Posted on September 17, 2020 by Dan May
Starting a business with plans for growth, requires clear vision and strategy. Technology forms a key part of the success of any growing organisation and setting the direction for how you want to get the best out of IT as you grow, should be an early consideration for any growth firm.
Whilst every organisation has unique requirements, there are few situations these days where a new business would not base itself firmly in the cloud as far as IT is concerned. Cloud based IT generally has a lower initial set up cost, it has out of the box scalability, and the ‘cost per user, per month’ pricing model makes it simple to budget for IT as your organisation grows.
So, for a ‘born in the cloud’ business, here’s a checklist of your likely IT needs in the growth phase of your business.
You need to quickly decide what platform you are going to use for your core applications. Whilst there are dozens of open source office options, in practice the decision comes down to are you a Google fan or are you a Microsoft fan. Microsoft maintains an impressive 88% market share and so will be the go-to for most new business start-ups, and 365 is the best way to go. A Business Standard plan will suffice for most organisations. For £9.40 per user per month, users will have full access to the usual Office applications as well as SharePoint and Microsoft Teams, but importantly this fee also includes Exchange online, which gives you access to your email, as well as shared calendars, mailboxes, contacts etc via Microsoft Outlook.
It’s important to take professional advice on the initial set up, especially when it comes to Exchange Online and some of the security features discussed below, but once established, you can easily budget £9.40 per additional new hire with no additional set up costs.
Data forms the backbone of every organisation and it makes sense to get the systems in place early on, in order to ensure that as people join your business, there is already a central and shared place to find and store your data. There are several mainstream options for cloud file storage and collaboration. In reality, if you’re subscribing to Microsoft 365 for your other applications, SharePoint is the obvious place to start. SharePoint will give you an unlimited amount of cloud storage, probably for no more than you’re already paying for your user licenses.
As your business grows, you’re going to want to start separating out access to data, so that users only have access to the files and folders they need access to, and SharePoint allows you to do that effectively, whilst also providing access to any authorised user, anywhere in the world, from any device.
There are other products, DropBox being probably the better know of the competitors. What’s important is security of access and that users don’t get into the habit of storing files on local desktops which are not backed up and not collaborative.
As soon as you start storing data in your system, you become responsible for any personal data in terms of GDPR. Early decisions need to made about:
There are some very scalable, cloud-based options for managing all of this, again with simple ‘cost per user, per month’ payment options which makes scaling the business easy to budget for. We recommend doing the right thing from as early as possible, to set good ground rules and to avoid data creep and security gaps from the get-go.
As well as files and folders, there will inevitably be other data that you need to store. Most firms will, at the very least, need an accounting application and a CRM system. Again, start with the premise that cloud is best, and stick to mainstream rather than niche providers in order to provide long term stability and scope for growth. Xero have stolen the march on cloud accounting over recent years, but Sage, AccountsIQ and others all have their merits. It’s worth liaising with your financial advisors or accountants to discuss their recommendations to ensure that data can easily flow between you and them.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, Zoho CRM and HubSpot all feature heavily in the cloud CRM market. Consider what you’re likely to need to integrate with and whether your industry has established ‘off the shelf’ solutions that are already tailored to your line of work.
As you start to employ people, you’ll also need to think about how you record staff data too. Cloud applications such as BreatheHR provide very scalable low-cost cloud platforms that means you never need to start recording annual leave in an Excel spreadsheet!
Cloud phone systems have come a long way in the last couple of years and most providers now offer a fixed cost per user subscription that often includes phone hardware and setup. With many workers now working in different locations, a ‘soft phone’ option or mobile based solution probably makes most sense.
The Covid lockdown accelerated the use of video technology for meetings. If you’re going down the Microsoft 365 route, Microsoft Teams is probably more than adequate for your video conferencing needs but consider what technology you need in place once people are all making calls from a shared location. Good quality headsets with noise cancelling mics are a must for most offices, but meeting room tech that allows people to quickly connect to a shared screen can save several minutes of faff from the start of every meeting and can unite office based and remote participants.
Remember that not all internet providers are the same! Business grade connections have less issues with bandwidth and tend to have better SLAs when it comes to getting issues fixed.
These days there’s no specific need to standardise on end user hardware, there’s not a problem in having a mixed hardware environment, however, for quickly scaling businesses, it does make sense to think about the spec of machines you need, so that devices can be quickly ordered, configured and added to your security estate, before being deployed to new starters. Laptops make much more sense than desktop PCs for agile firms, but think about what peripherals are also needed – external keyboards, mice and headsets are personal issue in this post-covid word, and a single large monitor that can be plugged in to a laptop makes the world of difference when it comes to end user efficiency. You might want to supply one for the office and one for home for workers that are working in a blended home/office fashion.
Think too about office hardware. It’s likely that most businesses will now want an all wireless set up, but £60 domestic wifi routers will simply not cut the mustard. Printers, where needed, are generally low initial cost/high print cost, or the other way around. It’s worth thinking about likely usage and potentially exploring renting on a cost per print basis.
With a cloud-based infrastructure, it’s unlikely that you need to add full time IT staff to your payroll until you’re closer to 200 users. That said, all of this carefully considered strategy needs ongoing management and administration, as well as quick support to help users when things go wrong, or to manage the set-up of new joiners. The cheapest IT providers are not usually the best ones – you don’t just want a break-fix IT support contract, you want a provider that is actively monitoring, patching, updating and protecting your IT estate and providing you with regular reports on the overall performance, security and stability of your system. Choose your IT provider like you would choose a new employee, make sure they match your culture and values and that you have trust in their ability to deliver what they promise.Contact us for advice or help with setting up your IT