After property, salaries and insurance, IT will be the biggest investment for most practices (and if you are a sole practitioner working at home, it is probably top of the list).
So for everyone, and in particular for small practices, making the right decisions is vital. While you should, of course, try to keep up with the latest developments in hardware and software, the most important considerations are that you make the best of what you already have, and that you buy software and hardware that are suitable for you.
This is where the latest book in RIBA Publications'Small Practices series comes in. Called A Guide to Managing IT, it is written by Richard Watson, an architect and a lecturer in digital architecture at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and Stephen Lockley, an architect and professor of architectural infomatics at the same university.
They talk a lot of sense, dealing much more with strategy and management than with specific items of hardware and software - although they are not afraid to mention how much things cost, and even flag up these points with a '£'sign in the margin.
The beginning of the book could be off-putting for some, with its discussion of why you need IT - this will be old news for all but the smallest and sleepiest of practices.But it rapidly moves on to explaining why now is an excellent time to make decisions - the cost of equipment has stabilised and capacity is not growing as fast as in the past.And there are excellent lists to assist the decision-making process. For example, the 'rough guide to networking'poses a set of questions to help you decide whether you need a network and, if you do, whether you need a dial-up network connection, a peer-to-peer network or a client-server network. And just to prove that nothing is ever simple, it ends with the line: 'You may find that you need all of the types of network described above.'
The book goes through the whole office environment - not just design but also libraries and archiving;
communication ranging from letters to project websites and meetings;
marketing and promotion; and financial management.
Working through this book, which is less than 100 pages, should be helpful for almost all practices.And at only £12, it could prevent you spending, or misspending, several hundred times that sum.