Ask SmallBiz: Tech Savvy

December, 2008

BY JIM TAKATSUKA – MICROSOFT HAWAII OPERATIONS

In a marketplace inundated with products and services marketed to business owners, it can be challenging for the average entrepreneur to determine what technologies would best help his or her company to succeed.  What follows are some key questions to consider that will help you make smart technology investments for your growing business:

Will your employees primarily be mobile or stationary?
Laptop computers are the best option for sales forces or managers who frequently travel. They’re also a great choice for employees who split working time between home and the office. However, consider equipping administrative staff or receptionists with desktop computers that are less expensive and have larger screens and keyboards.

How will your company access the Internet?
By and large, most small businesses benefit from a wireless Internet system. It’s an affordable means of connecting to the Web and enables employees to have access to e-mail, calendars and other online resources from any location within your office.  A wired connection doesn’t support this flexibility and also requires you to run Ethernet cables through your office walls.

How will you keep your digital data secure?
Invest in a firewall router to prevent outside access to your network. Hard-ware-based firewalls actually provide greater protection than desktop firewalls because they restrict access to computer ports.

Also, if your staff will need remote access to the company network, consider installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN is best suited for a company with 10 or more employees that stores sensitive data online. Finally, invest in antivirus software and be sure to choose an operating system that offers encryption.

Do you need a server?
A server-based network is a good choice for businesses that are dependent on easy access to large amounts of data and information. Servers provide employees with centralized access to documents, calendars, e-mail messages and team workspaces. Some servers even provide the option to “check out” documents and prevent the hassle of simultaneous editing and multiple document versions.

Where will you back up your data?
Data backup might feel like a tedious household chore, but it’s something you’ll never regret doing if disaster, whether natural or technical, strikes your business. The loss of data can lead to operational slowdowns, loss of client or customer confidence and even bankruptcy.

You can either back up data and software on hard drives or USB drives that are stored in off-site locations, or subscribe to an online storage site. Some businesses choose a combined approach, storing mission-critical applications online, and less essential data at off-site locations.

How will your employees print documents?
If your business has multiple employees and one or more printers, it will benefit from a print server, which will allow workers to print from one or more printers in the office. Access to all office printers is a convenient feature in the event that a printer is temporarily out of service. A print server also allows for the restriction of printer access, disabling features like color printing for businesses that want to cut unnecessary expenses like color printer ink.

Which software license works best for your business?
Many licensing solutions, such as “volume” licensing agreements, exist to keep software costs reasonable for small businesses. Choose a local software partner who can help you select the best licensing agreement for your business, as well as help you understand and follow its terms and conditions.

Investing in technology for your business need not be a monumental task. By considering the simple questions above, small-business owners can prioritize their technology needs and design cost-effective IT infrastructures tailored for business success.

 

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Author:

Jim Takatsuka