There is always something in the news regarding IT security – whether it’s the horrendously scary GO Zeus or remembering to cover your PIN code at the tills, all around us we are being warned about the impact of letting our guard down. But be honest, how many of us still think – It won’t happen to me?
In the olden days you’d dial in with your modem to the office network, log in and (very slowly) be able to download and work with files. However, this was unreliable and so slow to be something only used in desperate situations.
Once ADSL became normal the use of VPN (Virtual Private Networking) became the preferred method of accessing the office network. However, at the same time the size of the files we were using had also grown considerably and before long VPN became slow and tedious to use as well.
With the advent of Cloud based services, such as Office365 and VoIp, the ability to access your data without needing to use VPN’s or other dial-in systems suddenly opened up the ability to detach yourself from the office without huge levels of complexity.
From a business continuity perspective this is amazing – the need for a Disaster recovery centre was removed and as long as your staff had an internet connection they could work. And better still, the outside world wouldn’t even know!
In any case, since the advent of VPN, more businesses permitted staff to work from home. Some companies, such as MoneyPenny and even the AA used this to have a large proportion of their workforce based permanently from home, giving great flexibility to their staff and create significant reductions on staff costs, as well as environmental benefits from reducing the number of vehicles on the road etc.
This however creates it’s own set’s of issues!
Firstly, the member of staff is no longer visible to the rest of the business in the same manner as an office based staff. This means that you have to have high levels of trust that productivity will be maintained. If the staff is more results or task based then this might not matter.
Next, it can get a bit lonely for home workers – factor in how to keep in touch and maintain motivation. Regular team meetings will help as well as social gatherings to help engage your staff.
There are others factors as well, but the last one I’ll mention here is that staff can also misuse this ability and use “working from home” as a way of getting paid for a day when they don’t feel like coming to the office. You will need to consider how you manage this in terms of your company policies.
Now, there are other options too. If you consider that there will be occasions where it is simply not time efficient to get to the office or other practicalities that prevent getting to the office and working from a Starbucks or Costa coffee doesn’t give you the right environment to work in. With this in mind, a number of businesses are creating places where you can work outside of the office.
If you are a Regus customer, or utilise their BusinessWorld service, you can have access to their meeting rooms and workspaces. However, this can be expensive if your needs are a little variable or infrequent.
My friend Tom Ball recently set up a service called NearDesk which (as Tom himself describes) is much like an Oyster for desk space on a PAYG basis. What’s great about this type of space is that it creates nice hubs to go and work and be amongst and around other people, thus preventing the loneliness you may get if working from home.
So some food for thought when considering having a more flexible work force and working environment. As always, if you want to know more, get in touch and we can help you find the best solution for your business.
A little while I wrote a piece about choosing which edition of Office 2013 to get. Judging on the number of questions I get about Office 365 there seems to be some misunderstanding as to what it actually is.
Many people see it as just a different way of getting the Office desktop software on their computer and paying monthly rather than buying a copy outright.
It’s not. It’s much more than that.
In a nutshell, Office 365 is Microsoft’s collective brand for their SaaS (Software as a Service) or Cloud portfolio. It comprises of a number of different elements, of which the key ones we will explore here.
This is Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange service – rather than having your Exchange Server on a server in your office this is where your email is provided as a service. Key benefits are no server, no need to worry about backup and very high uptime or availability.
SharePoint with Office WebApps
SharePoint is an interesting one. In some respects it can be considered as a document management system, but really it fits in to the Intranet/Extranet space and allows you to publish documents, shared content etc to both internal and external parties. Additionally, it also comes with Office Web Apps which is essentially a cut down version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint which will allow you to edit documents within the Browser without having to have the applications installed locally, or needing to download the document before editing (which you still can if you want).
Lync is an internal communication system a bit like Skype except it’s a bit more private. It will link into your Outlook calendar so other people in your directory can see if you’re in based on your diary (it will also change to away if you’re away from your desk for a while) and there is a mobile app that you can have on your iPhone.
Office Professional Plus
The desktop software is the normal Office 2013 we already know. However this is the subscription version and (if you have it) will link in to your SharePoint site so you can access documents on your SharePoint site.
Additionally you can add things like Dynamics CRM online and other applications such as Project Professional and they will integrate in to your overall Office 365 package.
Do I need it?
It often depends on what you want and how you operate as a business. Personally, if you want a nice wrapped up solution that can provide a significant amount of your business technology in one place then I think it’s ideal. If you like running the very latest version of Office and other applications then it’s also ideal from a software lifecycle perspective and allows your entire organisation to be on the same version.
The big catch is that support from Microsoft directly is very limited and rely on Cloud Partners, such as us, to provide the skills in developing, implementing and supporting businesses using 365 as a platform.
If you’re giving it some thought and ready to start moving services in to the cloud then please get in touch to talk about this or any other Cloud services you might be considering.
So we’ve all heard of VoIP right? Do we really know what it is and what it looks like? Is it better? Isn’t Skype VoIP?
Lots of questions!
Let’s start at the beginning.
Way back some traditional office phone system manufacturers recognised that life would be easier if they could attached their phones to the computer CAT5 network. This would mean that the phones wouldn’t need their own dedicated cabling back to the phone switch and moving extensions around would become a whole lot simpler by simply moving cables around in the server room.
Then a few enterprising companies thought…why don’t the phones become part of the data network and use the same technology as the computers to talk back to the phone switch. This was the birth of LAN telephony. In the server room the same traditional phone switch connected to an ISDN2 or ISDN30 as before, but instead now used a data connection for the phones and switch to talk to each other.
The next step was for these same manufacturers (and some new ones by now) to enable the use of the same method to now route branch phone calls over their office internet connection rather than breaking out in to POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). For multi branch business suddenly calling different offices became free! Basic VoIP was here.
A few consumer services popped up, notably Skype (now owned by Microsoft), which took advantage of people’s internet connections at home to allow them to use the internet to call other Skype users around the world for free, or for a low-ish cost, regular landline or mobile numbers. Skype works by using something called Peer-Networking, where the call is routed through a number of Skype users eventually to the recipient. Whilst very secure, this caused some concerns for business users and the potential for calls to be eavesdropped so take up in the commercial space was tiny to be virtually non-existent so ISDN was still very much in use.
Now that branch-to-branch calling within a business was possible with VoIP, the next stage was to move the phone system out of the office and in to the Cloud. Using some clever technology, the office now only needed some intelligent telephones that would “reach out” into the internet and connected to a phone system hosted by a telecoms company. These phone systems could then be partitioned so each customer is isolated from each other but take advantage of the scale a larger system can provide (very much in the same vein as hosted Exchange works). All calls are then connected to POTS via the telecoms companies connection into the BT network. This is known as Hosted or Managed Telephony and uses VoIP as the mechanism to make it all work.
So it is better? Cheaper?
The main reasons for switching to a hosted solution is not really around cost or should be a cost based decision. The key difference is this type of service is delivered via a subscription model (so per user per month) rather than a combination of Cap-Ex, Line Rental, Maintenance etc from a traditional system. So over a lifetime you will probably spend a similar amount of money, but distributed more evenly over (say) a 5 year period.
The key benefit is that you end up with a better solution with much higher levels of features that exist only in a much “bigger” system without having all the optional extra costs such as auto-attendant, voicemail etc. Being a subscription based service you can scale up and down (although admittedly scaling down can be a challenge) depending on need, and as a non location specific service you can have your “work” phone on your desk, on your mobile or at home without needing to muck about with diverting etc. It makes working from home a lot more invisible to your customers! And one of the best bit’s is that you can transfer your existing BT number across (which are tied to the local exchange) which means any future office moves won’t affect your phone number.
So should you consider it? Here at the Engine Room we switched to VoIP (with Voicenet now 8×8) a few years ago as a low cost entry into a more clever phone system when the size of the team started to grow. Having had a number of office moves since then, not having to deal with BT, new phone numbers etc is a massive saving in time and hassle.
If you’re thinking about moving office, you should definitely think about it, and if you have an obsolete or at capacity traditional system it’s worth exploring. Come talk to us and we can guide you though the best options to suit your business.
This is just about the most important bit to get right. This comprises of both telephone and internet connectivity. BT Openreach can have a long lead time on some of their services so you need to be ordering your services as soon as you possibly can. Obviously this can be dependent on when the new lease starts, what flexibility your landlord can offer you and other similar factors. Typically a single analogue line with some form of broadband is a 10-15 day lead time. If you need ISDN (for your phone network) this can be as much as 30 working days. If you are on a tight timeline then considering a different form of Telephony (such as VoIP) can help reduce the time needed, as well as upfront costs. Getting the right level of internet connectivity is also important, so it’s well worth checking beforehand what is available before you commit to a new space. Online tools such as SamKnows (http://www.samknows.com/broadband/broadband_availability) can tell you who and what is available at your nearest BT Exchange. Not all locations can have Fibre Internet (although it is coming) so factor that in if that is a requirement for your business. If it turns out only standard ADSL is available where you want to go, and your heart is set on it, then other services such as EFM may be available. We can help you identify what is available so you can make the right choice in terms of both connectivity and telephony solutions.
2. Cabling and infrastructure
Moving into a new office gives an opportunity to take a “clean sheet” approach to your office layout. With this in mind, factor in enough data and telephone points around the office so that and desk moves or layout changes you have data points nearby. As the cost of provisioning more data points at the outset is significantly cheaper and less disruptive it makes sense to (what may seem) to go overboard and put loads in. It will save grief later. There are two choices on cabling standards in common use now – CAT 5e and CAT 6. As CAT6 is only about 10% more expensive than CAT5e it tends to make sense to go with the newer standard to give a degree of future-proofing.
WiFi is not a substitute for data cabling. In our experience it does not provide as robust or as reliable a connection as a physical cabled connection and should be viewed as a “extra” mostly to facilitate guests and mobile devices. In any case, most telephone systems will require a cabled-in connection so it’s hard to avoid the need for cabling. With that all said, it is worth investing in as robust a WiFi solution as you can (rather than the built in WiFi on your internet router) such as mid-range solutions from Rukus which can offer solid 2.4G and 5G WiFi connectivity to a large number of devices.
If the new office space is being fitted out prior to occupancy get everyone working together. Power and data cabling can be run at the same time (saving time and money) before partitions are put up, and cables run before the flooring is completed. This will give a neater end result and get’s everyone sharing responsibility to get the job completed on time.
5. Consider moving some or all of your IT in to the cloud
Moving office is a good time to consider how you use IT in your business. Moving some or all of your technology to a cloud based service can make the office move smoother as you become less reliant on on-premise services (such as email) but also gives an opportunity to move to a more robust and hardware independent system. See my other post about Cloud solutions to get a better idea on what’s out there (http://www.theengineroom.co.uk/so-this-cloud-computing-thing-whats-it-all-about/)
6. Time and contingency planning
You have to give yourself enough time to get everything done before D day. Moving office is an expensive exercise as it is, but can be costly if your timelines don’t allow for anything to go wrong. This (often) is Telecoms related with problems getting things provisioned, but can include other factors such as delayed electrics. The cost to your business in moving to a not ready space can easily exceed the cost of paying double rent for a few weeks or temporarily allowing staff to work from home or using short term office space from the likes of Regus (Regus.co.uk).
So if you have an office move on the horizon, come and talk to us. We can help guide you through the things to think about, work closely with the fit out contractors and make the whole process run as smoothly as possible.