Don’t know a Blackberry from a Blueberry? Here’s a Quick Reference for Hardware, Software and Online Collaboration Tools.
It can be daunting to navigate the overwhelming variety of mobility hardware, software and processes. Hardware and software choices should be made with specific goals and objectives for improving business productivity and communications. The elements of the solution need to work well together and to solve identified problems or challenges for the business with a clear return on investment. We can work with your organization to design a mobile technology solution within your budget that expands your existing network and business outside the four walls, increases employee productivity away from the office, improves customer satisfaction and builds your bottom line.
Mobile Email Access
Beyond this approach is the evolution of something even more interesting; technology-as-a-service. What does that mean? The concept here is taking managed services one step further and wrapping hardware and software into this fixed, monthly fee which also might include hosted software solutions in the mix. Now you have technology systems that function like a utility. Business owners can truly fix the cost of their technology, systems can be refreshed on regular cycles and SMBs do not have to invest large chunks of money into quickly depreciating hardware or soon-to-be outdated software. Finally, technology expenses can be planned for accurately managed correctly and provide optimal benefit to small businesses…without the ever present frustrations, unplanned expenses and mistaken purchases that too often prevail in the current model.
Some of the most common mobility requirements for employees are around email access. Traditional POP e-mail (domain e-mail without Exchange Server) does not allow employees to easily manage their e-mail outside the office. Solutions that could be deployed include web-based email access, Outlook RPC over HTTP, and wireless email access via a PDA, SmartPhone or Blackberry. These solutions range from basic to advanced. Basic solutions may only allow read capabilities, while advanced solutions can synchronize data and allow access to calendars, contacts and email folders.
Enable clear communication with always up-to-date e-mail, contact, and scheduling information.
Reduce the time and expenses incurred when managing employee time and communication.
Reduce hardware and support costs when compared to a solution using laptop computers.
Provide a platform that is supported by common line-of-business (LOB) applications used by small businesses.
Provide a platform for custom applications used for managing customer information and relationships.
Exchange Server - This is an add-on component to Microsoft Windows Server which allows shared calendaring, remote e-mail access, calendar and e-mail sycing with PDAs and smartphones, and other collaboration tools. It does require a dedicated server and IP address as well as some technical setup and administration but is a terrific tool for small businesses. Windows Small Business Server 2003 comes with an integrated version of Exchange which can save considerably on software costs. To communicate with mobile devices, your server must have Exchange Server and ActiveSync installed and configured.
Smartphones and PDA
Smartphones: Offer you the advantages of a phone and PDA in one device. Smartphones come preinstalled with an operating system like Windows Mobile which will allow you to take your Microsoft Office Outlook e-mail, contacts and calendar with you. They are often attached to a particular phone vendor. The BlackBerry is a popular type of smartphone with a proprietary operating system. Smartphones can browse the
web, sync wirelessly with your desktop Outlook or Exchange server using ActiveSync, allow you to view files like Word documents using the mobile version of Office to and play your music. Smartphones are great if you want it all in one place and like the smaller form factor.
PDAs (personal data assistant): Need everything except the phone? PDAs provide all the advantages of smartphones without the phone. PDAs come in many flavors from manufacturers like HP and Palm and many have touchscreens. Windows Mobile 6 (standard, professional and classic) is the current version of the Windows mobile OS while Palm devices come with their own OS. If you do a lot of e-mail response, need more applications like Office mobile or GPS and mapping, and want a bigger screen and more full-function keyboard, a PDA is probably the way to go. PDA’s can hold more applications and are not tied to a particular cell phone carrier.
Wireless LAN and Broadband
The difference between these two is sometimes a point of confusion. Wireless LANs have been around for a number of years now and allow devices to communicate wirelessly or access the internet using a local area network (yours or someone elses, such as “hotspots” at Starbucks or the airport. Wireless Broadband uses a cell phone carrier, a wireless broadband card provide by the carrier such as Cingular or Verizon (usually a USB or PCCard device for a notebook or built in to a PDA) and a montly service contract (usually runs between $40 and $60 per month). This gives you broadband internet access basically anywhere you can get a cell phone signal. If you have mobile workers who need access from anywhere without having to locate a “hotspot”, wireless broadband is the way to go.
Remote Access Solutions- Data and applications for mobile and remote users
VPN and Terminal Services
Another common mobility category is remote data, database or application access. This is commonly achieved through thin client solutions such as Terminal Services or Citrix or a VPN hardware device. Each solution requires purchasing licenses and has its advantages and disadvantages and should only be deployed after careful consideration for the user experience, type of data being accessed or transmitted, internet connection speed and device with which the user is accessing the data (laptop, hand-held device).
Solutions such as GoToMyPC or PCAnywhere or Windows Remote Desktop (built in to Windows) offer individual users remote control access to their own workstation from a remote location. These solutions work well for small networks with a few stations but do require configuration for your firewall and each individual workstation.
Windows Remote Web Workplace & Outlook Web Access
Now integrated into Windows Small Business Server 2003, Windows Remote Web Workplace is a terrific tool for small business users to securely access the office network, e-mail and all of their applications and files from anywhere using only a web browser and internet connection. Users can access shared calendars and e-mail using the Outlook Web Access feature or get right to their desktop. Although it does take some initial configuration, the capability is built into small business server and does not require any additional licensing. It is much easier and less costly to configure then VPN as no additional hardware or software is necessary. Users on the road or at home can work just as if they were sitting in the office in front of their own computer.
While each of these solutions may require specific hardware or software and some expertise to configure, the end result is a cost-effective remote solution for small business allowing users to access data from remote locations such as home, road or branch offices.
Online Conferencing & Collaboration Tools (Web conferencing, Teleconferencing and Video Conferencing)
For small business users, new and affordable conferencing and web-based collaboration tools have hit the mainstream and can add real value to the way you do business. Relatively inexpensive online conferencing and collaboration can save not only time but thousands in travel costs. That can allow your small business to communicate that the same level as the big boys. Here is a quick survey of some of the popular services and how they stack up. Most have online demos which we highly recommend to get a feel for the product and better understanding of the service.
WebEx (www.webex.com/smb starting at .33 per minute or pay by month) – Webex offers an interactive a fairly easy to use web office environment with audio, video, notes and whiteboards designed for small business. You can even record your sessions. Save big dollars in traveling, conduct sales webinars to multiple audience members. Tools include WebEx WebOffice, WebEx Meeting Center and Event Center for conducting webinars.
GoToMeeting (www.gotommeting.com) starts at $39.00 per month – a terrific tool geared to users who need to make remote online presentations with fully integrated voice-conferencing capabilities. Participants can view any application running on your PC in real time.
Vonage (www.vonnage.com - starts at $24.99 per month) – a good tool for 3-way calling plus many other voice and mobility features. 3-way calls can actually be tied to other three way calls.
Skype for Business (www.skype.com/business - starts at $29.95 per month) – Conference up to 10 people, chat with up to 100 and make video calls anywhere in the world. Skype is also available for Smartphone running Windows Mobile and many cell phones.
SharePoint Server: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is a new server program that is part of the 2007 Microsoft Office system. Your organization can use Office SharePoint Server 2007 to facilitate collaboration, provide content management features, implement business processes, and supply access to information that is essential to organizational goals and processes.
Online Chat and Instant Messaging: Good tools for immediate feedback and easily available on the road through almost every cell phone and all PDAs. Besides being the purview of teenagers, used wisely online messaging can be a handy tool for small amounts of information exchanged quickly.
VOIP (Voice over IP)
Mobility Features at a Small Business Prices
So what exactly is VOIP, how can it help remote and how can it improve your business. Instead of traditional phone lines, VOIP uses the Internet to make and receive phone calls. VOIP has come a long way from the days when questionable voice quality and carrier confusion made it difficult to deploy without research and expertise. Today, for small business, VoIP offers benefits over conventional PBX phone systems (which can start at about 8K to10K with voice mail) which boil down to lower cost, less complexity and more advanced communication features. Beyond saving you money, VoIP also has the potential to make you more productive by giving your communications a mobility it's never had before. Take a VoIP phone on the road, and you can place or receive calls as if you were sitting at your desk from almost anywhere.
VOIP Mobility Features
- Make and receive calls and check voicemail through software standard phone functionality such as caller ID, transfer and speed dial
- Convert voicemail to e-mail & check voicemail through a Web browser proving a web portal to manage e-mail
- Web conferencing
- FollowMe features which allow calls placed from anywhere to appear to be from your office phone (great for home workers)
- Software based call management and toolbar integration with Outlook to unify communications
Today, work is no longer limited to a specific place. Your employees are out in the field, telecommuting, in meetings, away from their desk or just constantly on the move. But without access to your company network, customers and team members, time away from work is unproductive or even wasted. By connecting mobile workers to your network and to other online tools, you can enable them to sustain a seamless work-flow on the road or from home, making their jobs easier and more effective. That means a better bottom line for the business.