IT for donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.
This week: can you get away with using a home broadband package for your business?
Most broadband suppliers offer a range of packages for home and business users. You’ll usually pay more for a business package which, on the face of it, might look very similar to the equivalent home option.
Home and business packages usually use the same technology and infrastructure. Your data travels on the same wires no matter which you plump for.
And for that reason, sole traders and the smallest businesses should find a home connection more than adequate — as long as it has no download limit.
However, if losing your internet connection — even briefly — would cause you to lose money, then it’s probably worth paying extra for a business package.
Business broadband packages tend to be a little more reliable and provide a better level of service. Every provider is different, but a business broadband package will typically offer:
Choosing a broadband connection is about more than deciding whether to go for a home or business package. But as a general rule, home packages are really only suitable for smaller businesses that could cope ok if their connection went down for a significant period of time.
Here’s some good news for you: more businesses are taking IT and security risks seriously.
Security is no longer a topic that’s relegated to IT departments or individual staff members. A survey of UK organisations by risk management specialists NTT Com Security found that 56% of respondents discuss security and risk either routinely or frequently at board level.
However, as businesses become more aware of potential security risks, it seems a fear factor may be kicking in. The same survey found that concerns over information security and risk have stopped a project or business idea progressing in nearly half (49%) of organisations surveyed.
So, how do you monitor and manage the risks your company faces, without becoming paralysed? After all, if you paid attention to every online horror story then you’d probably shut up shop and find a nice, non-internet business to run, instead.
There’s a strong argument to say that companies with the best handle on their security are the ones that see it as an opportunity.
Being proactive, identifying and managing risks and taking steps early can actually give you an advantage in the market. For instance, clients and customers like it when they know they can trust you to keep them safe.
But proactive security isn’t something many businesses do well. Only 1 in 5 organisations surveyed said they base their security spending on risks they’ve actually assessed.
The rest, presumably, take a range of basic security precautions and then react to other problems as they occur.
Neal Lillywhite, SVP Northern Europe at NTT, says that although businesses are aware they should take a proactive approach to managing risks, most don’t yet put this into practice:
“While the majority see a benefit to having a proactive approach when assessing the risk of information assets, the fact that still only a fifth base their spending on assessed risk shows there is plenty of room for improvement.”
If your business is one of the 4 in 5 that doesn’t do a good job of assessing the risks it faces, it’s probably time to start. And as there’s no time like the present, why not find out how to perform an IT security risk assessment right now?
Finding it hard to switch off is not a new phenomenon for business owners.
When you put your heart and soul (not to mention your savings) into something, it’s understandably hard to stop thinking about it — even if it’s the weekend, your holiday or an important family event.
To some extent, that’s just the way it is, and the way it’s always been. Most people know the score when they start their company.
But a new report from Lloyds, Big issues for small businesses (PDF link), has found half the UK’s microbusinesses and sole-traders believe they now work harder than ever. And they think technology is at least partly to blame.
The spread of laptops, tablets and smart phones into nearly every aspect of our lives has enabled us to stay connected with our businesses, even outside of working hours.
But as connectivity has improved, it seems customer expectations have sharpened too. Around nine in ten (87%) of business owners surveyed believe that providing a quick response to enquiries is critical to securing new business.
30% feel under pressure to stay constantly connected, just in case they miss out on a lead. And 70% worry that neglecting their online presence puts them at risk of being left behind.
If you hadn’t realised it already, the report confirms that many microbusinesses rely on technology completely in order to stay afloat. With all its advantages and drawbacks, technology is here to stay.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a source of anxiety. 46% of respondents worry about knowing how to use the latest communication channels. For 28%, just trying to keep up with the latest devices is a worry.
The consequences of all this are predictable. Nearly half (47%) of the business owners surveyed said they’re unable to ever switch off from work completely. Two in five are working longer hours to keep up.
Wasn’t new technology meant to give us more spare time, not less?
In what can only be a carefully-timed PR move, Amazon has this morning secured impressive coverage by announcing that it's testing the use of drones for deliveries.
Why so carefully-timed? Well, today just so happens to be Cyber Monday, the day when online sales peak in the run-up to Christmas. Experts are predicting that internet spending today could hit £500m, making it the biggest online shopping day in history.
Never mind that drone deliveries are likely still years off — what matters to Amazon is that it has got its brand into the BBC website's top 'most read' slot on the busiest digital retail day of the year.
While it's true that Cyber Monday has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, there is no doubt that the first Monday in December is a key online shopping day. So, if you sell online, it could pay to be prepared.
Ok, so without the PR budget of Amazon you're unlikely to secure similar levels of brand coverage. However, if you sell online, there are still things you can do to make sure you handle Cyber Monday well.
It's a little late now to do anything more than last-minute preparations, of course. But you can certainly make sure that your website's working properly and you're ready to handle orders that arrive:
How have you found Cyber Monday in previous years? Does it deliver a boost to your bottom line, or is it nothing more than a load of hype?
IT for donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT. This week, find out which sort of mobile device is best for working on the move.
There are lots of different ways to work on the move. But there are only three main types of mobile device that you can work on. Each is good in different situations, so here's our guide to when and where each is best.
Smart phones are small but powerful. You can slip one in your pocket to get online anywhere.
Because they're always switched on and to hand, smart phones are great when you need to look up information in a hurry.
However, a small screen size makes them less-than-ideal for extended use or working on documents.
These touch screen devices have no keyboard, but are small enough to carry in your bag all day. They provide a good compromise between the portability of a smart phone and the power of a laptop.
Nothing beats a laptop when it comes to capabilities, because it's a full-on computer that you can use to run all your usual software. Microsoft Word, Excel ... they're all there to use on the go.
However, laptops are heavier than other options and tend to have worse battery life.
Many people already have laptops for business use — and companies are increasingly issuing them to employees as standard.
If you're happy carrying your laptop when you need to work on the move for extended periods, a smart phone should be your other device. It's ideal for getting online in a hurry to look up information or check your email.
In this sort of situation it's harder to justify a tablet computer too.
However, if you have a main desktop computer back at base then a tablet is a great mobile option — especially if you want a device you can carry 'just in case' you decide to get some work done.
Modern computers and servers are so powerful that many businesses tend to only use only a small percentage of their full capabilities.
For instance, if a server is only being used to store files and share internet access then much of its processing power is going to waste.
In recent years, more companies have started using virtualisation to help harness some of that untapped power. So, what is virtualisation and why should it matter to your business?
Virtualisation involves sharing computing resources so your business can get more bang for its buck. This clever technology allows one physical server to function as several servers.
That’s why they’re called virtual servers: although they behave like individual servers, they all run on the same piece of hardware.
For example, instead of running your each of your in-house applications (email server, accounting system, CRM system etc) on its own physical server, you can ‘virtualise’ one big server and run the whole lot on that.
Doing so means you only have one physical server to maintain. Virtualisation is also handy when different applications can't run together under the same operating system. For example, perhaps your accounting software runs on Windows but your website requires Linux.
These days, you can take advantage of virtualisation without actually owning any hardware yourself. Instead, you rent your virtual servers from another company, often a web hosting or cloud computing firm.
In this situation, you’ll never see the physical server on which your virtual servers run. It sits safely in a data centre where it may be shared by other businesses too.
The beauty of this approach is that the resources needed to run your applications can be spread across a number of virtual servers, which are all shared between companies.
This means that there’s lots of computing power on tap should you need it — yet you don’t have to invest in expensive hardware yourself.
To spread the load, many virtualisation services split computing power between customers in different time zones, so there’s always enough spare capacity to go round.
One of the first questions businesses have about sharing servers in this way is: ‘Are our applications and data safe if we’re sharing with other companies?’
Usually, the answer is yes, as long as you are dealing with a reputable provider. If they are a European firm and covered by EU data protection laws then that gives you extra reassurance. In general, you should ask the same questions of your provider as you would of any other cloud computing company.
Virtualisation is all about sharing the cost of computing resources. If more businesses can share a single resource, that resource becomes cheaper for each individual business. And that’s why virtualisation should matter to you.
This is a guest post from John Paterson, CEO of Really Simple Systems