IT Checklist for businesses

For businesses this is perhaps the first technology question to ask, but in some ways it’s the easiest to answer. Pretty much any computer you choose today will do what you want but for best performance make sure you have a solid state disk with enough space for you files.  Disk encryption is important too to protect your data.

You will need to think about whether a laptop or desktop is best for you. If you are office-based desktop computers are generally best as they are a bit cheaper, faster and offer a much more comfortable working environment with better keyboards, mice and screens.

Fairly obviously, if you travel then a laptop makes good sense. If your budget can stretch to this consider one that has the option of a docking station so it can be used like a desktop when in the office. Having a spare computer partially configured is a good idea.

We love Apple computers and 25% of our customers use them, but for a business where costs are so important we would suggest a Windows PC is preferable. Windows-based PCs are generally better-value and Microsoft Office on Windows is still the best. Office for Mac isn’t quite as good. Also, as your business grows having a Microsoft platform gives more options.

Do get two displays unless you really don’t have the space. Most computers can power two displays and it makes a huge difference to productivity. Of all the recommendations we make to our customers, this is the easiest and gets the most positive feedback. By far!

Here’s a list of suppliers to consider. It’s by no means exhaustive, but we’ve found these companies to be consistently reputable with reasonable pricing and good after-sales support.

Until quite recently, the only practical way businesses could share files was through a local server. This meant access to company files was only available in the office. When travelling companies were forced to adopt strategies such as copying the files to a local computer, and then copying the edited files back to the server upon return to the office.

However, things have changed – there are lots of large, reputable organisations offering a service where company files are stored both on local computers and in the cloud (or in other words a computer on the internet). Every time someone updates a shared file, it gets synchronised to everyone with access. So if you are travelling without internet access and you change a file, the next time you are online the changes automatically get copied to the right places. Even better, this takes care of some aspects of backup and some of the services allow you to go back in time to restore old versions of files is you change something by mistake.

More details on cloud file sharing can be found below.

For businesses whose employees tend to spent most time in a particular location it can make sense to install a low-cost server. This provides better security and fast performance when accessing files. We specialise in combining low-cost reliable servers with cloud file sharing so that you get the best of both worlds.

These days regular computers are so powerful they can easily act as a “server”. For 5 or so people files can be shared reliably using a relatively low powered desktop. We are experts in configuring very reliable, secure software on local low-powered and very effective servers. Network Attached Storage (NAS) is another sensible, good-value option small or medium-sized businesses. NAS devices provide better protection against hardware failures by spreading your important files across many hard drives so if one fails your data is protected. NAS devices can also be combined with a low-cost computer to provide an extremely stable and flexible “virtual server” that provides excellent protection and grows with your business.

For our larger customers with 10-50 employees we also install and support Microsoft servers and locally hosted email but for the vast majority of businesses today this is overkill and the costs rarely are justified.

There’s a huge difference between the email that comes free with your website and business class products. Business class email is much more reliable and synchronises seamlessly with all your computers and mobile devices. Business class email is also better at controlling spam and viruses, many of which are transmitted by email.

Moreover, it also allow you to keep all your contacts, calendars and tasks completely in-sync between your mobile devices, tablets, laptops and office computers. So if you add a contact in your iPhone or Android Phone it’s automatically available in Outlook on your laptop.  There are also options for group collaboration, instant messaging and video calls built in.

In the past this high quality product meant a significant investment in servers but today you can rent a business class email product from a range of low-cost reliable providers.

All of these work seamlessly with the same address as your website.

Microsoft 365 and Google Apps are very capable products. Depending on your business, it can also make good sense to rent an email account from an independent organisation.

Finally, the choice of email provider is very linked to the choice of cloud file provider for example, Office 365 and Google Apps provides both.

Backup is so important and so often overlooked. You can lose your data in many ways including spilling a nice hot latte over your computer or a virus that deleted or encrypts your files. Or you might make a mistake and delete them yourself. Or your computer might fail, the office could have a fire or you could be the victim of a burglary. Sorry to go on!

The good news is that backup today is so easy with many very effective services that automatically backup your files to a secure backup on the cloud. So if one of the unpleasant things we list above were to happen recovery is as easy as logging onto a website and downloading your files to your new computer.

One of the simplest standalone backup products to look at is Carbonite and here’s a link to their website.  However for a business with multiple computers and users other options are likely to be better value and more comprehensive.  Even with cloud based files, there is a good argument for an additional cloud based and/or local backup so that it’s easy to find old versions of all your files.  It makes recovery faster and gives more options should disaster strike.

There is quite a bit of overlap between cloud file sharing services and standalone backup so before deciding it’s best to consider both together.

Creating a powerful new website isn’t a simple task and getting it right requires input from people with different skills and strengths. Shortlands Computing can build web sites, like this one for example, however we more often manage the process to help you bring the right design, SEO and content production skills together. That saves you time by carefully planing and organising the work. Creating or updating your site will involve a range of suppliers and we can help you with independent advice so you understand what’s involved and pick the best options for your business goals.

We typically coordinate:

  • The content production. At the end of the day, the words and messages on the site will come from your team as no one else understands your business well enough. But that takes precious time and the way to minimise that is through clear responsibilities and great planning. That’s where we help.
  • The web designer who will build the sites look and feel.
  • The choice or production of images, video and other media.
  • The search engine optimisation work to get your site ranked high in Google and other search engines.

Shortlands Computing helps our customers with more than technology, we make changes lower risk and smooth.

  • Choosing and installing accounting software
  • Sales lead management and CRM options
  • Easy to use tools and software that can really improve your productivity
  • Improving the efficiency of repetitive processes
  • Managing office set-ups and networking
  • Set-up reliable internet and wireless networking

Suppliers for desktops:

Chillblast
Dell
eBuyer
Novatech
Palicomp

Suppliers for laptops:

Dell
eBuyer
Save on Laptops
John Lewis

Cloud file sharing

One of the most important aspects of business technology is securely and reliably sharing files between employees. In the past, the only practical way a business could share files was through a local server. This meant access to company files was only available in the office. When travelling companies were forced to adopt cumbersome strategies such as copying the files to a local computer, and then copying the edited files back to the server upon return to the office.

However, things are very different now when it comes to file sharing. There are a number of large, reputable organisations offering a service where company files are stored both on local computers and in the cloud (or in other words a computer on the internet). Every time someone updates a shared file, it gets synchronised to all the computers automatically. So if you are travelling without internet access and you change a file, the next time you are online the changes automatically get copied to the right places. Even better, this takes care of some aspects of backup and some of the services allow you to go back in time to restore old versions of files if you change something by mistake.

Here’s a list of three of the major offerings. It isn’t comprehensive, but it gives a flavour of what’s on offer. It’s in alphabetical order, not in order of preference. These are all reliable, reputable services, although being technology, all are subject to glitches from time to time. We do have well informed views on strengths and weaknesses and can advise businesses on what’s best for them given their particular needs.

Office 365

OneDrive for Business is part of the powerful Office 365 product that provides excellent business email. OneDrive for Business is highly configurable and can sync files to computers to allow access when on the move. It also allows real time editing of Word and Excel files with multiple users.  In the past the software that synchronised files to computers was not as reliable as Dropbox however this has improved recently making OneDrive for Business a very compelling option.

Dropbox

Dropbox has been around for a long time and is still one of the best products and very tried and tested. It’s straightforward and  very reliable and is particularly good if your business has a mix of PCs and Macs. The Dropbox business products have backups of old versions and allow good security to deal with people leaving your business.

Google Drive

Google Drive is part of Google’s G Suite business product and can also be a stand-alone file sharing service. It’s very sophisticated with the most options for granular control over who shares what. Like Dropbox, Google Drive works well across platforms so if you use a mix of Windows and Apple it’s a good product. Google Drive allows documents to be edited on-line by multiple people and all its office applications are accessed from a web browser.  The spreadsheet and word processing tools are increasingly powerful, more than adequate for office work.  However, some people find it quite a jump to switch from familiar applications like Word and Excel. That said, we rate G Suite highly, it is excellent value and if you like Gmail, this is a great option.

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