A friend of mine, laid off from his IT job several months ago, decided
to get back into business, this time on his own. No more boss. No more
board of directors. No one else to mess up his career except himself.
He's lined up some small, and I mean small, companies as his first
clients. These are companies with 15 or fewer employees and no IT
department. For the most part, no servers. And also for the most part,
PCs and printers that should be either in a museum or dumped into the
ocean as an artificial reef. Circa 1988 Series II LaserJet printers, ELS
NetWare, co-axial cable, and even one outfit still enjoying the benefits
of its ArcNet network. Printers shared via switchboxes. Dial-up e-mail
access, often through AOL. Like the man says, if it ain't broke, don't
Behind the times though they clearly are, these companies are ready, yet
reluctant, to move ahead, trading away that which they know and love
(and which, apparently, requires no support) for something that will
allow them to function in the modern world. And they want to do it with
no pain, no downtime, and, not surprisingly, by spending next to
My pal, anxious to pay his mortgage, is willing to work by these terms.
Networks will get upgraded, some to wireless, and most equipment will be
replaced, though not all at once.
The biggest question was whether to bother with desktop systems or go
right to notebooks. Even though few employees travel on business, many
like to do some work at home. (Whether that's a good idea is fodder for
the psychologists, not the solution providers among us.)
For $1,057, these companies can purchase brand new notebook PCs with a
15.1-inch active-matrix screen, 256MB of RAM, a 2GHz Celeron,
CD-RW/DVD-ROM, 40GB drive, integrated network adapter and modem, and
Windows XP Home Edition. We're not talking the high-end
desktop-replacement market here or the need for SNMP networks and
managed systems, but PCs of the modern age that are great for writing
documents, creating spreadsheets, running an up-to-date accounting
package, and keeping track of customers. All for $1,057! And that's
before the $100 manufacturer's mail-in rebate!
Sure, the price will rise a bit, as Microsoft Office, antivirus, and
other software is figured in, and as a port replicator, Kensington
security cable, and in some cases, full-size keyboard and mouse are
added, but this is a bargain of astonishing proportions. These users
won't be doing video editing or playing power-hungry games. This is
oodles of power for the task at hand.
For the roughly $250 premium over the price of a similarly equipped
desktop system, portability is a wonderful benefit. This wasn't always
the case. The price differential between desktop and notebook systems of
comparable power was once far greater, making the purchase of a mobile
PC logical only for a select group of road warriors.
One of these small companies decided to go ahead with a notebook-based
solution. The old network cable was ripped out, replaced by Linksys
wireless gear and a DSL connection. The biggest challenge turned out to
be migrating files, zillions of them, from the users' old systems to the
new, and then organizing them into folders. Done over a weekend, with
some Windows XP training administered over the next couple of days,
business did not come to a standstill.
And there's more. With the DSL connection, the dial-up access and
amateurish e-mail addresses can go away. With their freshly minted
dot-com domain name and an ISP, they now have e-mail addresses of which
they can be proud. And it's all for about the same price they were
paying for dial-up services. My pal has convinced the owner of this
small company to install a low-end tape backup system with software that
will reach into each PC (can you say used equipment from eBay?). I can
see centralized file storage, and simple multiuser accounting software
down the road.
Another of these small companies opted to go the desktop PC route.
Simply put, it cost less. But they did get rid of the ArcNet.
In addition to generating some income, my friend learned a valuable
lesson. After having supported a Fortune 1000 company's IT functions for
many years, he's had a rude awakening to the small-business market. It's
different. IT budgets, if they exist at all, are measured in pennies not
millions of dollars. There's no staff. There's no policy. There's no
army of XML and Java programmers building custom Web applications. Many
of these businesses have desperate needs, of which they are universally
unaware. But my friend is finding that life in the IT slow lane is less
stressful, gives him more time with his family, and is more rewarding.
And you know what happens to conscientious, hard-working, small solution
providers? They get bigger.