How best can small firms use broadband?

I work for a small company that has yet to take up broadband. How are other companies using broadband and in what business areas...

I work for a small company that has yet to take up broadband. How are other companies using broadband and in what business areas do you expect broadband to have an impact?



Only you can tell whether your business needs it

Roger Marshall, Elite

Like the old joke about lawyers, ask two IT experts what broadband means and you will get three answers. My own definition would involve a connection of at least 500kbps between your in-house network and the internet.

Do any of your existing IT applications need a faster internet response time or data throughput? If the answer is yes, then upgrade your connection. It is cheap enough, so what is the big deal?

The broadband hype bandwagon has more to do with national virility symbols than real business benefits. Broadband roll-out is important to the home computer market, enabling faster downloads of large files. It is also important for rural areas, allowing them to attract small businesses that need a high bandwidth at reasonable prices.

For your company, make a cool business decision. Just because the staff would like fast internet access to their desks does not mean they will use it for company business. You could just be helping them to find a cheaper holiday, or even a new job.

Everyone needs secure high-speed connections

Richard Woods, NCC Group

The advent of broadband has produced great opportunities for small companies. Whether in rural or urban locations, the options of copper, fibre or satellite enable high-speed connections, albeit with an associated cost.

The foremost advantage is internet and e-mail access at faster speeds. Other boons include becoming part of a workable supply chain through linking into bigger companies' processes. For example, a manufacturer of a component used in a larger product could offer high-speed secure remote-working facilities through the use of virtual private networks, enabling fixed-cost access.

Smaller companies now have the opportunity to host their own e-commerce sites where connection speed will have less impact on potential purchasers. With appropriate security or payment options, products can be easily sold in a global market. Smaller companies can even appear bigger with appropriate marketing.

Broadband is likely to have the most impact in small businesses that are expanding but do not necessarily have the physical space. The use of secure remote access will enable new staff to work from home environments or share valuable desk space through hot desking.

There are major benefits, but know the security risks

David Hughes, Deloitte and Touche

Broadband allows businesses to send and receive e-mail almost instantly and access web pages and transfer large files at speeds that no longer mean extended tea breaks for employees.

The frustration of dialling-up is also a thing of the past as broadband is always connected to the internet. Add to this the fact that the phone line can be used simultaneously and networked PCs can share a single connection, and the benefits of this relatively cheap technology become obvious.

As the roll-out of broadband gathers pace, businesses are starting to use its full potential. This may be through the use of application service providers to run otherwise unaffordable IT services. Equally, setting up faster communications links with suppliers and customers has obvious advantages: using EDI for swapping data; purchasing through online procurement systems and auctions; using B2B exchanges; and handling customer queries with CRM systems. In addition, you can more easily manipulate data and content on your company web site, improving its effectiveness and responsiveness.

If all this sounds too good to be true, then bear in mind that the availability of ADSL - the most common broadband platform in the UK - is currently limited to approximately 75% of businesses. While other options exist, such as cable and satellite links, these are more expensive and speeds for all types vary. Also, be aware of the security risks that broadband brings - being always connected to the internet means that your exposure to malicious attacks can increase unless you actively manage the threats.

You will need to get it soon, or lose trade

Robin Laidlaw, Computer Weekly 500 Club

As broadband becomes widely adopted, users will quickly conclude that companies not using it are lagging.

The speed with which data and information can be exchanged is so superior that you rapidly lose concept of how it was before (I speak as someone who was connected just last week).

If you are a supplier and do not have the fastest communication speeds available for your clients, you will probably lose business. Look at fax speeds, the frustration of sending to or receiving from a slow fax says it all. From the end-user point of view, there is evidence that slowness on the internet is a major reason for transactions not being completed.

Broadband makes home working a reality

David Burden, Aseriti

The obvious benefit of broadband is speeding your internet connectivity from the office. However, as a firm that has been using broadband for some years, the real eye-opener for us recently has been the business use of domestic broadband.

We are currently operating a home broadband pilot that enables staff to use domestic broadband connections to access our company network. Security is provided by encryption and SID token authentication. With files getting larger, accessing these over a broadband connection makes remote working far more feasible and enjoyable. The broadband connection also allows the running of key business applications, and access to our company intranet.

For many staff the icing on the cake has been using a suitably secured Wi-Fi wireless network in their home to enable them to access the company network from the lounge, kitchen or garden. So when implementing broadband, don't only think about the office, also think about broadband-enabled home workers and customers.



The experts
Computer Weekly has put together a panel of experts. You can draw on their specialist knowledge to solve a problem. E-mail your questions (or your own solutions to this or the next question) to [email protected]

Certus www.certus.org.uk

NCC Group www.nccglobal.co.uk

Deloitte &Touche www.deloitte.co.uk

Cranfield School of Management www.cranfield.ac.uk/som

Computer Weekly 500 Club www.cw500.co.uk

Henley Management College www.henleymc.ac.uk

AMS www.ams.com

British Computer Society www.bcs.org.uk/elite

Impact www.impact-sharing.com

The Infrastructure Forum www.tif.co.uk

Dominic Barrow www.dominicbarrow.com

Aseriti www.aseriti.com

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