How much does outdated technology hurt SMB competitiveness?

Putting off investments in new PCs and other infrastructure may save money in the short term, but research suggests sticking with older technology may hurt a small company's credibility with employees and customers.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

When was the last time your small company overhauled its computers, Web site and other pieces of crucial IT infrastructure? The decision to put off these investments could be hurting it with both employees and customers, according to two separate research studies offered by Microsoft and Intel.

Before I get into the results, first let me address the very obvious fact that it's in both of these companies' interests to encourage technology purchases. That aside, the findings are worth consideration.

First, let's consider the Intel research (conducted by Techaisle), which suggests that small-business workers could be losing up to one work week per year because of old personal computers. Specificallhy, if a PC is four years or older, employees lose 21 hours on repairs, maintenance and security fixes, according to the Intel Small Business PC Refresh Study. The survey covered 736 small businesses with fewer than 100 employees in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russia and the United States.

The average cost to repair PCs four years or older is now around $427, according to the survey. That's about 1.3 times the amount needed to fix a system that is less than four years old.

Yet, more than one-third of the businesses surveyed (36 percent) are clinging to older systems, the Intel study found. Small companies in the United States were more inclined to make do as long as they can: 8 percent of the ones surveyed were using systems more than five years old, compared with 5 percent of the companies from other countries.

"PCs are largely considered the foundation for many of these companies, and this study makes a clear cut case for refreshing them on a regular basis," said Rick Echevarria, vice president of the PC Client Group and General Manager of the Business Client Platform division at Intel, in remarks about the data.

The Microsoft research looks at things from a customer perspective, and it's based on the opinions of 1,405 general consumers polled online via SurveyMonkey in September 2013.

Here are four of the main revelations: 

  • 61 percent think an SMB is outdated if it's using an operating system that is more than five years old
  • 25 percent think an SMB lacks credibility if it is using a free email service
  • 68 percent think "modern technology" is key to the success of a business
  • 70 percent said they were be "extremely or quite concerned" about providing personal information on an outdated SMB Web site

Even more than those findings, I especially appreciated the list of attributes that define a "modern SMB," according to the Microsoft study. Here they are, ranked by the percentage of respondents who expected these things:

  • Network security certificates that protect personal information (63.5 percent)
  • Email appointment confirmations (61.6 percent)
  • Real-time online chat and scheduling (59.8 percent)
  • Modern mobile devices including tablets and smartphones (57.8 percent)
  • The latest operating system (55.4 percent)
  • Mobile-friendly Web site (54 percent)
  • Mobile payment processing (50 percent)

Like I said earlier, you need to consider the source of this information: two vendors that would benefit from a pent-up refresh of desktop computers and operating systems. But if people in your company are still using a facsimile machine or handheld calculator on the job, you really should ask yourself why. 

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