For a growing business one location is typically not enough. As the business grows you may prefer to set up multiple offices to attract different regions of customers and to make doing business with you more convenient to your clients. Growth can create logistics complexities you never planned on.
With separate offices how can your business install a network so all the locations can work, communicate, and share information easily, instantaneously, and effectively? How can you standardize and simplify the success you had at your first location?
The technologies that allow this are rapidly changing. Even a few years ago, most consulting companies would recommend you install legacy infrastructure (servers, databases, etc.), capital expenditures that required large time and money investments. But new advancements in communication technology—including improvements to private networks, remote desktops, and the cloud—allow instantaneous information and file sharing with an extremely cheap price tag.
Here are some ways to make setting up your business's new IT network smart, safe, and cost-efficient even if you don't have your own in-house super nerd.
1. Choose your Voice Communications
At your primary location you may have gone out and purchased a phone system that carried with it a large capital expense and regular ongoing maintenance costs. With cloud technologies of today that is no longer necessary. Cloud based communications allows you to deploy voice communications at multiple locations with a standardized phone all on the same platform with 3 digit dialing between locations, 24/7 support, web access, chat, centralized voicemail, video calling, efax and more. You get all of this without any equipment needed in a phone closet, no on-site technicians and for roughly the same cost as you used to pay for your monthly phone service. Best part is its a single bill and an all in one solution (monthly rate includes: phones, phone service, long distance everything).
2. Choose your Data Connectivity
Connectivity is the single most important investment in deploying multiple offices. Your data network will likely carry your voice traffic (phone calls), your server traffic (point of sale, databases, ERP etc) and be used by nearly all your employees. Many companies are tempted to scrimp here but I recommend that you invest in a solid fiber based network with ample bandwidth to handle your needs. This can be your biggest head ache or your solid trusted backbone. You get what you pay for so don't be fooled by super low pricing and "up to" fluctuating bandwidth type solutions. Wireless ISPs are infamous for misleading advertising. You want a dedicated bandwidth solution where available.
Depending on your data needs and how many locations you intend to connect, there are a couple different ways to connect your offices onto a single network. First of all recognize that their are two different networks that are used but often confused due to marketing and hype. #1 Internet - This is a public network that allows connectivity to any public site. It is sometimes encrypted using a firewall to create a VPN virtually private network but most times it is used for browsing traffic, access to web portals etc. #2 WAN Wide Area Network - This is a private network that only your company traffic is allowed on and only servers, applications etc on your private network are accessible. Most companies employ a combination of the two. I recommend a private network to connect your offices to servers for point of sale, ERP, etc and then a separate internet connection for browsing traffic, access to vendor sites, etc. Understand that you can use the public internet to connect your private servers however that makes them more accessible to hackers. Depending on the sensitivity of your data and a few other factors you may need access to one or both of these types of networks.
3. Consider Cloud Computing
Having discussed how important your data connectivity is to your multiple offices, lets consider Cloud Computing. Even in a growing business you may not know for sure how a new location is going to perform. How much traffic will there be both at the location and on the servers. Laying out a bunch of capital expenditures when you are still trying to figure out what your projections are is a risky investment. With Cloud you get the features and functionality of a large system while also getting agility and flexibility to change at a moments notice without incurring a bunch of cost. Consider cloud based point of sale systems such as Square or Quickbooks POS. Fishbowl for inventory management. Cloud phone communications such as Yiptel, Zultys or Skype for Business . Remote Desktop solutions such as Virsage Workplace. The cloud is handy as it is thrifty, as it can perform several functions that seriously simplify IT management for the company. The cloud offers 24/7 remote monitoring, anti-spam tools, e-mail archiving tools, remote data backup tools, desktop management technology, and workstation management tools, which are the maintenance programs that update antivirus definitions in the middle of the night. One large benefit, from a speed perspective, is that you could activate e-mail in a few days as opposed to waiting for servers and technology to be installed, and have the ability to turn all IT off with the flick of a switch. Utilizing some form of cloud-based tools is absolutely essential to every new company in today's marketplace.
4. Hire an On-site Technical Person
Technical issues occur all the time in business no matter how full proof your system is. So companies need a dependable go-to solution for handling IT issues. Our telecom agency has relationships with many IT professionals and can recommend an outsourced IT person or you can hire your own. You want consistency across all offices so its important to have a single resource to support all offices. Even with the advent of the cloud, an on site presence is still a critical component to providing comprehensive technical support even if its only on a pay per use basis.
5. Be Consistent
No matter how you choose to connect your remote offices, it's important that your decision is consistent and standard for all of your offices. You want to standardize on phones, systems, configurations and support that is used. The more of a cookie cutter approach you deploy the better. That way, regardless of the office, regardless of the individual, they're getting a consistent product or service.
About the Author
Mike is CEO of Agility Communications and a telecom veteran of 20 years, having worked for CenturyLink (Qwest) and as an independent telecom consultant. His industry expertise makes him adept at advising businesses on telecom strategy, helping SMBs optimize their communications, especially in the rapidly evolving landscape of cloud services. He is committed to working with companies to assess their voice and data systems in an effort to remain agile and competitive in the marketplace.
When he's not creating value for customers, Mike and his family spend time outdoors and like to take in the arts. Mike is a consummate hobbyist including sports, boating and the outdoors. He loves to talk basketball, especially if it involves his favorite team, the Golden State Warriors.
Connect with Mike on LinkedIn or read his latest posts on the Agility Communications website.