Scaling Your Small Business Network: Planning for Growth and Expansion
If you need to build or update a computer network for a small business, you can’t just build for today. You have to envision where your business will be in five years or maybe ten. The reason is simple: as your business outgrows your current system, it’s cheaper, easier, and faster to add on than to start over from zero. But adding on will only be possible if you do your initial planning with an eye towards the future.
Another consideration is what we call “scalability.” That is, can you grow your network in proportion to the growth of your business? Scalability keeps the cost of your network in balance with the benefits your business derives from it. If adding onto your network is too expensive for the additional benefit you’d be getting, you might be forced to delay the upgrade. But that would hamper your operations and limit what you could accomplish under your growth plan. When a network is scalable, you can add on incrementally, keeping pace with business growth without investing too much of your company’s resources.
You might think of scale in terms of your cost per unit of a product. If you’re producing 1,000 units a month for $10 apiece, and your growth plan calls for doubling your output, you still want to keep your costs at $10 per unit, or even lower that cost, if possible. But if the expenses you’d incur by expanding drive up your unit price, you have to question whether the expansion is beneficial. Maybe for your business, doubling production is not an option, because that would require you to lease a new or additional facility at too high a rate. But increasing production by 50 percent would allow you to utilize untapped space within your current location. In that case, a 50 percent expansion is scalable; you’d be paying no more for facility rental, and you could actually lower your cost per unit.
The same principles apply to a computer network. There is a sweet spot for expansion that can be done cheaply to great benefit before you get to a quantum leap that involves a step-up in costs across the board. An experienced IT professional can help you understand how scalability would work in your situation by applying these factors:
- Planning — What does the growth of your business look like? Increased production and sales are a given, so your business network must be able to accommodate a larger staff, many of whom may work remotely. You might want to add capacity for video conferencing for ongoing training, especially as you introduce new products. Which brings us to our next topic. Adding new products might require adding representatives to interface with retailers and consumers. Your network must support those communications, so customers don’t face long wait times and wind up feeling neglected. Perhaps your plan for growth includes opening new locations and bringing in-house tasks like fulfillment or accounting that you have been contracting out. Now your organization can begin to suffer from “sprawl,” making management oversight of processes more challenging. You might have to adapt new software to manage business processes, and such programs can also make greater demands on network capacity.
- Understand the costs — Once you understand the demands your growth plan will put on your IT infrastructure, you’ve got to estimate those costs as precisely as possible. There will be an initial investment for new equipment and installation, and recurring costs of services and software licenses.
- Set a schedule — Knowing the costs of expansion allows you to set a schedule for updates of equipment, installation, and training.
- Match network growth to business growth — Your IT upgrades should come before the expansions of your business operations, so the network is ready to support operations.
- Choose wisely — You must prioritize the upgrades to your network based on the changes that are necessary to support operations. Some upgrades are absolute necessities, while others can wait. You must execute each step of your plan in the right order.
- Don’t neglect the culture — Technology provides great support for business, but the learning curve can be overwhelming, especially for older workers. You don’t want to cause a culture shock that creates resistance to your development plan. Happy workers are productive, dedicated, and loyal workers, so make resources available for your team to get comfortable with the new equipment and processes.
- Incorporate training — Not all software is intuitive, so if you’re adopting new programs to monitor your business processes, make sure to train your staff sufficiently before requiring them to use them. When conducted properly, IT training can uplift morale, build confidence, and create a tight-knit team of supportive coworkers. Thus, the benefits of training can go far beyond facility with a single program.
- Monitor results and review processes — It’s very likely that your new network and processes will have to be tweaked. There may be inefficiencies in the network due to connections, layout, and patterns of use. There might be concepts that your workers didn’t grasp in the initial training. It’s important for management to be proactive in tracking performance, collecting feedback, and consulting with IT professionals to fine tune the system.
At KMF Technologies, our IT professionals have helped many companies scale their network growth to match the expansion of their operations. We’re ready to provide reliable guidance for your company now and in the future.