By Russ Banham
Setting up a network is a good way for a small business to get more use out of its computers and peripherals, helping users share files and other software resources more easily. The challenge is putting these plans in motion.
Many small businesses are reluctant to implement new technologies, despite the efficiencies and profitability they provide. The foot-dragging is evident in the 45 percent of small businesses that still don’t have a website (of those that do, only 36 percent use the website to reach out to customers and potential customers).
This apprehension is misplaced. Not only is the process of setting up a network relatively straightforward, but also the cost is minimal when compared with the returns: greater efficiency and productivity.
“There is no more efficient way for people to interact with each other or to share resources,” said Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at G2 Crowd, an online review platform focused on business technology solutions.
A computer network basically comprises hardware and protocols that enable connectivity and communications. Hardware includes equipment like routers, switches, bridges and hubs using cables or Wi-Fi technologies. The protocols determine how two or more devices in the network communicate. If the network is a highway, the protocols are the traffic signs.
Among the many benefits of a network are the ability for employees to work anywhere and still be able to access critical data at all times of the day.
“A network makes it simple for people to share data, find documents they need and communicate with each other via electronic mail on an intranet,” said Destiny Bertucci, who has the title of head geek at SolarWinds, a provider of IT management software to small businesses. “Best of all, since files are stored on the network server, it doesn’t matter which computer is used to do work.”
For small businesses, use of a network slashes software costs because the company does not have to buy separate licenses for each computer. And instead of purchasing a single printer, fax and scanner for each employee, companies can have employees share these devices.
“Does a small business really need six separate printers for six people when all six can share a single printer on the network?” Fauscette asked.
Without a network, Millennials, who represent the bulk of the American workforce, will resort to using their smartphones for business purposes, Fauscette said.
“If you don’t offer them a way to work that they are used to working, they’ll take matters into their own hands, sending important documents to colleagues and third parties on their phones,” he explained. “This information is now at risk of interception, as the company has no control over its security.”
Setting up a network isn’t a once-and-done exercise, according to Bertucci.
“Several vendors produce different hardware devices and software applications, and without coordinating these parties, there can be chaos,” she said.
Fauscette agreed, noting the array of different moving parts like business-grade routers, hubs and switches.
“Although these are not hugely complex technologies, if you don’t have someone on staff with expertise in their implementation, you need to bring in an outside expert,” he said. “Seemingly simple things like making sure the Wi-Fi is secured to protect your data, or whether you need four or six switches throughout the building, are better left to the experts.”
Steps Toward Success
Companies like Cox Business can help small-business owners take the steps needed to implement a cost-effective network.
The first step is network standardization, which will allow the computers to communicate with each other on the network.
“Adopting network standardization is a key aspect of setting up a network, as identifying a device’s location and importance to the system is a key part of managing and preventing network issues and outages,” Bertucci said.
Other considerations include embedding security and monitoring. Without a solid security posture, an organization is low-hanging fruit for cyberattacks and data breaches. Monitoring tools, on the other hand, provide visibility into the network for security and performance purposes.
“By monitoring the devices, companies can identify and address anomalies within the network infrastructure before they become bigger headaches,” Bertucci said. “You want to learn from these experiences to bounce back quickly.”
Lastly, she advised small companies to invest in a network that can grow, in case the company wants to add features like video surveillance, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), or any new piece of technology that has yet to emerge.
Russ Banham is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.