In a modest departure from the type of posts I usually pen, I’ve decided to write this time not about tips, tricks or how-to’s but rather reflect on what this past year has revealed about how IT is changing, growing, developing in the small business space.
I think it’s safe to say that there is a definite, almost visible line that separates consumer from business technology. This is especially true for larger companies that tend to need more robust solutions for their technology problems. I can’t say the same is true for small business though; while PC makers have differentiated between consumer, small business and enterprise in their product lines for years, I’ve found that this year, more and more, we’ve considered consumer software, services and “gadget” solutions for our small business clients. No longer is it the case that software and services that are specifically tailored to consumers is “no good” for business use. For a small company with less than 20 employee’s there’s no reason not to consider LogMeIn as a REAL remote access solution versus a more complicated VPN and maybe Remote Desktop setup. The importance of having access to your files everywhere, means that we’ve walked into environments where there is no server but Dropbox is installed on each employee’s laptop. Is Dropbox specifically a business solution for sharing files? Not at all, (although now they do have a business plan, they call it Dropbox for Teams) but provided that the information being shared isn’t “three-letter-agency TOP SECRET” why shouldn’t a small business use it if it makes sense for them?
We’ve also had a few clients specifically ask us about iPad‘s; they wanted to know how and iPad could fit into their “technology lifestyle” (my quotes, not theirs). Some other client’s were a bit more proactive, and would come to us after the fact and say “Hey, I got myself an iPad and I have an app that let’s me access my desktop at the office and an app that let’s me review client files…” The great thing about small business IT is that it doesn’t have to go through tons of red tape before it’s adopted by users, and depending on what you need, an iPad my be the perfect device for you to get work done while you’re away from the office. I think for most users (especially in a Windows environment with specific Windows only applications) a laptop is still probably the best portable device, but I don’t see that being the case for much longer.
Enterprise IT has been struggling in the past few years as employee’s have been ditching their Blackberry’s for iPhone’s and Android based handsets. The IT organization has had to find solutions other than BES to manage mobile device security. Small Business IT hasn’t really had these issues around mobile device management and security. What we have come across this year is a lot of: “Hey I got a new [insert name of device here] how to I get my mail and contacts on it?” and then we have to figure out how seamless the integration is going to be between their new device and their e-mail server or provider. The truth is that consumers have quite a few options for getting e-mail, contacts and calendar synced across their multiple devices with offerings from Google, Microsoft and Apple. The fact that both Google and Microsoft have solutions specifically tailored to small business means that these services that consumers have enjoyed over the past few years have moved up to the small business space in terms of features but remained decidedly prosumer in terms of pricing and we’ve found ourselves implementing either solution where the case was right.
This portion of this blog post is brought to you by the buzzwords “virtual” and “cloud”, words which we couldn’t seem to get away from this year. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that 95% of the clients or potential clients we got in front of this year specifically asked us about “going virtual” or “using the cloud”. After hours of evaluating different scenarios, solutions, use cases etc. we’ve come to two fairly simple conclusions:
1. Virtual Desktop technology is not yet priced right for small businesses. Unless your business is currently managing close to 100 desktops, you’re unlikely to save any money by rolling out VDI. The caveat however is that if you have very basic software needs, and a distributed workforce of less than 10 users a Microsoft based Remote Desktop Solution may fit your small business perfectly.
2. Hosted E-mail and Collaboration is the only cost effective way to handle e-mail in a small business environment. As I’ve mentioned before we’ve deployed both Google Apps solutions and Microsoft BPOS and now Office 365 solutions for some of our clients. Most of these clients were previously on basic POP/IMAP e-mail service from their web host so moving to a collaboration platform like Google Apps or Office 365 completely changed the way their business functioned with the ability to share calendars and communicate using IM. It’s clear though that small businesses that are currently managing e-mail using an on-premise server stand to gain a lot from moving to hosted solution, especially where the path is on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server to Office 365. For businesses not as tied to Microsoft products (Windows, Office etc.) Google Apps continues to be an excellent option.
As always every case is different but over the past year we’ve found these general observations to hold true.
It’s heartening to look forward to next year and wonder what new and exciting technologies we’ll come across that will benefit our clients. Undoubtedly prices will continue to fall, and new small business technologies will mean that you won’t need a 20K IT budget to get robust IT solutions for your small business.
Invizio co-founders Kevin V. Michael and Kyle Hurst ruminate on their predictions and expectations for what 2012 has in store for business and consumer technology. In this episode, tablets and smartphones, mobile broadband internet, cloud connected cars and a host of technology wants and needs are all fair game.
In this second installment of our discussion of cloud computing, Invizio co-founder Kyle Hurst explains the difference and weighs the pros/cons of private and public clouds. Let us know what you think. Don’t forget to send your questions into ask [at] invizio [dot] com
The year is quickly coming to an end, and 2011 is officially considered old news. While you gear up for the holidays by purchasing presents for friends and family members, stocking your refrigerator with lots to eat and making plans to run the town on New Year’s Eve, don’t forget that the technology in your business could benefit from a little TLC. Here are my 5 technology upgrade suggestions that will bring your business up to speed for 2012.
This year we saw the rise (Apple iPad and Android) and in some cases the attempted rise (Blackberry Playbook, HP TouchPad) of tablet devices into the technology stratosphere. Apple’s iPad commands the market, Android tablets have really begun to shine, and expect a splash from Microsoft Windows 8 tablets next year. Tablets will most likely grow into the most ubiquitous mobile device in coming years and you should start finding ways to incorporate them into your business before you get left behind.
If making a phone call is the only thing your mobile phone does reliably, it’s time to consider a step up. If used appropriately, smartphones will give you a boost as you squeeze e-mails, note taking, calendaring and even that de-stressing game of Angry Birds in while on the go. Picking a smartphone is a lot like picking a significant other, ideally you should be attracted to them (i.e. the look and feel), you should love them for who they are (i.e the platform) and they should get along (i.e. integrate) with other things in your life. Luckily you’ll have tons of options to choose from. Between Apple’s iPhone, Blackberry and the plethora of Windows Phone 7 and Android phones you should have no problem finding a phone that you’ll enjoy spending time with.
3) Cloud Platform
If you find yourself stuck running an in-house email server or you feel jealous when you see friends accessing their data while on the go, you need to get with the times. Online collaboration platforms like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps make it easier than ever for you to get reliable (and innovative) hosted email and collaborative applications so your team can be more agile. While, the cloud is still not the best place for everything, e-mail and shared files are no-brainers.
4) Videoconferencing & Online Meetings
Face time is a very important thing in business, but with a hobbling economy, time and money are extremely precious. Instead of taking that trip across town or to the airport, let your hair down and fire up a video chat application like Skype or Google Chat. Applications like GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx and Microsoft Lync also allow you to combine videoconferencing and screen sharing to provide a total meeting experience. It might feel a little goofy at first, but after a couple times you’ll wonder how you lived without it. Now just think of all the gas, tolls, parking and airline tickets you’ll skip the bill on.
5) Desktop & Laptop Upgrades
Microsoft Windows XP officially turned 10 years this past August. For you, that means you are either 1) using a technology that is over a decade old or 2) your computer is probably getting up there too. It’s time to start thinking about some replacements. A slow computer really kills your productivity and I would even venture to say your morale. If you’re in the Windows side of the world, Windows 7 is the best thing Microsoft has done in a long time, and Windows 8 expected out next year kicks butt and I mean it. Mac users on the other hand, usually need no prompting when it comes to upgrades. You guys get the point.
This post was originally published by Kevin V. Michael on the ICABA website.