Congratulations, you've opened your new business! As your hands run over the new furniture and you wrap up a few things with your lawyer and accountant, you're probably starting to wonder what kind of computing infrastructure you should consider for your business.
Many businesses have very similar needs, which I'll outline below. Depending on the specific needs of your business, there will be some particular technologies you'll need that other businesses have no need for. Here are six things your business must have in the beginning in order to be successful.
Local Technology Consultant
One of the most important investments you can make is to ensure you have one or two local technology consultants who you trust, who know about your business, and who can guide you in your technology growth.
You have an accountant (for obvious reasons) and a lawyer (for even more obvious reasons)--having a local technology consultant or solution provider is no different. Get references, see what past work they've done and, like an employee, give the relationship time to mature to be sure they're working in your best interest.
A good place to find small-business solution providers is at Microsoft's Small Business Specialist Program (www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness).
High-Speed Internet Access
Every business, no matter how big or small, needs high-speed access to the internet. Having traditional dial-up access is simply too slow and too limiting for a business. High-speed internet will enable you to take advantage of online backup, VoIP and other technologies you wouldn't be able to do at all or as efficiently with a dial-up connection.
For those businesses who are only online or do a significant amount of business online, your internet service is the life blood of your business. You must ensure that the vendor providing the service offers very reliable service and support.
Of course, you must have computers for each employee. These computers shouldn't be slow, rinky-dink, bottom-of-the-barrel relics from the early '90s, but should be relatively new, high-speed tools. Each computer should have plenty of memory (512MB or more), hard-disk space (80GB or more), a fast processor (2-3GHZ) and a quality screen for minimum eyestrain.
Your computers must be set up in a network with a file server and shared internet access.
Those who are dealing with large files such as graphic artists, design shops or others must have very powerful computers to be able to quickly manage and store the files. The memory you use backing up 100-word files that a very small law firm might deal with is much smaller than backing up 100 hi-resolution photos.
It's absolutely imperative that your businesses data is secure and backed up. Your local network and each of your computers should have a firewall (a hardware firewall for your network and at least a software-based firewall for each computer) and anti-virus software (many come bundled with features to detect phishing and other online threats as well). In addition, ensure your computers and network are configured by a local security consultant (your general knowledge solution provider might not have sufficient expertise to properly harden your computers and network from online attackers).
If you have a wireless network make sure it's secured as well. The second phase of your security plan is to ensure all of your data is backed up and that you have a recovery plan in place. If you came to work and found nothing but a hole in the ground, what would you do? What plan would you have in place to recover your data onto other computer systems? That's how you have to think.
If your business retains personal information of your customers, especially financial information, social security information, etc, it's even more important that a professional security consultant work with you to ensure your information is secure. Your network must be secure, but also your online applications. Hackers can go to your website and use "back door" holes in the online software to access your database if the online application or database isn't properly configured.
Every business must have a website. If you want to start out with a very simple site that's more like a digital brochure, that's fine for now. But consider having a website filled with relevant information for your customers, partners and employees.
As your business grows you'll find that filling your website with as much customer-facing information as possible will a) reduce the amount of inbound e-mail and phone calls to your business, and b) customers can serve themselves from your website and be happier.
One of my personal pet peeves is seeing a growing business with an AOL, Yahoo! or Hotmail e-mail address. I think it's unprofessional, and since it's very easy to have an e-mail address with one's business name, there's no excuse. Your web host can set up e-mail accounts for you as part of your web-hosting service. Or, as always, you can work with your local technology consultant.
If you're in a regulated industry it's vital that you have systems in place to archive your e-mail to ensure it complies with government regulations for your industry.