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Small Businesses: The Greatest IT Innovators of All?

When you're a start-up company or a small business, you enjoy a key freedom: You don't have any legacy equipment and you can make sure your IT dollars drive innovation.

But over time -- as your staff, network and application infrastructure grows -- you'll wind up spending more and more IT budget on maintenance rather than innovation.

According to various estimates, mature businesses spend anywhere from 80 percent to 90 percent of their IT dollars maintaining systems they already have in place. That's pathetic. And it's also impractical. Small businesses must either innovate or die.

So, how can a small business remain focused on innovative IT solutions? I've found the answer in my own company. Generally speaking, we outsource just about every piece of IT possible. Here's how we do it:

1. Get Predictable: We seek managed service providers, web hosting companies, developers and other partners who can handle day-to-day maintenance issues at a reasonable, predictable monthly cost.

More than 90 percent of PC and network issues can now be solved remotely, according to ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini, whose company specializes in professional services automation (PSA) software. With that fact in mind, small businesses can depend on managed service providers for the vast majority of their support needs. Plus, MSPs typically have technicians they can dispatch to fix any on-site issues that aren't resolved remotely.

2. Build Assets, Not Technology Temples: Empowering your employees with the latest technologies can be fantastic. But that doesn't mean you necessarily need to "own" the technology.

Through leasing programs and managed service programs, you can ensure your technology tools remain ahead of most rivals. And you won't need to open your wallet for big hardware upgrade cycles every few years.

3. Explore Hardware as a Service: Yes, even your network hardware (switches, routers, servers, desktops) can move to a managed service model. Fact is, small businesses can't afford to "buy" many of the latest hardware and broadband solutions. But they still need the capabilities of those services.

A prime example: Small businesses can't build out $300,000 TelePresence centers. And they often can't afford to fly to all corners of the world meeting customers and business prospects. Still, those same small businesses can use shared TelePresence locations (available in more and more hotels) to network with peers across the global.

4. Oh, And Innovate: Now that you've shifted all the "maintence" issues to a service provider, you can focus on driving new innovative applications across your organization.

My small (but growing) business, for instance, leveraged a mix of contract developers and MSPs to launch a series of major media Web sites. We "own" the completed Web sites, but all of the site underpinnings (the content management system, database, server, broadband, etc.) are outsourced to managed service providers and data center partners.

The result: We did not purchase a single piece of software or hardware to launch immensely popular, profitable Web sites. And yet those sites run on state-of-the-art software and hardware.

With the help of our managed service providers, we'll keep innovating.