Operations: Computer Strategy
Technology costs money so it pays to think through your needs before investing. Having a plan to bring technology into your business is important. A computer or software program you purchase today may become obsolete tomorrow. Take a few minutes to jot down your business operation needs, as well as your operating equipment, needs to determine the best computer and software plan.
Computers have revolutionized and engulfed our lives. They exist in our homes as well as our businesses. Very few engraving companies of any size can operate their equipment or business without them. For most of us, the personal PC has taken over our engraving activities as well as our operations management. We use them for accounting and bookkeeping, planning, advertising, and design needs. Given the flexibility of computers, we are tempted to purchase them to perform more than one function. In many cases, this makes perfect sense. With a massive hard drive and exceptional operating speeds, we are tempted to use them to run our accounting programs as well as our computerized engraving systems. This, unfortunately, is a disaster in the making. I strongly recommend keeping the manufacturing side of the business isolated from the operations side even in the smallest engraving company.
Having all of your eggs in one basket is dangerous. The PC attached to your engraving system is to some degree, the life's blood of the business. This computer should be well maintained and protected against other uses so that a problem like software viruses cannot be transmitted to it. It should also be dedicated to the purpose of engraving and have all of the engraving or sign making operating software present. Having a second PC in the business for running your daily inventory management and accounting software is a good idea. This PC could act as a back-up to your engraving equipment PC should the need ever arise.
Although I would avoid using an old PC to run my operations or equipment, some bargains exist. If you purchased your engraving equipment used or have taken over the operation of an existing shop, you probably inherited some old PC's. If you plan to continue with the existing configuration then you will probably be able to get by for a while. When you do plan to upgrade your system, retire the old PC to another operation and purchase new. Use it for a dedicated purpose that you consider "non-critical" to your business. If it's fast enough and has reasonable graphics capability use it to access the Internet or as a backup design station. Put your best equipment together to maximize your performance and optimize your operation.
ENGRAVING SYSTEM PC'S
The PC is the first building block of an open architecture system. I recommend getting the most powerful system you can afford. Many engraver operators will have an existing PC and will be tempted to use it when they purchase their new computerized engraving system. You may be fortunate and have a computer that is not only compatible but also whose performance is recommended by the engraving system manufacturer. If you do not, let the sales agent or equipment manufacturer recommend the appropriate PC hardware.
Let's assume you have the luxury of purchasing your PC at the time you purchase the engraving system. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before committing to buy.
- What kind of system will give me the best performance per dollar spent?
- What will I need in 12 months as my business grows?
- How much can I afford today?
When compared to the cost of a new computerized engraving system, the PC represents about 10% of the purchase price. It pays to get the best you can afford at the time. If you plan to lease the equipment purchase, the PC will only change your monthly payment by a few dollars.
A complete “turn-key" system as provided from most equipment manufacturers will include:
- Computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse etc.
- Engraving system
- Design or operating software
Keep in mind that the PC required to operate your engraving system does not need the extra bells and whistles that your home entertainment PC requires. Make sure the system does not have any unnecessary peripherals. These may conflict with other devices you will add later such as a scanner.
Most of us will run a separate PC for day-to-day business operations. This computer will have our accounting and bookkeeping software in it. This PC does not need to be as current as our engraving system PC and may not have all of the same performance features.
Once you have chosen a PC:
- Get Training. Take the time to get complete training on your system. This isn't going to come from the sales clerk at “PC’s Are Us” store. A few minutes of training will not make you proficient and you will be frustrated. Take the time to learn. Read the manuals, buy the videos, go through the on-screen tutorials, etc.
- Make Back-ups. Back up your jobs and files daily or at a minimum weekly. Failure to follow some disciplined approach will be costly. If you don't back up your work, you will learn the hard way.
- Set Procedures. Create procedures for backing up the system, the storage of files etc. Make sure everyone knows the rules. You will not like hunting for critical files, backup copies, disks, etc when you are under the gun.
- Train your employees. Make sure everyone is up to speed on the system. It's not going to be a productive tool if everyone cannot use it.
- Protect against viruses. Purchase virus protection software and use it. Here's a good place for that old Pc. You may want to use the old system as a bit of protection by setting it up to include protection software. Run the files here first.
- If you use the engraving system PC to search the Internet, be very careful. Viruses can be imported through the Internet and it's foolish to use the system that brings home the bacon to play on. Set up another system for this purpose if you are unsure of your virus protection.
One last word of advice ... Do not use your business computers for playing video games. I know of an engraving shop where the children would come home from school and play games on the business Pc. It wasn't long before several programs were lost and the whole works had to be re-loaded and configured. The shop was down for several days and the shop owner had to bear the expense of purchasing a program where the back-up disk copies were missing. This could easily have been avoided.