Linux

10 ways to stretch your small business IT budget

You can protect your budget and help safeguard your job by implementing some cost-cutting measures.

Budgets continue to shrink, so IT departments have to do everything they can to save money. Many are looking at the all-too-obvious cuts and neglecting a helpful chunk of less obvious ways to pinch those pennies. I want to offer a combination of the two, which I think can go a long way toward saving your department precious budget dollars (and quite possibly, your job).

1: Drop Microsoft Office for Google Apps or LibreOffice

I know most businesses hold onto Microsoft Office as if their work-lives depended upon it. The truth is, it doesn't. Google Apps and LibreOffice have both evolved into business-class productivity suites that can easily replace the de facto standard, Microsoft Office. This move will especially help small businesses that don't benefit from bulk-purchase prices from Microsoft. And since most users tap into only about 10 to 15 percent of the features and power of their office suite, why not save nearly one hundred percent of the cost of the proprietary solution? Besides, a tool like Google Apps makes collaboration between teams even easier.

2: Migrate your terminal server to a Linux box

The Microsoft Terminal Server is a powerful tool -- and it comes with a powerful price tag. The more users you need, the more costly that option will be. Replace that box with a Linux machine and you can have the same kind of power at a small fraction of the cost. And adding more users won't wind up costing you the entire budget. So long as your hardware can handle it, you can add as many users as you like -- at no cost.

3: In-house your CRM/ERP/HRM solutions

If you go to SourceForge and search for CRM, ERP, or HRM, you'll be astounded at the hits you get. Not only are these solutions plentiful, they are powerful. With the likes of Drupal, Joomla!, OrangeHRM, and countless other tools, you will have your business-to-customer-to-vendor-relationship in perfect harmony. And since these are mostly Web-based tools, you'll be able to work that magic from anywhere that can reach the server housing the tool.

4: Migrate to networked or cloud-based storage

The benefits of this might not be immediately apparent. But migrating your users' storage from their machines to a centralized location can help save your budget by reducing strain on the client machine (less writing to drives and more over the network). This will also help save costs because you can more easily back up all end-user data from a single location.

5: Move some desktops to Linux

This one will have the most people shaking their heads, but hear me out. There are always certain desktops in a company that have a limited usage. And because much of business has migrated to Web-based tools, a Linux box makes perfect sense. With those machines, you won't have to worry about virus infections, corrupt registry entries, or users installing malware-infested applications. Some machines will need Windows (such as those that use proprietary software or software with no Linux port, like QuickBooks). And there will be users who refuse change. For those instances, simply stick with what works best. But for the machines and/or users that can make use of Linux, make the switch and you'll save.

6: Keep good backups of everything

It's inevitable: Hardware is going to break. That means every machine in your company, at some point, is going to give up the ghost. When that happens, so much time can be lost recovering data -- be it user-level or company-level data. One of the most critical tasks you can have as an IT pro is making sure backups run and run consistently. With a solid backup plan, you will save quite a lot of money in the end, even if only in time.

Here are a few resources that can tackle the backup challenge:

7: Implement strict antivirus and anti-malware policies

A big issue with end user machines is the "accidental installation" of malware or the infection of viruses. One of the best ways to help yourself out is to use an antivirus solution (such as Symantec Endpoint Protection) that can be managed from a centralized location. Regardless of what you use, it is crucial to make sure that all antivirus and anti-malware software is up to date (both the application and the definitions). It might also behoove you to make sure that end users aren't installing extra "features" for their browsers -- such as coupon finders.

8: Encourage creative thinking (solutions for unique problems)

This is more for your IT staff. Encourage the use of creative thinking to solve issues with client computers and servers. Most every computer issue has multiple paths that can arrive at a solution. Sometimes the creative solution is the one that can help save money in the end. Not all administrators can think along these routes, so don't press them if they aren't capable. But encourage those who can think creatively and on their toes.

9: Document, document, document

You want to save time? Document your hardware, your network topology, and your software. Document your users, your users' PCs, your backups -- anything you can possibly think of that will help you save time and make transitions from one software/hardware/administrator to another as smooth as possible. This documentation will also go a long way toward helping you see how everything on your network is used and what can be used more efficiently.

10: Implement a help desk solution

Many smaller businesses don't employ a help desk solution because they assume you can keep track of all the issues on your own. That is a big mistake. The ability to track progress on issues and to review previous issues (and how they were fixed) can really save you time and money. And enabling end users to submit tickets will help ensure that issues are better managed and resolved more quickly. Plenty of open source solutions are available for this. (My favorite is OS Ticket.)

Other cost savings?

The savings to be had here can protect your IT budget, but it can also help to protect your job and your employees' jobs. And although no "system" or solution is perfect, any of the above should be able to help you find a fairly immediate savings. Give one or more of them a try for your small business and see how well they serve you.

Have you found some other strategies that have helped you reduce spending? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

8 comments
McThePro
McThePro

My favorite is SpiceWorks, it is free and has a small footprint. It does WAY more than tickets.

nickc
nickc

How many "small" businesses have Linux support? "In-house, migrate, replace, Implement" all those sound like they cost money too. Not too mention the hard and soft costs of retraining staff. How about better managing existing assets? How about more training to better utilize existing assets? I do agree though with one point. These would probably safe-guard your job as the IT person - or get you fired.

Regulus
Regulus

I am going to go with you on this. It's a good idea to have ONE copy of a current version of MS Office around in case you need it for whatever. Probably the largest majority of your (Office-suite-type) tasks can be handled as, or more effectively with the mentioned substitutes. Your personnel can't be bothered to save a document in another format? Unfortunately, NCIC's Gibb's favorite motivator (a good smack across the top of the head) is not acceptable in most modern work environments. That being said, however, there are acceptable equivalents available, such as not awarding an annual cost-of-living adjustment and/or questioning that persons company loyalty etc. It should be noted that many Linux desktop solutions are complete with most software packages that most users require - to include the office-type suite fully installed. I'm looking forward to the article, "10 more ways to stretch your SMB Budget", which I'm sure that you'll get from responses to this article. BTW, my computers are set up dual-boot with Linux. After all, you do have a back-up power solution don't you? How about a back up Operating System / Business suite? Think about it

LaraReneD
LaraReneD

The thing with dropping MS Office, is that there are programs that will not work with things like Google Apps, LibreOffice or OpenOffice. For example, you're in an Architectural program that is able to export to Excel... but it will not even recognize this to be installed, and will not allow you to use this feature. Exporting simply to a file location with a .csv or .xls format is not an option. Now, the fact that other programs need to have this ability is another topic. But my point is this...if you're an IT Admin, don't roll this change out in your environment before testing your applications that integrate with MS Office.

mark1408
mark1408

Nice if you can really do without it. Our experience with OpenOffice was that some users were frustrated by their spreadsheets or presentations not working properly and therefore demanded to keep MS Office. I had a lot of sympathy with that. The free suites are OK for some staff but with others we've actually ended up spending more because they later decided they needed MS Office, meaning we had to buy a retail copy rather than the cheaper OEM version with the PC. There's also an overhead in supporting a mixed environment, and we have problems with OpenOffice users needing help to read MS Office files and vice versa. When you take the total cost of ownership into account, given that some users really do need MS Office, I don't know how much the open source option really saves us.

Kevin@Quealy.net
Kevin@Quealy.net

However, there may be specific users within an organization that could go without Office. Someone doing accounting will probably need Excel and maybe even Access. A receptionist may need only OpenOffice or even Word Pad.

info
info

I once went to a training evaluation where an organization was switching mail clients to Outlook. Although the trainees were supposed to be end-users, the departments sent 'computer-savvy' people. These were the people I'd assume could pick up how to use Outlook (if they didn't use it at home) the fastest. The result? Most of them had no clue! One of the issues was how hard it was to transition to the 'Send' button to send an Email message! So how is the 'average' user going to react to OpenOffice? WordPad? This suggestion makes sense, but won't fly. Your receptionist example will look at it and take offense that she doesn't rate highly enough in the company to get MS Word. What happens the first time she receives a .doc or .docx file? I was running our software pretty lean with older versions, and told some people with newer versions all they needed to do was use the 'Save As' option so their documents would be compatible with everyone else. They refused, saying it would take up 'too much of their valuable time', and that it was the OTHER user's responsibility to have an up-to-date version. Their managers backed them, "How cheap are we that we can't get new software for our people?" and so it goes. I imagine this behaviour is pretty widespread, or a lot more of us would still be using Office 2000 or other options. Cost? I looked into separate licensing costs for my users, and for a very small extra cost I could put the Office Basic Suite (Word, Excel, Outlook) onto each desktop as opposed to fiddling with one or two apps and tracking licenses.

hillelana
hillelana

You can change the default Save As for them.