With an increasing number of IT products, services and suppliers available to help transform your business, choosing the right ones to meet your needs can be overwhelming. A good starting point is to ask yourself what it is you want to do. For example, do you want to make it easier for customers to buy your products, or do your staff need to work more effectively off site? By mapping out your goals and outlining the processes that drive your business, you can start to clarify your requirements.
The next step is to explore Superfast Broadband and related cloud technologies that allow you to pay as you go and grow at your own pace. Many small businesses find out of the box Software as a Service (SaaS) packages ideal. Although, those with bespoke software requirements may want to develop their own cloud applications using Platform as a Service (PaaS). And complex businesses requiring full control should consider Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
This guide will help you define which services best support your needs.
2. What benefits might I expect?
Efficiency: Faster broadband provides a more reliable and stable platform so multiple users can share the same service connection without slowing down.
Cost savings: Reduce capital costs with cloud computing services; replace servers with cloud-based storage and scale up and down as required.
Choice: Entry level products with standard features compete on price and service level agreements (e.g. office productivity, HR, or accounts).
Peace of mind: SLAs are binding and define the support and response times that you can expect from your provider.
Staff productivity: Cloud-based applications allow off-site staff to update information in real time rather than having to come back into the office.
Protect assets: Many cloud-based packages automatically fix software bugs to reduce security issues and limit downtime from mandatory upgrades.
Data back-up: Reduce the risk of losing your customer, product and commercial data with cloud-based automated data back-ups.
Different options: Decide whether tax breaks for capital costs outweigh the flexibility of pay as you go services and deductible operational costs.
3. Real life example
Hiring 24 new staff within a 12 month period has prompted a successful Narberth company to transform the way it runs its business operations by leaping into the digital future. And since embracing the possibilities, Apple Blossom Cleaning Services has dramatically improved productivity and given its 109 employees the ability to use their smartphones to log in from remote locations as a safety measure.
The company uses SmartTask, a cloud based staff management tool for its operational, HR and payroll processes to reduce office administration. The system intelligently matches staff to jobs based on location so they spend their time productively rather than in transit between jobs. This is particularly useful during the busy summer season where many staff are contracted to clean holiday cottages in remote areas and travel times can increase.
Mr Philip Deacon. Development Manager stated:-
“Effectively managing staff rotas and considering employee welfare is not the only reason digital technology is part of our wider business strategy. We recognised the need for fully integrated systems across the business to give us a competitive advantage.”
4. Getting started
Regardless of size, any company can use Superfast Broadband to power their business with online technology. And even though switching to a business line may cost more, relying on a residential connection is likely to prove a false economy.
Business customers often receive higher levels of security and are more likely to receive a more reliable connection. They also have access to better service levels, technical support and quicker response times to anything that may arise.
5. Where and when can I get Superfast Broadband?
Superfast Cymru is presently working hard to ensure that everyone receives fast speeds despite their geographical location.
You can find out if you can get Superfast Broadband or when it will be available in your area by visiting: www.superfast-cymru.com/where-and-when
And, if you want to check what you have already, you can test your broadband speed using the following online tool at no cost: http://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk/
6. How should I select my suppliers?
While costs, support and quality are still essential considerations, it is your technology choices that sit around the Superfast Broadband provision that will transform your business.
So, compare prices, service level agreements, and coverage. And consider the upload and download speeds you need to support current and planned communication solutions and cloud-based software.
To do this, you will need to define your current requirements and future needs.
7. Defining your requirements
Prepare a list of functional requirements that your ICT system must do efficiently for the business.
Involve employees, or those using the system, in preparing a realistic set of requirements.
Map out the information flow between internal teams, customer and suppliers and put them into a framework.
The complexity of your process map will vary depending on the size and nature of your business, so don’t over complicate and reduce duplication.
Define non-functional requirements that the system must do that are not directly related to the business function (i.e. the operating system it must work with or a database that it needs to interface with).
Describe the business benefits that the new system should deliver and define how your business will achieve these benefits as a result.
Define the type and level of support that will be needed from the supplier to make good use of the new system (i.e. data migration, training, support).
If you are considering using a number of solutions, check for compatibility and if they can easily connect using APIs, for example.
Cross check you are able to do everything you need them to do on all the devices your business uses.
Consider the risks associated with the introduction of a new system(s) and work out what would be needed to counter those risks.
This analysis may introduce new requirements.
Once you’ve refined your requirements, produce a list of which operating systems, hardware, software and storage is needed to run your business, and what can be built on at a later date. Cloud packages particularly allow you to buy what you need now and increase storage or functionality as you need it.
Whilst it is worthwhile building in a little redundancy, you do not want to tie yourself into contracts that charge you for something you don’t need.
8. Software and hardware considerations
Cloud based systems allow pay as you go solutions with the benefit of monthly payments and ongoing upgrades to the latest version. This can provide significant advantages for a growing business as you are able to transfer the cost of a new system from capital expenditure to recurrent operational expenditure.
Your starting point should be off the shelf packages, which offer excellent value for money if you only require simple, standard business functions such as office processes, stock control, accounts or payroll. If your requirements are not entirely standard, then it’s worthwhile mapping out your specification before you refine this into a Request For Quotation from potential suppliers.
Don’t forget to check compatibility with all your devices and other hardware or machinery that you currently use or plan to use in the future. And also consider whether leasing expensive items could be advantageous or if it is better to buy and quickly write off the costs against tax. Because Corporation Tax allowances change over time, it is always advisable to consult your accountant.
9. Storage considerations
Many businesses use servers to store data because they always have or because they feel it is more secure than hosting it in the cloud. Where there can be business reasons to use a hybrid service, most stand to gain more than they lose from using a cloud storage supplier. They save physical space, reduces large capital outlays, and can scale up and down to support current and future needs.
If cloud security is particularly important to you (as it should be) then look for some form of certification on the providers’ website. Cyber Essentials is a 2016 Government initiative to ensure systems are robust and secure and your provider should be registered and certified under this programme.
You may also wish to register for Cyber Essentials for your own business and information can be found at:
10. Other certifications
You may find the cloud provider you are considering on one of the following lists but remember, there is no ‘gold standard’ of certification for cloud providers:
Cloud Industry Forum Members
CSA Security, Trust & Assurance Registry (STAR)
SkyHigh CloudTrust Program
TRUSTe Trusted Directory
11. What should I be considering?
Training: Some suppliers include training in the implementation cost and other charge separately. NB: Employee’s time also has associated costs.
Service level agreements: Make sure SLAs cover all your needs and you’re not paying for unrequired support (i.e. is a 365 24/7 call out necessary).
Change management: Identify processes and systems that require change before implementation and agree responsibilities and timescales with staff.
Consider the future: Over time your business internet use and bandwidth requirements will probably increase. Ensure that any agreement you set up with your providers can meet your business needs now AND in the future.
Take performance figures with a pinch of salt: Recognise that the figures quoted (by an ISP) are usually best-case scenarios, so don’t be afraid to ask what bandwidth customers really get on average.
Data protection: Depending on your business you may need to store and back up data only in Europe, so ask the question.
Multi‐factor authentication: If data protection is a key concern then consider systems that send pass codes to users’ mobile phones to use alongside their user names and passwords when they log in.
Stay secure: Look for services that are responsive; i.e. employee data access may need to be increased to perform a task and then decreased again.
Consider your exit strategy: Establish from the outset how easy the cloud service provider makes it for business systems and data to be moved elsewhere or extracted in a form that can be used offline. Unless you plan to stay with the provider ‘for better or worse’, then you should consider your exit strategy.
12. Additional information
- Use the Superfast Business Wales software directory to explore the software that could help you run your business.