One thing that small-business owners crave is dull, consistent continuity--especially on their users' desktops. Small businesses rarely push the limits with their software applications, which, for most desktop users, consist of Microsoft Word for creating documents and the occasional label, Microsoft Excel for basic spreadsheets, and a messaging client. As long as the files are accessible by everyone, the owners are happy.

When I work with small businesses, I frequently encounter Windows 95 workstations running Office 97--or worse, Office 95. If I sold these businesses full upgrades in each of these cases, I could retire today. But of course, budgetary constraints, technological limitations, personality, and ethical considerations all come into play.

As an IT specialist, your job is to educate yourself so that you can give proper guidance to your superiors and clients. Knowing what you must update, what you would like to update, and what you really don't need to update is one of the reasons you continue to draw a paycheck. How and whether you implement this knowledge often corresponds directly with your success professionally.

You should upgrade some technology regardless of management's reluctance to pay for it. For example, unless the network is isolated from the Internet and removable media is disabled, firewalls and antivirus applications and their incumbent costs and overhead are necessary evils. Your job is to ensure that this message gets through.

We all want faster machines. Unfortunately, replacing a workstation is no trivial matter, especially for most of the small businesses I work with. Sure, the hardware is cheap enough these days, but the upgrade entails other costs. For example, ensuring software compatibility, transferring applications, configuring network connections, and providing end-user training all add to the bottom line. Perhaps upgrading all the workstations would be more cost effective. If, for example, the Win95 systems are crashing every other day, causing 30 minutes of lost productivity each time, you don't need a rocket scientist to help you connect the dots. However, you must make sure that management is aware of the dots. Again, the task falls to you. Sure, management hears employees complaining about their workstations and software, but they don't have the expertise to determine whether these complaints have substance. You're not only capable of making such determinations, but you're also capa! ble of addressing the problems.

Finally, you must consider the extravagances. Would a flat-panel monitor look nice on every desk? Sure. But would this new equipment translate into higher productivity? Probably not. Your job is to help ensure that your organization spends its financial resources most effectively. When you do your job well, you better your organization's chances of success, and you become a more valued member of the team.