goal and/or plan is to listen to your staff about pain points that continually come up.

It’s important to note that an infrastructure goal won’t be solved overnight. It may take months to get to where you want to be, but you can get on the right track if you start by hearing what your staff is saying.

You also can work with a technology partner on this evaluation, in order to fully see what opportunities and options are possible in your industry when your software, hardware and infrastructure are optimized to work together. A technology partner should evaluate your hardware inventory — every piece of paper you print out, scan and/or send — in every location, as well as your company’s IT infrastructure, to supply an overall consolidation plan.

Once you’ve evaluated, what’s the next step to making improvements?

The overall consolidation plan should include recommended technology upgrades and placements to keep your hardware, software and IT infrastructure up to date and on par based on your operational needs.

The assessment should include line-by-line recommendations based on individual positions’ performance and needs, which can differ among individual roles, departments and locations. For example, your sales team may need remote access to the server and printer, while that might not be as important for C-level staff who stay in the office.

Can you give some examples of gaps or inefficiencies that can be solved with a technology solution?

Your hardware setup should be designed to maximize your print and scan flow, while boosting productivity and security compliance through integrated functionalities. For instance, companies within the banking industry must be able to track faxes, emails, prints and copies between users for security purposes. They can utilize a report system solution for this with the right software, infrastructure and hardware setup.

Another key gap is that any company running a 2003 server or Windows XP must  partner with a technology solutions provider, since Microsoft has stopped support of these platforms. If this is your company, reach out to a technology partner immediately to get a free assessment of your system and a recommendation for what changes you need to be making.

How granular can you get with these solutions?

A qualified technology partner can get extremely granular to customize a best-fit solution for your company’s unique needs based on industry protocols and compliance, as well as what value the technology brings.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Again, listening to your staff, fostering teamwork and getting the right education and training is essential. When you ask your people to do more work with fewer resources, they need to be involved in the operational improvements that will enable them to be more efficient to do so.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.