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posted: 9/19/2011 5:00 AM

Small businesses are spending on technology

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While the recovery wobbles on, business owners continue to watch expenses almost like never before -- with, apparently, one exception: Smaller and mid-size businesses are spending IT dollars, say two information technology advisers who should know.

In fact, says Dave Davenport, the recovery in IT budgets began last year and has continued in 2011. But we're not so likely to be buying $2,000 PCs or $15,000 servers. Instead, Davenport says, we're "redistributing" our IT dollars.

The availability of tablets and smart phones, both generally more efficient and less costly than older technology, and the development of cloud computing options are changing the way businesses approach their IT needs.

We're not even buying laptops for our businesses as often, and we're more often turning to cable rather than additional T1 lines when we need to expand our broadband capabilities.

"Our clients are still investing in IT," says Davenport, CEO of Mother Network Guardians, Itasca. "But they're looking to get greater value, and they're looking at solutions that weren't on the table two and three years ago."

"People are becoming more tech savvy," agrees Jason Burton, president of Chicago Technology Consulting, based in the Loop but with a number of suburban clients.

"You can't get rid of the computer yet, but it's easier to access data from iPads, (other) tablets and cellular units." With as much as 10 hours of battery life, an iPad "can do 90 percent" of what a PC can do, Burton points out.

Tablets can't yet do everything, however. "Tablets don't handle complex situations well, and it's awkward if you have to type more than a page or two," Burton says.

Still, many executives increasingly "leave the laptop at the office and take the tablet instead," Davenport says. "They're fast, and they boot immediately."

Unless you're into it, cloud computing is a bit of a fuzzy concept. At its simplest, cloud computing means your data are stored not on your own PC or laptop, or server, but on remote servers maintained by specialized providers -- in the clouds, so to speak. Google's Gmail is a cloud service.

The cloud can reduce capital expenditures. Davenport says, for example, that it's not necessary to spend serious dollars on a new server if you choose a smaller (although continuing) monthly fee for cloud server service.

Not every business is ready to embrace new IT devices. That's one reason Burton has "noticed an effort to push old hardware a little harder, to see, a client will say, 'If you can make the machine a little faster so we can get another year from it.'"

That's doable, but Burton notes that extending a computer's life often results in "more niggling repairs." It's often cheaper, he says, to buy a new machine.

• Contact Jim Kendall at