Which direction to take?

WHICH DIRECTION

There’s never been more choice in how we do business, and there have never been more directions to take in order to make business IT work for you. So, how do you make those important decisions? For the startup it’s perhaps simpler, but for established businesses there come crunch points where an investment is needed or a step up is required to take the business to the next level. At these points it’s wise to re-evaluate all your options.

At it’s most basic the choice is between IT ecosystems or best business backpacks. For decades the choice was no choice, and therefore simple. Every business user had a PC with MS Windows and Office – it was essential. Today even the decision to have an Blockchain Centre office and a desk is up for grabs.

So, how do you make the decision on which ecosystem to choose. Today it’s not just about the choice of line of business software that you need to run. Often it’s about how portable the ecosystem is, how accessible it is out of the office, how easy it is to respond from a phone or a tablet or a web page. For many the choice will end up involving a mixture of both old style tech and new. But this will increasingly disappear as more and more line of business applications go online.

You can do most things online now, from email to invoicing. For the small business this puts the risk in terms of data security with an organisation that can do it properly, for the large business the economies of scale work in your favour, along with the ability to scale up or down quickly.

Whatever the size of your business – it’s worth asking the question: Which direction do you take?

For my business I took the decision several years ago to move away from the Microsoft platform to Google for Work. Initially I still used Outlook along with Google’s excellent sync tool, but within a very short space of time I found that Google’s interface offered more. I’ve never looked back. I confess that the link with Android was part of the charm. More business is done over a variety of devices these days. I use a Windows PC or a Chromebook or an Android device – and all of them have all my main business tools available.

I do have a preference, but both Google’s and Microsoft’s online products are now mature, stable and usable – which one will you use?

Google for Work – The Apps Show

Google for Work YouTube playlist

Whether you’re exploring the possibilities or have already started using Google for Work this playlist will help you to understand what Google for Work can do. One of the benefits of working in the cloud is the simple scalability, so it’s easy to get started with one or two users for a new business, while scaling effortlessly to the enterprise. Costs are low for the SME, and productivity is high, but a few lessons in what is possible always helps.

If you’re still not sure what Google for Work is, or how it might be a better solution for your business then take a look at some testimonials.

Considering a Chromebook

Chromebook

Many years ago it was an axiom that no-one got fired for buying IBM – they were the standard for desktop computing when the segment first emerged. With the ubiquitous presence of Microsoft operating systems on the IBM PC no-one even actively decided on buying MS-DOS and after that Microsoft Windows. The combination of IBM compatible PC and Microsoft Windows became the de-facto installation for every business user – it had the tools: word processing, spreadsheets, databases – all the things that the average business user required. As time has gone on the number of applications available on the Windows platform has expanded exponentially! Whatever you want to do there will be a Windows application to do it. This is still the case today, despite the creeping re-segmentation of the the personal computing market. What has changed?

Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law suggests that processing power will double or the size of processor will half approximately every two years. This means that we can now pack into a phone, or a watch something that is much more powerful than the first IBM compatible PCs. The bespoke software development that we run is orders of magnitude more complex and more capable than those first applications. But, with this increase in power has come bloat – lazy design and programming, the assumption of ever increasing power has led to behemoth like applications that struggle to run on even the latest hardware.

Back to the lean model

Something has to give, and give it has. The arrival of the smart phone has brought with it the acceptance that small specifically targeted applications (called apps, appropriately enough) work fine for most people most of the time. Even in the business environment most users never progress beyond email, internet and word processing. Why purchase a hugely more capable machine and leave it to do very little?

Google have addressed this gap in the market with their Chromebooks. These devices in some ways go back to basics – the operating system is much smaller than Windows now is. It is also limited in the features available. But, in other ways it is the device for the 21st century. The Chromebook is designed to work over the internet. The Google Apps for Business user simply has to log on to a Chromebook device to have his or her complete environment available instantly. Although the list of apps is smaller it does 100% of what most people do, which, for the business owner is a compelling statistic.

What about those custom business applications that run on Windows?

Of course, the million dollar question is what to do about that custom business database that’s been developed in MS Access or Visual Basic – surely it won’t run on a Chromebook? No, it won’t, but as more and more business applications are being moved to an extranet model this isn’t a show stopper. Web development is becoming more accessible to more businesses. If it’s accessible from the web a Chromebook is perfect. Even many long term Windows only applications such as accounting packages are being re-imagined for the web. Apart from extremely processor or disk intensive applications all the common business needs and more are available in the cloud.

Installation and set up hell

One of the most trying events for most small businesses is the installation of a new PC. First of all you have to try and decide on a suitable specification that doesn’t cost the earth. Then you need to decide whether to purchase Microsoft Office. Then you need to rummage in your cupboards for the installation media for all those other business critical applications that were purchased years ago – and cross you fingers that they will work with the latest incarnation of Windows. Then there’s the download of drivers and the set up of email, and, and.. you get the picture?

Now consider purchasing a machine and giving it to the user. Ask them to log in with their existing details. On log in their entire environment is available instantly as it was before!

The costs and considerations

Of course everything has a down side. This sort of cloud computing depends on an internet connection. If this goes down your machine is limited in usefulness, but then so are most PCs in the same conditions. Take your Chromebook home or to an internet cafe and carry on.

There are also ongoing costs on a per user basis for this sort of set up. But Windows servers also cost per user, and you have to maintain the hardware yourself. Particularly for the SME the benefits of not having to deal with hardware or server maintenance itself outweighs the costs. In real terms cloud computing is much cheaper than getting your own kit. The economies of scale mean that you will receive a much more reliable service at a greatly lower price point than if you tried to do it yourself.

One thing to consider is the long term safety of your data. If it’s in the cloud then it’s not physically with you. But there are ways of getting backups of your data, and this is worth doing if there is data without which your business could not function. But remember that cloud providers have superior resources and working backup and restore processes – how many SMEs have even prepared a disaster recovery plan?

Conclusion

This isn’t a spur of the moment type of decision, but it is worth considering. If you have some cloud services, or have already signed up for Google Apps for Business then it’s incredibly easy to dip a toe in the water. If you’ve been using Windows for the last 20 years it may give you more food for thought, but look at your current IT licensing costs, email provider quality and fees and consider if a move to the cloud is a good match for your business. Whatever the size of your organisation it’s definitely time to consider a Chromebook.

Business Email & More – Google Apps

For the small business one of the essential tools is email. More and more email users need to be able to access their email on the go as well as at the desk. The simplest solution to enable small businesses to gain a corporate class email system is to sign up for Google Apps for Business. Google Apps for Business provides business class email, calendaring, contacts and collaborative documents and for the price of £2.75 per user per month. Google Apps email works across the spectrum from web browsers to Outlook to phones and tablets – all your messages are available anywhere you choose.

This is one way to improve the performance of mobile staff and to allow the small business a full suite of collaborative tools for a minimal investment. Users can be added and removed with ease, and remote devices wiped if lost (provided Google’s device management software is installed).

Datawise Computing has now transitioned several businesses to Google Apps for Business, with excellent results. If you need big business communication for your growing business, then please ask how we can help you to set this up.