Reimagine Your Business In The Cloud

Recently I was asked the question, “If I where to start a new business what technology would I use?” This is actually a very good question and it forced me to think about what technology the average professional office needs to efficiently perform day to day tasks. Given most of the professional offices I work with are in the 5 to 10 employee range I will base most of my assumptions off of the needs of an office of this size.

Every employee needs a computer, email, and access to productivity software such as word processing and spreadsheets. In more recent years social collaboration has also become a major benefit for businesses needing to develop content and work with a more distributed workforce. While not as important as it once was phones and fax still play a big part in day to day business activities. Beyond these basic needs each industry has its specialized applications that provide specific features required in that business’s work flow.

My recommendation is to put as much in the cloud as you can. By using reputable service providers the cloud can provide even the smallest office with the scalability, availability, stability, and security of a large enterprise. These cloud services are staffed by highly trained technical teams that monitor and manage the software and hardware 24/7. The networks are run on high end hardware with ultra-secure settings the likes of which no small business could dream of affording. The other benefit of the cloud is that getting these services set up costs less upfront than buying and installing all of the hardware needed to support having it all set up in house. Also the monthly payment or annual payment plans allow you to plan and budget for your technology needs in a manageable way. Because you are paying a regular fee and everything is hosted in the cloud you also benefit from the provider’s team keeping everything up-to-date so you don’t have to do it.

Now let’s talk about some specific solutions — phones and faxes seem like as good a place to start as any. Internet based fax has been around for quite a while; next to online backup I would argue it is one of the oldest cloud services. Companies like MyFax and eFax allow you to securely send faxes over the internet to a fax number as well as allow people to send faxes to you at your existing fax number. The magic is in the provider converting the data from the fax machine into a pdf or your document into data a fax machine can read on the fly. Phone systems have been making the slow and deliberate move from PBX to IP based systems that use the same network your computers do to share information. It is only natural that as Internet connectivity has improved that these voice over IP phone systems would find a home in the cloud as well. I work with a company called CommCore that provides hosted VoIP systems though there are many more like 8×8 and Switchvox by Digium that provide fully managed hosted IP based telephone solutions. These solutions are simple to install. Just plug the phone into your network and the provider takes care of the rest. Calls are routed over the Internet and then switched and sent out over telephone company lines to the number you called and the reverse happens when someone calls you. For email and productivity I believe Office 365 is the best solution available to any business. You get 5 licenses of Office for each employee to install on any device they use, a 50 GB mailbox on a fully managed and hosted Exchange environment, tools like SharePoint, OneDrive, and Lync for sharing and real time collaboration and communication for a low monthly fee per employee. Lawyers, accountants, and a host of other professional offices have software that is geared to specific functions in those industries. Most of these software providers are now providing their applications in a hosted environment that they manage and maintain taking the burden on maintaining, upgrading, and backing up off of the business. If you choose to still have some of your own servers these too can be made virtual and hosted in the cloud and the cost to do so is generally based on metered usage of resources like processor time and storage space.

While most things can be pushed up to the cloud there is still a fair bit of technology you should have in house. As I mentioned, everyone still needs a computer, laptop, or tablet for accessing these cloud hosted services. You need a reliable internet connection, and I would recommend having a backup connection as well from a different provider. I would also still recommend a small server at a minimum to serve as a domain controller to manage security and configuration of the computers on your network as well as across your cloud services. Switches and wireless access points will still be needed to connect the equipment that is still located in your office. Along with the internet connection your router/firewall becomes more important as it is now the one device that provides your entire office access to all of the cloud services. It needs to be robust and secure and it needs to be able to support the redundant connectivity to the internet I suggested earlier. Another feature you might also want for your router is the ability to work in concert with another router that can takeover automatically should the first one fail.

I fully believe the future of technology is in the cloud and understanding how using cloud services in concert with in house hardware and technology can help you build your business. The cloud allows you to expand beyond the walls of your office and provides access to employees and clients alike anytime, anywhere.

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