Each business chooses a different path when it comes to information technology (IT).

In the jan/san industry in particular, there is an upward trend for many small distributors to move their IT operations off site to consulting companies.

The majority of smaller distributors who outsource their IT operations are quickly finding more value and less associated costs than hiring their own in-house ITpersonnel.

Distributors commonly rely on three types of outsourcing, says Steve Epner, founder of St. Louis-based Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group and innovator in residence at Saint Louis

University. The three types include outsourcing programming, letting somebody else run your software and having somebody else monitor your network.

Knowing each type and how each works may help your business avoid any hiccups in the day-to-day operation.

Network Monitoring
Most small companies do not have the technical expertise on staff to manage and maintain their computer networks, so outsourcing has become an easy decision.

Nowadays there are organizations all over the world who can tie into a company’s network through the Internet and monitor everything that’s going on.

“They will know when one of your PCs is failing, they will know when a network connection is going down, they will know when you are having trouble getting on to the Internet and they can take corrective actions many times in the middle of the night without you ever even knowing anything happened,” Epner says.

Network monitoring has been proven to be valuable and cost effective. For many distributors it’s a way to ensure they have the maximum “up time” possible.

Sound Janitorial Supply, Tumwater, Wash., contracts a computer support company to maintain its computer system, says Ed Hildreth, co-owner. The company has found it extremely beneficial for experts to watch over its network, Hildreth says.

“They keep us and our computers current on the latest virus protection and hacker system protection,” he says. “They know how to test the system to make sure the data is being backed up correctly, can be retrieved and is secure.”

Recently, Hildreth says the company reaped the benefits of having files backed up off site as some of the company’s important files were accidentally deleted. But with help from the company’s provider, the files were easily recovered within a few minutes.

SaaS And Programming
Businesses are also finding value in using software as a service (SaaS). SaaS is a software application delivery model where a software vendor develops a Web software application and hosts and operates the application for use by its customers over the Internet.

SaaS is typically thought of as a low-cost way for businesses to obtain the same benefits of commercially licensed, internally operated software without the associated complexity and high initial cost.

“With SaaS, somebody else runs the software that you’re using on their computers, which are backed up and in multiple locations,” says Epner. “They have all the security that most people can’t afford and you pay for connection to them and you can access your software and access your information from anywhere in the world as long as you have the proper security.”

With SaaS, there are many levels of security a business can implement. Some businesses are at a point of security where users can only get into the network using a specific machine. The blanket of security reduces the ability that anybody can access data.

“This means you no longer have to invest in the major hardware and equipment that will keep the system running because somebody else is taking care of your backups and all of your security,” says Epner.

Businesses can also look off site for programming needs to identify the best software solution for certain projects such as Web programming and database programming.

“Contract programmers can be local and they can be halfway around the world,” Epner says. “And they’re all different prices, all different kinds of level of capability and require all different kinds of level of management.”

Off site programming has turned out to be for some businesses a very cost effective way to get things done that they couldn’t afford otherwise, says Epner.

Step Outside The Box
With anything in business, there is always risks and disadvantages. But in order to keep things operational, businesses have to step outside of the box and take chances.

“The risk with outsourcing is if you don’t do it well you can be with an organization that fails or falls down on the job when you need them the most,” Epner says. “You have to be careful that you have enough controls so if you want to change from one outsourcing company to another, you can do it without fear that the first one’s going to cause you a problem.”

But overall, for small distribution companies outsourcing makes the most sense, Epner says.

Nichols Web Site Gets An Upgrade
Nichols, a Muskegon, Mich.-based distributor has launched a new Web site, www.enichols.com, that provides visitors easier access to company information and services.

Visitors can obtain the latest product information, video testimonials from customers and helpful podcasts offering information about a wide variety of topics from cleaning tips to best practices, trends and news related to facility management and packaging operations.

San Jamar Launches Interactive Site
San Jamar, Elkhorn, Wis., has redesigned its Web site, www.sanjamar.com, and now features interactive environments, a new portfolio feature, and an enhanced literature and resources center.

The new site enables users to explore the company’s product lines in their

respective environments, while added navigational improvements make it faster and easier to learn about, share and purchase products.

San Jamar has also developed a ”My Portfolio” section on the site which provides customers with an easy way to collect and share product information.

CleanLink Introduces CleanTips Podcasts
CleanLink.com has launched CleanTips: smart podcasts for the commercial cleaning industry, www.cleanlink.com/cleantips.

The page highlights a list of audio and video podcasts that focus on pressing topics experienced by distributors, building service contractors and in-house service providers.

Podcasts are a new and unique way of delivering valuable information to cleaning professionals and provide listeners with quick and compelling information from the convenience of their personal computers or MP3 players.