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The need for mobility of data and the modern small business

  1. Cloud computing

    ffox UKBF Regular Free Member

    Posts: 568 Likes: 92
    2 |

    People who start a business usually have a unique selling proposition. It doesn’t matter if the business is hairdressing, building fences, fixing leaks, buying and selling on Amazon or running a chain of supermarkets, what is on sale is that which makes the business better than the competition.

    In short, what’s on sale is personal, or team, expertise and knowledge.

    Very few individuals have all of the knowledge necessary in their head. Even the most experienced expert needs to look things up. And, as the business ramps up, the look-ups become more and more frequent.

    This is where electronically stored data comes in. Most businesses have a mountain of data that they rarely use. Customer details, supplier details, old invoices, receipts, emails and texts, not to mention prices, costs, customer feedback and so much more.

    Can you access your data anywhere and from any device?

    The most important thing about any data you store for your business is that it must be available when you need it.

    With a software application installed on a computer you can only access the data it holds if you either sit at that computer or access it remotely.

    Data sharing among employees

    The way you structure IT has a deep impact on how you develop as a business. The standard practise of starting with one computer and adding applications to solve particular problems is upside down.

    In many businesses, this means that different applications are often stored on different computers. By installing software application after software application you will 'silo' critical data to those the machines where the software is installed.

    Wasted time and wasted effort

    All too often business people find themselves away from the office or the PC and in need of data that could close a sale, influence a quotation or impress a customer. When that data is locked away inside a software application on a computer back at the office the best that can be done is phone up and ask for someone to look it up. Phone calls take time and a visit to the office takes longer. In the delay, the moment is lost and possibly an immediate sale or a future sale is lost.

    Similarly, when a chat at the local football match, or parents meeting, or the local pub gives rise to a new lead, immediate action should be taken. Putting a reminder in the mobile phone or writing a note for later entry onto a computer means double entry of data and, if you forget, lost business.

    Critical data needs to be shared and made available to everyone in the organisation who needs it. If it’s a one-man business, the same rule applies, it becomes a matter of data being available when and where it is needed.

    Security risks from running multiple applications

    That doesn't mean a business should open their sales accounts to every sales person employed, but it does mean extracting selected customer data from sales accounts and sharing that.

    Once data management is identified as a requirement, data can be distributed to all who need it via any laptop, tablet, smartphone or other mobile devices.

    Increasing flexibility by employing the cloud

    Fortunately, the cost of flexibility is not high. The means to store and access data is already provided by both Microsoft, with a free OneDrive Live account, and Google with a free Google Apps account.

    Both of these platforms deliver the means to send and receive email, create letters and spreadsheets, store the data and lots more. The data is stored securely in the cloud and can be accessed by desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets and smartphones.

    Once the business grows to a level where the free services are no longer adequate the accounts can be upgraded to Office 365 from Microsoft or G Suite from Google. Both of these are paid subscription based, but deliver more functionality than the free services.

  2. ben_demotic

    ben_demotic UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    Posts: 2 Likes: 1
    The cloud is a fantastic tool for small businesses as it has allowed them to access to enterprise-level applications for a fraction of what they used to cost in the old IT world - professional email being a great example - it's much more realistic to pay £100 per user per year for Office 365 Business which includes Exchange/Outlook email than the (potentially) thousands of pounds in upfront cost and maintenance for an on-premises Exchange server.

    However I do think that small businesses need to consider the following before placing their business data into consumer-level cloud offerings such as Outlook.com & OneDrive or Gmail & Google Drive:

    - these services do not offer a guarantee of uptime, ie. availability.
    - these services could theoretically (although unlikely, granted) just shut down - there are no contractual commitments to customers.
    - these services do not offer a guarantee of where in the world the data is stored and whether it is stored securely with the UK data protection act (DPA) and EU data privacy laws in mind.
    - in their standard configuration these services do not allow the business to "brand" their email addresses.

    In my businesses I use a mix of G-Suite and Office 365. Where I am storing personal data I use Office 365 because Microsoft guarantee that my data will be stored in the EU (Ireland).

    These concerns are not applicable to all businesses, but if you are storing data which must be protected under the DPA then please consider where you are placing that data in the cloud.
    Posted: Feb 22, 2017 By: ben_demotic Member since: Nov 17, 2016
  3. ffox

    ffox UKBF Regular Free Member

    Posts: 568 Likes: 92
    Excellent points Ben. I would also make the case that even when using 'paid for' services such as O365 a G-Suite it is still best practice to maintain a local backup of all critical data.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.
    Posted: Feb 23, 2017 By: ffox Member since: Mar 11, 2004