In the small business landscape, innovation is everywhere. Nowhere is this more true than technology, with new products and services released every day that dramatically change how a business is run. Investing in the right systems early on is vital to facilitate future growth and ensure processes remain agile as a business grows. The challenge for small businesses lies in knowing where to begin in order to take advantage of this rapidly evolving landscape.
To help navigate this tricky environment, Ash Patel, Director of Business Transformation at Cobweb Solutions, gives a step-by-step guide on the key technology priorities for small business owners.
1. Embrace flexible, mobile working
Empowering employees to work from anywhere and being flexible when it comes to working hours can be transformative. A business which is able to accommodate remote working stands to benefit from lower office overheads, improved customer relationships and a more empowered, motivated and loyal workforce.
So what IT considerations must small business owners bear in mind to facilitate flexible working?
The key is to ensure teams are equipped with the right tools. That means providing employees with a laptop at the very least, a mobile device and perhaps even a tablet.
Small business seeking to keep costs to a minimum should consider implementing a BYOD policy, whereby employees can work off their own device. However, it is essential to factor in implications regarding compatibility or information security further down the line, and of course, make sure you have reliable IT support too!
To enable flexible employees must have also have access to the information they need at all times, even whilst working remotely. This applies to all business processes and communications, from emails to invoicing, sales data to telephony. Consider using cloud-based productivity tools for email, calendar and file-sharing, such as Office 365.
2. Make provisions for data security
The majority of small businesses do not have an adequate data security plan in place. However, strong data security can be an enabler for a thriving business, protecting businesses assets, confidential employee information, customer data and a business’s reputation. Thankfully, there are some simple measures small business owners can take to reduce this risk.
In the first instance, small business owners should consult a data security specialist to identify security needs. Ensure your wireless network has a password. Install anti-virus solutions on all systems, and keep software and web browsers up to date.
Exercise some control over access to sensitive data, and restrict the use of removable media, such as USBs, where possible. Use secure apps or virtulisation technologies to ensure that sensitive data is encrypted and can only be accessed by authorised users.
3. Consider using a data storage provider for scalability
For a small business seeking to grow, public cloud options should be considered as a viable means of storing data. Storing information under a robust cloud provider agreement not only limits the chance of a data security breach, it also provides data backup in the event of an IT disaster, increases flexibility and provides scalability for a business’s storage solutions. Furthermore, in terms of cost, cloud storage options are increasingly affordable to small businesses as an alternative to expensive, conventional on-premise storage systems.
4. Take advantage of cloud services
Investing in cloud services is having a liberating effect on small businesses, in terms of facilitating flexibility and business growth. In the past, IT systems were physical - based mostly in fixed office locations and focused on servers and desktop PCs. With cloud services, small businesses no longer need to deploy physical infrastructure, such as file and e-mail servers and storage systems.
As the requirements of modern business become increasingly diverse, the need to have 24/7 access to business data is greater. The ‘always on’ availability of cloud services, such as Microsoft Lync, facilitates hassle-free collaboration and communication within the small business.
Similarly using cloud services enables small enterprises to manage their day-to-day business processes, from customer accounts to payroll systems, and offer enterprise solutions at a fixed and low monthly cost. This helps to maximise IT budgets and helps to control staffing costs. Win win!