It’s common for small business employees to wear a number of hats in the course of the average day, from tech support to customer service to office manager, and even finding time for the job they were hired to do. That’s because small businesses need to make the most of the resources they have.
Whether it’s dealing with customers, technical issues, or other employees, it’s important for everyone involved in a small business to know where they can find the resources they need to get the job done. Investing time and energy into any task that takes away from focusing on the core business simply cannot be tolerated in a successful small business. Every month small businesses devote countless hours to tasks that drain their precious resources. Time can’t be wasted searching for the right file or form or updating PC software, for example.
Investing in a server and creating a server-based network for the small business creates a number of efficiencies. A server changes the way that small businesses handle information by making small businesses more efficient in the way they communicate with partners and employees, collaborate on projects, and secure the information that is vital to the business.
Here are five ways that buying that first server for the small business will increase efficiency and allow employees to concentrate on the core business.
1. Easier Access to Information
Once a small business grows beyond more than one person or PC, the files and data that the business depends on can become more difficult to track. Peer-to-peer networks, which are popular among small businesses without a server, only work when all of the PCs are available and connected to the network. USB drives and Web-based e-mail are popular ways to transport and store data, but they present security risks and aren’t an efficient way to find and share files.
A server provides a centralized, secure repository for all of the important files that make small businesses go. Administrators can create, edit, and delete registered users of server-based networks to help control which users have access to the information. Applications that live on servers, and the information they contain, are available to users with accounts for those applications.
Using secure remote access technologies like virtual private networks allows employees to access information from laptops when they aren’t physically in the office. The ability to remotely connect to a server-based network means even a small business with one employee can benefit from using a server if they spend a lot of time on the road, visiting clients, or working from job sites. Gaining access to e-mail and information from mobile devices like a BlackBerry or Windows Phone requires a server to manage users and security. Small business employees need to quickly and easily locate the information they need regardless of their location. Introducing a server-based network keeps information organized and accessible to those who need it with more reliability and security than peer-to-peer networks and ad hoc methods of storing information.
2. Gain Control of E-Mail
Having a server allows small businesses to create, use, and control e-mail addresses on their own domain, which gives even the smallest of businesses a more professional image than using a free e-mail service like Yahoo! or Hotmail. Small businesses can turn to a hosting provider to get e-mail using their domain name, but like any outsourcing relationship, that means giving up some amount of control.
Buying a server and hosting e-mail lets small businesses control the creation of e-mail addresses, aliases, and distribution lists. This level of control makes it easier for e-mail to grow with the company. Even more important than the e-mail addresses is the e-mail data. Businesses of all sizes rely on e-mail for communication with employees, customers, partners, and suppliers. Maintaining control over all of those communications is not only convenient, but it has legal implications as well.
Business working in a number of industries, such as financial services and pharmaceuticals, are subject o industry and government regulations that require that they store electronic communications and make them available for legal proceedings when requested. In some instances, businesses that work with companies in these industries may be subject to these electronic discovery requirements as well.
A server allows small businesses to maintain, archive, and search their electronic communications without relying on a third party to store and retrieve the information. This data portability is important for businesses with plans to grow or working in industries with compliance regulations.
3. Better Collaboration
It’s easier than ever for people to collaborate on projects, whether they’re working with customers, partners, or co-workers. Thanks to a number of technologies, it’s entirely possible – and not really unusual – for small businesses to be run by employees working from home offices that rarely see each other in person.
E-mail is usually the method of choice for sharing documents like spreadsheets and presentation, but when it comes to collaborating on the creation of documents and files e-mail is possibly the most inefficient method of collaboration since the Pony Express.
Rather than e-mailing documents back and forth and incorporating edits, a server-based document repository that allows users to check out documents, make and track edits, and even host team workspaces creates a more efficient method of collaboration. Microsoft SharePoint is one example of an application with a document repository. Windows SharePoint Services are included with Microsoft Small Business Server software.
Small businesses that work with large files in industries like engineering, design, and media will find that a server-based repository for their CAD files, rich media designs, and audio and video files makes transporting the files easier because they’re often too big for e-mail.
A server-based repository makes collaboration more efficient whether the collaborators are across the hall or across the globe. By controlling the access and security, helping track the changes, and supplying a place on the network where collaborators can discuss ideas, a server allows collaboration to focus on the exchange of ideas and the creation of information, rather than the transporting, tracking, and storing of documents and files.
4. Centralized Data Protection
Small businesses that use peer-to-peer networks to store and share information are relying on the security of individual PCs in the organization. Using a server-based network, on the other hand, provides a secure repository for information and helps keep the entire network secure.
Data protection on a server-based network starts with user accounts, controlled by an administrator, that allow users to access the network, applications, and information. User accounts can be set to allow different levels of access, so users can only access the information they really need. Like PCs and laptops, servers need to be defended from malicious attack. But servers can also decide which PCs, laptops, and devices can access the network. Machines that don’t meet the security bar set for the network can be denied access.
Protecting the data on the server is important because it’s often the most sensitive data in the business. Communications with customers, suppliers, and partners; information about products and services; and sensitive information about customers, including social security numbers, phone numbers, addresses, account numbers, and credit card information all need to be protected to help ensure the trust and loyalty of all parties involved. Putting this information on a secure server reduces the attack surface exposed to hackers and malware.
Centralized information is easier to protect that data that’s scattered among different PCs and storage devices. A server helps small businesses reduce their attack surface and protect their company’s information by keeping it secure and available only to users who need to access it.
5. Easier IT Management
For all of the ways computers and the Internet make it easier for small businesses to level the playing field and grow their business, PCs and laptops still require a lot of time and resources for maintenance. Smart small businesses recognize that to run efficiently and securely, their applications need to be up to date with patches and security fixes. Applications still need to be installed on new machines, for new employees, or rolled out as they are introduced; machines need to be scanned for malware and viruses; and tech support needs to be available when there are problems.
All of these scenarios can be accomplished more efficiently with a server, especially when the small business doesn’t have a full-time IT person.
Consider the alternatives: desk-side visits for tech support and software installations, which take up valuable time and resources and increase downtime for affected employees, and relying on employees to conduct their own virus scans, and patch downloads and installations.
A server-based network can allow applications, patches, and updates to be installed remotely by an administrator. It can also allow an administrator to remotely take control of a PC to fix technical problems or install software.
Small businesses shouldn’t be worried about uptime and PC maintenance because these tasks detract from the core business. Easier IT management using a server-based network allows small businesses to make the most of their technical support resources, decreases downtime, and increases the safety of the network and information.