Behind every good work site is good technology. From home offices to hotel rooms, technology is the wind beneath your business wings, the premium gasoline in your work tank, the foundation of your building--you get the idea. Slews of laptops, wireless solutions, remote software and cell phones await your use. But with so many options, how do you choose which technologies will work best to keep your business running smoothly, even if your workers and offices are separated by many miles?
Often, you're advised to go talk to your peers with growing businesses who are dealing with similar issues. That's a great idea, so we talked to some for you. Ephraim Cohen, 34, is co-owner and partner of The Fortex Group, a communications firm in New York City. His company has a strong focus on business in Southeast Asia, and the list of locations his employees work from sounds like something out of National Geographic. There is a full-time employee in India, a virtual office in Singapore, three people working part time out of home offices on the West Coast, and several New York City office workers who frequently work out of their homes. Cohen himself falls into this last category.
Fortunately, Cohen saw it coming when he co-founded The Fortex Group in 2003 and was able to plan the technology to handle the great distances between workers. "It's better to get good talent than to worry about them sitting next to you," he says. "There are a lot of great technology tools to make it easy to work as a team anywhere in the world." A computer buff at home, Cohen was a natural choice to choose and set up the technology for The Fortex Group.
It sounds basic, but the first step is to figure out what you need to do with your extended work force. Cohen figured that his business had two main requirements: Employees needed to talk with each other on a minute-by-minute basis, and they needed to have access to files away from the main office. Most growing businesses with multiple work sites will have those two needs right at the top of their lists. To add a challenge, these needs have to be met at a price point that won't strain the budget.
Here's how The Fortex Group handles it. There are no deep secrets or complex technology installations behind their solution. Basically, it's about e-mail, telephones and IM. For e-mail, they went with an outsourced solution from BlueTie. They compared some less expensive options, but went for the extra features and high-end security that BlueTie offers. "We don't ever want to have a problem with e-mail getting out because of low security," Cohen says. Outsourcing e-mail also makes it easy to set up new accounts through the web when needed.
The Fortex Group is taking advantage of some of the new telephone technologies to keep international calling bills down. They use Skype, a low-cost internet telephony service that allows calls from computers to phones. "The cost of talking with our person in India is nothing," says Cohen. He says the quality is up to par with traditional phones, and his company has knocked hundreds of dollars off its monthly communications bill. This is an example of adapting a consumer-oriented service for business use with money-saving results. Such a solution may not be right for every globe-spanning business, but it's worth a look.
Keeping in touch by phone is a no-brainer, but for The Fortex Group, IM is just as valuable. "It solves the big problem: When someone is not in the office, how do you feel like they're next to you?" Cohen says. The entire business is on MSN Instant Messenger. Sometimes Cohen uses the program Trillian to communicate with clients over different IM platforms like AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo!
The other pressing need was to have access to files while outside the main office. The Fortex Group decided to go with an in-house server. The company looked at a $2,000 server with a lot of bells and whistles, but ultimately went for the cost savings of a Mirra server that came in at about $300. That solved the issue of sharing, but, even better, it also solved the issue of backing up files. Free, secure web access and file sharing over the internet are part of the Mirra package.