by January 5, 2011 0 comments

The PCQuest SMB Forum event is structured asa series of speaker sessions from PCQuest, its partners, local industry business and IT heads,rounded-off by a panel discussion, where business challenges are discussed at length and IT solutions to alleviate those are introspected upon. This series covered 5 cities: Kanpur, Nagpur, Coimbatore, Ahmed-abad and Patna. We came across quite a few critical challenges that SMBs face in conducting their businesses. Here’s a quick round-up.

Power infrastructure and backup

Let’s suppose you are a biscuit manufacturer and your furnace stops working due to a power outage. Not only the biscuits in the oven are wasted but also the raw material is spoilt. One outage results in the complete sup-ply chain going haywire. Another example is that of a glass factory. If an electric furnace goes off due to out-age, it takes 12 to 24 hours to heat it up again, which in turn means loss of business for one whole day. In these days of cut throat competition, SMBs cannot wait for Government to do something about the power situation. They need to have some sort of a power backup plan. This is where people need knowledge onthe right power backup equipment. We often consider UPS as the power backup equipment, but actually it is more than that. It not only backs up power but also conditions power, suppresses spikes or surges and can also be used in automatic shutdown or file saving.Studies have shown that power problems cause more data loss (15 times) than viruses. Following are some of the points that must be considered before making any UPS buying decision:

1. Power Factor

In layman terms, power factor is the actual power youcan draw from a UPS. For example if wattage of yourUPS is Y and power factor is 0.9 then you can onlydraw Yx0.9 W from your UPS. Therefore, once youhave decided on wattage of your UPS, the next and themost important thing to look for is the power factor.

2. Cost vs TCO

There is a thumb rule while making any buying deci-sion instead of considering upfront cost; consider thetotal cost of ownership. The total cost of ownership isinitial cost plus money you have to or mayhave to pay over the life of a product. Forexample, if you have to choose between twoUPS brands: one with a low initial cost butwhich needs regular paid maintenance,over another with a high initial price withfree maintenance, then it is recommendedto go for the latter.

3. After-sales support

After-sales support is quite important especially when it comes to electronic equip-ment that directly supports your business.UPS is something that you buy once in afew years, and to have hassle-free life gofor one that has good support network.There are UPS brands that instead of re-pairing faults, replace their product with anew UPS, if the product is under warranty.

Accounts isssues

Other than power backup, the other ITcomponent that seems to have maximuminterest is accounting software. Mostsmall businesses still use very old software. As peopleinquired a lot about various options before buying anaccounting package, we provide a few thoughts.

1. Home grown vs standard

If you have an IT team capable of development theninstead of getting a standard package you can createyour own accounting package. But this means thatyou have to document every line of code so that ifthere is some issue in future you know where to lookfor.

2. Open source vs proprietary

If your IT team has expertise in open source packagesthen you can get features as good as a proprietarypackage. But the problem is in support; in a standardpackage you have a contact where you can reach incase of any issue which is missing in case of an opensource software. And given your business is depend-ent on it you should be very careful in choosing an ac-counting software.

3.SaaS vs on-premise

One way of doing away with hardware costs for in-stalling an accounting package is to get it as a service.Benefits of such a model are: quick startup and painfree usage. Businesses can focus on their core com-petency instead of worrying about maintaining infra-structure for accounting packages.

Panel discussion highlights

The prime challenge for IT heads of SMBs is that ITis looked at as an expenditure rather than as an invest-ment. IT heads of most organizations felt that theyhave difficulty in convincing the management for mak-ing IT implementation and purchase decisions. Thesilver lining is that the mindset is changing and man-ufacturing industries have implemented applicationslike ERP and CRM following the footsteps either oftheir competitors or of larger enterprises, for whomthey act as anciliaries.

Prafulla Das, DGM-IT at Raymonds was very elo-quent in sharing his ERP implementation experiencewith the audience. He said that the transition fromlegacy to a completely new setup is not always hiccupfree and even the best of breed ERP solution, in hiscase SAP, was giving issues as it could not be totallytomized as per their needs as they were still accessingdata from legacy applications. And to tackle the issuehe devised his own solution to keep workgoing on smoothly.

Amit Kumar shared his ERP imple-mentation experience at Ispat Industries.He said that organizations on smallbudget who can’t afford ERP solutionsfrom the likes of Microsoft or SAP, shouldconcentrate on local developers who offerthem customized solutions which wouldcome at fraction of a cost and have all fea-tures to completely integrate all businessprocesses of an organization.

Amrut Urkude, Head-IT at Bajaj Steelsaid that as power is a major concern andthere are frequent power cuts, they relyheavily on power backup from manufactur-ing unit’s generators. Mukesh Gupta fromAPC said that organizations should notcompletely rely on generators as there’s alag between switchover from mains to gen-erator and this lag can cause major destruc-tion of data or IT solutions and hence powermanagement solutions for backup and con-tinuity should be in place. He said that or-ganizations should atleast allocate 20% oftheir IT budget towards power solutions.

Panelists across all cities felt that theycannot rely on government and so industryassociations should initiate and reach outto SMB organizations to showcase how ITcan resolve their business challenges.

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