Nikki Hall

Computers Need Oil Changes Too

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In the years that I have been a part of the small business world, I’ve noticed how my unwritten job description has changed and expanded. It started with me writing small proposals and answering phones. Somehow, it has morphed into the every-man phase. Being a computer tech is one of the facets of my every-man title. However, that is about to change.

Computers are increasingly becoming intrinsic to the small business world and to stay competitive in business, companies need computers that function properly and swiftly. In our industry, business sales and client connections take place quickly. For our company success, it is essential that we meet the demand every hour on the hour seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Other than sales, our archived proposals, reports, and client profiles are essential for company productivity. We need a server in place that holds this information, is reliable, and always available. The expectations to maintain our network and computers at this level are growing and I have had a hard time this past year keeping up with the demands.

I’ve learned quite a bit over the years about computers. Mostly through trial and error situations, but I’ve gotten pretty good at taking care of our network, our server, and computers. I regularly check them: for system abnormalities, to ensure our onsite and cloud back up are working properly, I check that system and software updates are integrating properly, and ensure computers are functioning at their peak performance. There are times I feel like this is a full time job alone. Especially now with the inclusion of Droids and IPhones becoming as necessary to our company as desktops are. Combined, the technology our small company utilizes to be productive is rapidly increasing.

As we become more sophisticated with our software, our computer networking, and our equipment, I estimate I spend at least five hours a week strictly on maintenance in the office. The simple upkeep does not include the time required to fix issues like software update conflictions, or internet connectivity, or security concerns as they arise. Technology is updating faster than our hardware capabilities, which produces apps to be installed, or diagnostic tools needing to be downloaded, and the countless hours spent with your service providers trying to locate the initial problem… if there is a problem. Sometimes glitches happen, cannot be traced, and repair themselves on their own. It can be endless.

To compound my limited time, there is also this thought. My husband does not want his company to grow and neither do I. Growth means more commitments, more overhead, and usually more debt. It is necessary to mention this, because if our technology maintenance stays in-house, then we will need to hire more people to do what I am already doing. In turn, the company will then need to hire more office and field people and we will need to generate higher profits to meet the needs of the larger workforce. Then there is equipment… more field workers and office employees demands more vehicles, machinery, computers, etc. To negate this problem and to handle our computer issues, I have decided to outsource our computer and networking maintenance to a company that makes a living helping other companies stay operational. This decision might seem common sense, but as we divert away from what we know and our company is in business to do- tree work- our decisions for where to spend money becomes more important. The tree business for us has always been based on manual work; bookkeeping, DOT maintenance… even down to practices in the field. We rarely use cranes and buckets on job sites, and instead prefer to climb the trees and do the work through sweat equity. In the field, sweat equity maintains quality and reduces mistakes. In the office, it’s the opposite, but it is also the unknown to some extent. As we become more reliant on electronic files and communication, we’re deviating away from practices that are defined and understood; problems and mistakes are easily located and corrected.

With my hesitation aside, I contacted a couple of firms that are devoted to maintaining computer functionality and solicited proposals for maintenance plans from each of them. I don’t look for the cheapest cost, but instead consider the plan that best suit our company’s needs and therefore work the cost into our annual budget. My hope is that while we have committed to this new plan, it will decrease costs in other areas, and actually increase the rate of productivity as well as ensure our office reliability for our people in the field.

Business is a world unto itself; always changing. Technology isn’t any different. It is my mission for our company that we grow with them.
small business