The day is fast approaching when businesses’ high-tech needs all come together – when phone, fax, e- and voice mail come together and paperless offices operate wirelessly and securely.
Welcome to the 21st century. There’s just one snag – you have to know how to use all this technology, how to make it integrate and work together. People who work in technology make it look easy – but what about the rest of us? How are non-tech companies adapting to the brave new world of technology?
“We’ve lost information…our system is infected…someone has broken in and compromised our security.” Security or disaster recovery scenarios usually cause the first call from a new client, said Garlyn Norris, president of FAL-IT, an information technologies group that handles general management of network systems, taking care of companies’ computer-related problems.
Companies expanding or relocating are also apt to find themselves in over their heads trying to set up computer networks. “Often people don’t take into account all the technology aspects of their business, which are more complex than they think – hooking up computers, integrating e-mail and accounting systems, scanning systems, Internet and security systems,” said Norris.
Other times businesses contact FAL-IT looking for the newest, hottest tech. However, “The newest, hottest things may not necessarily be what people need,” said Norris. Happily today’s executives are doing their research before they buy, rather than insisting they have to have the newest technology whether or not it will work for them. Norris reported, “I’ve been in situations where you have to tell the client, ‘The newest, hottest thing is not a benefit to you or is not going to work for you – at all. Even if it does, you’re exposing yourself to X risk, Y risk and Z risk. If you have an understanding of the risk, then you can have the reward of the new technology; otherwise you may need to wait for the newer technology that fixes those problems.’”
Wireless is a good example. Everyone is excited about wireless, Norris said, but it poses some serious security problems and it doesn’t work for every business model. FAL-IT is a subdivision of accounting firm Fair, Anderson & Langerman, which has no wireless system at its office due to the amount of sensitive digital client information it stores. “We house so much personal and private information that the security risks negate the benefits of wireless,” Norris explained.
Taking up Cyberspace
One technology that actually enhances security while reducing overhead and improving efficiency is the paperless office. Changing hard copy data into consistent digital archives is the current newest, hottest thing. Valuable data becomes retrievable, available and secure, while creating uniform processes in business for collaboration and for transmitting information.
DocuMetriX, a division of MuniMetriX Systems Corp, works with businesses to achieve paperless offices – anything from streamlining work processes to actually getting rid of all those old boxes of files nobody ever uses. DocuMetriX helps companies decide whether records are accessed enough to make it worthwhile to scan documents and archive them digitally, or if a storage facility for hard copies is more cost-effective.
Archiving documents can help companies reduce overhead. Digitally stored documents aren’t paper files taking up storage space. One Reno medical clinic switched from paper records to archived documents and took back a full room to use for patient exams.
The paperless office increases efficiency. Studies have shown a 20 percent increase in efficiency in organizations that have gone to electronic document management systems. People are no longer spending time looking for lost documents and file folders. There’s additional savings when companies are no longer spending money for paper, toner and staples. “People running the business are concerned about the bottom line. The reduction in overhead and increase in staff efficiency make current staff more productive so the company can serve more customers with existing staff,” said Bruce Rector, president, MuniMetriX Systems Corp. Another factor to consider is that customers have come to expect instant access; companies whose employees don’t have necessary information at their fingertips when customers call may lose out to companies that do.
Rector believes digital records are more secure than hard copies. Physical records destroyed in a disaster can mean a company loses everything. Many companies now save records internally to their own password-protected, firewall-protected servers, rather than the Web with its inherent threats. Today’s companies need to protect their data, storing it off-site in secured facilities. Any network system with online capability runs the risk of corruption and data loss. “The level of concern for data backup is in direct correlation to how important that data is,” said Rob Roy, president of Switch Communications Group, which provides collocation, bandwidth and connectivity services. Network and computer security keeps getting better, but viruses have become a secondary threat compared to exploitations, which allow a rogue user to gain full control of a computer. “Viruses threaten to destroy data, whereas exploitations control data,” Roy explained. “Much more power is gained from control.”
But the Web isn’t just a big scary place where hackers and viruses wait to attack the unwary. Websites are marketing tools, and businesses need to decide whether or not a Web presence is valuable.
Making Waves in Cyberspace
Does your company need a Website? “Do your customers care? Will they look for you on the Web?” asked Doug Van Aman, marketing consultant. “If the answer to that second question is yes, then you should have a Website, because your competitors will. It’s a part of your defensive posture: ‘If my competitor has one, I should too, because otherwise they’ll capture a customer I cannot.’”
Increasingly, when people need a local service, they look online. Having a Website means controlling the available information – hours of operation, products, high quality, low cost: everything the competition is listing on their sites.
Bryan Landaburu, president, Fuze LLC, a Web development and strategy company that also provides marketing services, thinks most companies can benefit from having a Website. However, most don’t know what they want from one. “The biggest consideration when starting or enhancing a Website is getting everyone in the organization to agree: at the end of the day, if we bring this thing online, what is our clear goal?” said Landaburu.
And if the goals number one through 20 and the budget covers one through three, businesses need to prioritize and tackle the most important things first. “As we move along the road map of design, let’s not paint ourselves into a corner for steps four through 16,” said Landaburu. “We have to make sure we can plan for these things, but let’s start with one through three and take each step along the way and continue to make sure what we’re doing is right.”
Whether or not a company has its own Website, it will still need online access. What kind of broadband or high-speed connection does a company need?
“The faster the better,” said Roy. Although the amount of pipeline a company has is controlled by cost, the benefits offset the price.
And we’re not just looking at simple online service anymore. In the past, most businesses maintained separate services for telephone, voice mail, Internet access and e-mail. Today’s technology is integrating them into one system. “The tech phrase for this is VoIP,” said Dan Jacobsen, executive director, SBC Nevada.
Voice Over Internet Protocol. Imagine logging on to your computer and checking your voice mail, which is translated into text. Sending faxes directly to your computer. Using your e-mail address book to store phone numbers – click the contact to dial and make the call from the computer over the same high-speed, broadband connection.
“Because it’s Internet-based, anywhere you can make a broadband connection, you can have the same capabilities you have in the office,” said Jacobsen. “You may be traveling or in a hotel room. If you have a laptop with an antenna and wireless broadband connection, you have the functionality you normally have at the office, with a phone list and files on the computer and e-mails and incoming faxes and voice mail – it’s all right there.”
One challenge companies can ultimately face is over-reliance on technology. Checks and balances need to be put in place. If all business processes become electronic and the Internet becomes everything to everybody, when the Internet goes down, it takes with it phone, fax and security systems and the ability to communicate. “Take those four systems out and you may as well go home,” said Norris.
Today’s business owners are educating themselves, learning more about the newest technologies. “In the past, many people were just buying technology; today, more owners and principals are understanding and embracing technology in order to make better decisions,” said Norris.
Which changes the relationship between the IT industry and the end-users. “We used to say, ‘You need this and this and this,’ and they’d say, ‘Okay, how much will it cost?’ and blindly sign away, not really understanding what they were doing,” he added. “The better educated clients become, the more it forces us to prove our theories and realistically be able to validate and stand behind the solutions we employ. It puts us in a business relationship instead of being just a repair service.”