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Four questions every Small Business owner must ask when considering collaboration technology

October 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm PST

By Rebecca Leach, Cisco Canada

They say communication is the key to success in a relationship, and that rule certainly applies to the relationship between business owners and their employees and customers. Collaborative technology solutions facilitate that communication through a variety of channels that include voice, conference calls, instant messaging, video conferencing, enterprise social software, and mobile applications. Cisco’s collaboration tools allow employees to be less dependent on physical presence and travel, and be more productive and responsive to the needs of customers and partners. This results in better customer service and an efficient, more innovative workforce.

So, how do you decide what’s right for you? When looking to deploy collaboration solutions, there are four questions all small business owners must ask.

What products and services do you offer?

Collaboration is a broad term, and can include services such as Unified Communications, Cisco IWE, Jabber, and TelePresence. It’s important that small business owners are aware of the various types of technology under the collaboration umbrella and any integration limitations for each. Look ahead and consider emerging technologies, as implementing video collaboration services may differentiate your company from competitors. And some industries, like healthcare, have industry-specific security requirements your collaboration solution must support.

How does your solution support employee devices?

Once you’ve chosen what collaborative products you want your employees to use, you have to consider how they will access them. As more employees purchase their own smartphones and tablets, how these devices are supported becomes paramount in the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) movement. A small business collaboration solution that works with all devices can deliver greater mobile productivity benefits than one oriented to a single manufacturer or desktop systems. So look for a collaboration solution, such as the Cisco BE 6000 that works with mobile devices and desktop computers from any device manufacturer, any operating system and any wired or wireless network location.

How secure are your products?

When selecting a single collaboration service or suite of services, especially with a cloud delivery service model, small business owners need to ensure that there are adequate security precautions in place. Too often small businesses use consumer technology not designed to meet their security needs. Ask about the security of their solutions, and work with your technology partner to define policies and procedures to secure your collaboration services. Look for ways to control who can access your wired and wireless networks, how servers and confidential data will be protected and how you will control remote access from any device while ensuring the security of sensitive or confidential communications.

How much will it cost?

This is a big issue for a small business, it is imperative to implement a collaboration solution that integrates with your existing IT investments because costs are reduced when you can build on top of previous applications. How will the products you’re considering integrate into your current environment? Will additional costs be incurred if customized solutions are required? And don’t be afraid to ask about the Return on Investment (ROI) of the solution. While the initial setup cost for collaboration may be expensive, the service will reduce business expenses such as long distance, utility costs and travel expenses.

It’s important to know the answers to all of these questions before you decide on the collaboration solution that’s right for your small business.

Do you have other questions that SMBs should ask before choosing collaboration technologies? List them in the comments below!

For more of our four-part series on small business technology, read my post on how to find the right financing plan for your business. And for more small business technology solutions, visit our website.

Cisco Small Business Online Device Emulators

August 15, 2013 at 4:27 pm PST

How do you get a feel for things? Perhaps a little research online, a review or two, maybe a referral from a friend or co-worker. But big purchases, such as a new car may require more; more information.  So you go to take a test drive. Well, we have something similar to a test drive.

As you may know, it is not often you get a chance to check out how an IT device’s graphical user interface (GUI) looks and feels. Sure you might see a couple of static screen capture and be able to point how the navigation menu is laid out. But beyond that, it is not until the device is purchased and in the installation process, that the real user experience is realized. It’s hard to get a grasp on on the level of complexity for set-up and deployment, let alone configure a VLAN or set-up a secure VPN.

EM page shot

Well, we have offered something better. Our team has delivered a set of device emulators, including switches, access points and routers. You can actually navigate through the actual menus, see how the wizards look and work, and truly get a sense of how easy the small business products are to configure, install, deploy and manage.

Here is what the emulators/GUI’s look like:
Emulator screenshot

wapmain

Small Business Online Device Emulators

You will notice that all of the small business product user interfaces share the same look and feel, as well as similar general navigation principles. With our Small Business product line, we truly take to heart the need for a great user experience and are always looking to make our products easier to use.

Please, leave us a comment or suggestion good, bad or otherwise to help us improve our products.

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Picking a Networking Solution for a Fast-Growing Small Business

June 27, 2013 at 2:57 pm PST

Network Connectivity is a big concern for any size of business, let alone a small, growing business. Picking the right solution to address  growth is a key decision.

There are countless options available to small business owners ranging from asking cousin Jimmy, calling a “computer expert” you found on Yelp, or even a quick Google Search. No doubt, this experience can be a daunting one.

All jokes aside, choosing the right solution can save some money now and in the future. That is where right-sizing your network solution comes into play. It does not take long for a successful, single-person business to transform into a growing small business.  A consumer wireless router could probably do the job for a single person home office adequately. But if you are looking to use your network for more than just accessing the Internet, then the choice is not so obvious.  Now or in the future, you may want to access local network resources remotely and securely, use Voice over IP, or segment your network to securely support guest access.  Moreover, as you grow, business applications become more critical.  They need to be readily available, dependable and always on-line.

This is where the new Cisco Small Business Wireless Access Points and RV Series Router come into play.

 

Cisco AP551

Part of a growing small business portfolio, the all-new Cisco WAP551& 561 are perfect wireless solutions for your small business These access points enables small businesses to deliver high-capacity wireless N connectivity and guest access, securely and reliably. Simple yet powerful, it delivers business-class features such as Gigabit Ethernet connectivity with PoE, a captive portal for customized guest access, multiple SSID, VLAN’s and more…

Makes sense right?

But wait! How does the network connect to the WAP’s? First, you need a router. The business-class RV320 is the new flagship in the Cisco Small Business RV Series portfolio.

The Cisco RV320 is a powerful, yet highly secure business class router, offering strong networking performance throughput. Add in business-class features such as dual WAN’s for fail-over and load balancing, an intelligent user interface, USB 3G/4G Broadband failover, and you have a router that will provide years of reliable service.

The last piece of the puzzle is a Cisco’s business class switch that offers power-over Ethernet (PoE) functionality, allowing Access Points to be flexibly optimized for placement. The Cisco SG300 Series of PoE switches offer PoE functionality, with the Security, Quality of Service, Scalability, and Reliability to deliver the best experience for your users. These switches are available in 10 to 52 port configurations.

Cisco SG300 Series

The bottom line is this: Cisco Small Business Products are changing the way you connect your business to the world.

 

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Cisco Small Business Support Community

May 30, 2013 at 11:25 am PST

As a Small business owner, you know how to run your business efficiently.  So what do you do when you need support for your current Cisco small business network?  If you are like me, you will search the internet for a solution.  Hopefully your search will lead you to the Cisco Small Business Support Community where you will find helpful support documents, videos, and active conversations regarding all Cisco Small Business Products. 

Look at what you will find within the Small Business Support Community:

SBSC-map 2

A) Check to see if you have the latest firmware by clicking on the product family.  You can download the latest firmware from there too.

B) Search the community by typing in your question to see if there is another discussion or document already available that may have an answer. 

C) Use our Guide Me Tool to search our knowledge base or troubleshoot your equipment.

D) This area has all of our popular links such as contact information for our Small Business Support Center locations where you can speak directly with an Small Business Support Engineer.

E) Log in to post your question.  To post a question, all you need to do is to register for a Cisco ID or if you have a Cisco ID just login

F) Go directly to the product area to see all the conversations and documents related to that product.

G) Stay up to date with the latest firmware release by following @CiscoSBsupport on Twitter or to see what is new in the Small Business Support Community, follow the Small Business Community Blog.

The Cisco Small Business Community is available 24X7 and encourages participation from everyone.  We update the community frequently and strive to make the community the first place to go for your Cisco Small Business Product support needs. 

Please bookmark or add to your favorites, this URL: www.cisco.com/go/smallbizsupport

If you have any ideas on how we can improve, please leave a comment.

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Why Engage Expert IT Services for Mobility and BYOD?

March 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm PST

BYOD blogThree Reasons: More Productivity, Revenues, and Savings

How can you control the connections and user experiences—and security—of BYOD and other mobile devices that access your business network?  Maybe you or your IT staff have the expertise and time to do-it-yourself (DIY). Or, maybe not.

In my last blog,I outlined the benefits of mobility technologies and the hot bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend that is shaping the future of how business is done. When you consider the amazing things that happen when we connect people, process, data, and things, it’s no surprise to see the demand accelerating from employees, business leaders, and customers for mobile device connectivity.

So, how do you take care of it all—including security? Is DIY really the answer? The devil is in the details.

In this blog, I’ll give you two real-life examples of an alternative to DIY that has a high value proposition: engaging expert IT services for planning, building, and managing mobility—and quickly getting full ROI. 

Example #1: Higher productivity, lower OpEx: A small business wanted to trim the large operating expense (OpEx) for its office space in the city by getting employees to work remotely. But the business also wanted to preserve its data security and employees’ feeling of working collaboratively. It decided to engage TekScape, a Cisco Premier Certified Partner, to come up with a solution.

TekScape specializes in “landscape technology”, its term for technology that facilitates more mobile and productive working environments. TekScape delivers and manages advanced IT solutions to help businesses increase employee productivity and reduce operating expenses. Its services include tailored design, implementation, and support of network integration, data center, unified collaboration, and mobility.

TekScape provided the 30-employee business with design and implementation services, as well as an ongoing managed service. The technology solution included Cisco collaboration and security products, and hosted communications services for mobile device apps and Cisco SMARTnet technical support service. To enhance the support, Cisco SMARTnet gives customers direct access to Cisco experts and online resources that can quickly resolve problems, lessen risk by detecting security issues, and keep customers’ IT staff up to date on technology advances and security threats. Solutions like this one position small businesses competitively for current and future mobility opportunities.

Following are the quantitative results:

  • Over 75 percent of the employees moved out of the office and now work from home or the site of their choice, using BYOD.
  • Their productivity immediately increased by 10 to 15 percent, due to less commuting, more flexible work hours, and the greater efficiency of participating in meetings in a videoconference format
  • The annual OpEx for office space shrank by more than $125,000
  • The business realized full ROI from its mobility products and services in less than a year

Example #2: Revenue and business continuity: A 200-employee business that provides medical records services had an ongoing contract with TekScape to monitor the performance of its network. The network equipment included a Cisco Unified Communications Manager platform and IP phones, and Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX)for client devices.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the business’s building on a Monday, 30 feet of water flooded two floors beneath the business. All power, Internet, and phone services for the building were knocked out.

Early the next morning,TekScape engineers wearing water boots showed up at the customer’s business, ready to help it resume operations. They quickly assessed that the utilities’ restoration of power and communications services to the building would take days (if not weeks), a delay the business could not endure due to client contracts and compliance requirements.

So TekScape devised an interim BYOD communications network solution, using the customers’ existing network equipment. TekScape engineers carried the communications platform to a co-location center, where they configured it for remote contact center agents, softphones, point-to-point video, and Cisco Jabber. The 200 employees quickly resumed work from locations all over the city, using their tablets, laptops, PCs, and smartphones to connect securely via VPNs.

It turned out that full restoration of operations at the site of the business’s building took two months, a delay that would have cost the customer $5 million in lost revenues. 

The quantitative results: In less than a day, the customer realized full ROI from TekScape’s mobility services. And without them, the customer said, it would have gone out of business.      

How could your business use expert mobility services to increase its productivity, revenues, or savings on operating expenses? The ROI from engaging expert IT services for planning, building, and managing mobility can be big and fast.

So if you are thinking of an alternative to DIY, consider working with a Cisco Partner.  Find a partner today.

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