What Are the Benefits?
A consistent, secure, reliable network foundation can provide your small business with many benefits, including:
- Anytime, anywhere information access. Employees can securely access company databases from home or on the road, turning what might be "dead" time into productive time.
- Flexibility. A solid network foundation allows growing companies to be flexible in their future plans. It can be scaled up as a business grows and new employees are added.
- Faster information exchange. A single network foundation provides the opportunity to easily and securely exchange information among employees, partners and clients. Enhanced collaboration can lead to faster decision making, better customer service--and ultimately, improved profits.
- The ability to add newer, emerging technologies. A secure network foundation provides the platform your business needs to add voice over internet protocall (VoIP), video teleconferencing from your PC, webcasting, and other productivity-enhancing and cost-saving technologies. Your business applications can evolve from simple printer sharing to complex business-to-business data exchanges and supply-chain management using the same network infrastructure.
- Enhanced security. Without a common network foundation, a business may have multiple internet connections and various types of hardware devices--an environment that's extremely difficult to secure. In contrast, a single network foundation is streamlined and consistent, making it much easier to secure.
- The ability to maintain data in a single location. By making your databases and information resources available from one place, users throughout the company--including sales as well as accounting--have access to the same data. That helps employees provide better customer service and make more informed decisions.
What Does a Network Foundation Require?
Establishing a solid network foundation isn't necessarily inexpensive. And many small businesses are used to spending as little as possible on technology.
But as I explained in last month's column ("Creating a Technology Roadmap"), it's important for small businesses to make sure the technology they invest in today can support their needs tomorrow. Map your short- and long-term business goals to the network-enabled technologies that can help your business realize those goals. If you weigh the many competitive and financial advantages of a secure network foundation against the costs over time, you'll quickly see the return on investment.
The good news is that building a strong network foundation is getting much easier. Just a few years ago, the kind of comprehensive network foundation I described earlier would have been cost-prohibitive for small businesses. But in recent years, hardware and software prices have declined dramatically, and the small business sector has grown in size and clout. The result: Many technology vendors are now offering affordable products and services--as well as attractive leasing options--especially tailored for small business.
Financial resources are only part of the story, of course. Many small businesses lack the human resources to deploy and maintain a solid network infrastructure. Again, thanks to the growing clout of small business, many network vendors have partners and resellers that specialize in helping small businesses set up a comprehensive network foundation.
In summary, a hodgepodge of network technologies might help you in the short term. But for the long haul, your business--like anything built to last--needs a solid foundation.
Peter Alexander is vice president of worldwide commercial marketing at Cisco Systems Inc., the leading supplier of networking equipment and network management for the internet.