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.
Happy New Year to all our faithful clients, friends and partners. We’re starting a new series here on the Invizio blog called ‘Technology Round Up’ to recap last week’s happenings in technology that made us pause and take note. Think of this your opportunity to peer into our minds as we share our thoughts on some of the latest industry developments. Without further ado, welcome to our first installment of Tech Round Up.
As an avid Google Voice user and someone who still hasn’t quite figured out how to stop all my clients from calling my cellphone, this is a big deal. For $20 Google will allow users to port their existing cellphone number to their service and have it live on in the cloud. The only caveat is you’ll need to keep some form of phone service to make it work.
// via Mashable
This one was forwarded to me by a friend and simply underscores the case for backing up your data. You may not be working on anything as earth shattering as the cure for cancer, but having a frequent data backup whether onsite or offsite could certainly change your life (and that of others).
// via News 9 (Oklahoma)
In an obvious move to extend the relevance of Microsoft Office into the Mac market, Microsoft released Microsoft Office OneNote for iPhone this past week. It’s not as fully featured as the desktop or web app versions, but for a limited time they’re offering it up for free giving users the ability to create and organize notes. As competition heats up in the office suite space, I expect that Microsoft may introduce other Office apps for iPhone or at least provide mobile ready web apps when it launches Office 365 later this year. Check out the Microsoft OneNote iPhone app here.
// via PC World Business Center
If you’re wireless provider is Sprint you may want to make a mental note that Sprint will be raising the price of their 3G data plan by $10. Right now this only applies if you upgrade or activate another smartphone but eventually the price you pay for data is going up. See more details here.
AT&T is also making some changes that may affect your monthly bill. Among other things, they’re changing the text messaging plans they’re offering and raising the fee activating a line on a family plan from $10 to $36. Get all of the changes here.