It is that time of year (again) when everyone puts together that list of stuff that is going to happen next year. Small businesses are the backbone of the US economy. According the the US Department of Commerce small businesses employ over half the workforce. Inc. Magazine says small businesses will spend over $268 billion on information technology and communications in 2012.

Here is why: It is no surprise small businesses rely on information technology as much as larger businesses do today. Most have a website, some sort of PC based accounting system, email for communications, Internet access, firewall and WIFI access within their business. It is not uncommon to have more than one device per employee (eg. PC or Mac, Windows servers plus a mobile phone).

By nature, small businesses have less working capital that big businesses. As a result, they are more dependent on current cashflows to make ends meet than their larger counter parts. Business interruption from systems downtime resulting from systems failure, natural disaster, loss of power, theft and security breach can have a bigger impact on a small business than a medium to larger company because small companies may be less resilient.

With the absence of a crystal ball, it should be no surprise that the following Small Business IT Trends will become increasingly important in 2012.

Business Continuity. Business Continuity is the planning and related process a business goes through to make sure operations continue in the event of a disaster. For example; taking orders, paying suppliers and employees, keeping the factory or store open. Business Continuity includes the ability to rapidly backup and restore key systems in the case of emergency.

Having your backup disks or tapes may not be enough to rapidly restore in the event of a fire, hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster. Being able to backup from a highly available off site source may significantly reduce your time to recover. There are many online backup options today and this trend of having both local and offsite backups readily available is expected to continue for small business IT.

Security. Because information technology is prevalent in small businesses they increasingly become targets for hackers, phishers and other forms of malware and virus intrusions. More and more companies do business via credit card so PCI compliance for small business creates additional requirements for data and network security. In 2012 more small businesses will make sure their operating systems patches and updates are up to date, along with, antivirus and malware updates. In addition more small businesses will systematically and periodically scan their networks for policy violations and intrusions.

Mobility. Phones and tablets are smarter than ever. Believe it or not, the iPad sold over 3 million units in just 80 days compared with the IPhone selling 1 million units in 90 days of availability. The low cost of these devices combined with the ease of networking, accessibility and highly functional applications makes mobile computing a big trend in small business IT. It is easy for a user to add their own applications to a tablet device. These devices are also highly susceptible to loss or theft. It is important to track these devices like any other IT asset and ensure that they can be traced, locked and wiped if lost or stolen. Remember, they may provide unauthorized access to your critical data if you do not strictly enforce policy on these devices.

Cloud. Cloud computing includes platform, infrastructure and software as a service. Small businesses now have access to a wide range of enterprise infrastructure including storage and applications. Cloud computing typically follows a subscription based “utility” model making it more affordable for companies to access enterprise infrastructure. Because they are purchased as an operating expense instead of a capital outlay the are more popular than ever in today’s tight capital markets Cloud computing insulates the small business from needing to purchase servers, software licenses and dealing with the hassles of implementing new systems. For small businesses it is no surprise that more new systems deployments will occur in the cloud than traditional premise based solutions.

With all these trends small businesses will rely more on their IT in 2012 than in years before. It is more important now then ever to establish a relationship with an IT professional who acts as trusted advisor to your business. Make sure you have this relationship in place before you need it. If you wait until you have a problem to resolve, it is too late!

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