While large corporate customers can afford the outlay required for new technologies, small to medium-sized enterprises have to be more careful about how they spend their ITbudgets. It is perhaps not surprising then, that according to a National Opinion Poll, only 28% of SMEs have adopted broadband.
More encouragingly Intellect, the trade body for the UK IT sector, found that 52% of its tech-savvy SME members now use broadband. But even among Intellect members, only one in five SMEs without broadband was planning to adopt it in the next year. It seems they simply do not see the need for it.
The main benefit many people associate with broadband is speed. The ability to transfer large amounts of data in shorter times was attractive to Aspire Training, a not-for-profit technology and management development training organisation. Training centre manager Chris Preece wanted a fast connection because Aspire is a member of the Learndirect national online training programme. His centre uses eight PCs to stream audio and video training materials to students. Aspire is based outside the catchment area for ADSL broadband, so Preece worked with satellite-based broadband provider Aramiska instead.
If speed is one obvious benefit of broadband connection, constant connectivity is the other - an always-on connection enables a small business to do things it could not do before. It can make communications between disparate members of staff and contractors more effective, says Daniel Rajkumar, founder of Web Translations.
Rajkumar was runner-up in the Broadband Britain Challenge, a promotional campaign run by BT Wholesale, which sells broadband services on to other ISPs. His business translates websites for customers, and he uses contractors from around the world to do the work. "I have 50 different contacts in my instant messaging software," he says.
By using non office-based employees, he is able to use his resources more effectively. He uses home-based workers and language graduates, who may be travelling while working for him. It would be difficult for him to co-ordinate these workers without an always-on connection, he says.
An always-on connection also enables an e-mail server to be run in-house more easily, giving you more control over how you handle incoming and outgoing mail. Content filtering and server-based virus protection to become more manageable.
Aramiska provides a local Linux-based e-mail server for customers as part of its ARC-managed broadband services package. It is also possible to have this system, along with other elements of your network, managed remotely by the company's datacentre staff.
Philippa Winterburn, head of broadband marketing at BT Wholesale, highlights another benefit for SMEs using broadband, that makes use of the speed and the always-on nature of the connection. The company offers remote back-up services, enabling small business customers to upload their data to a secure central site for later retrieval in the event of a system failure.
Remote access is another useful feature supported by broadband connections. Travellers or homeworkers can use remote access systems to access files and programs held on the PC back at the office, making it easier for them to go out on sales calls or for the company to employ people on a more flexible basis.
Remote access can also be used for technical support, enabling IT staff to monitor and fix software problems remotely. Windows XP has a remote desktop connection facility built in. SMEs can also get more powerful products from suppliers such as ExpertCity, which provides separate software tailored for either technical support or remote access.
It is possible to access a remote machine using a dial-up connection, but you either have to have someone at the remote location to receive your incoming phone call or have the modem set to auto-answer. Broadband makes the whole process more seamless, and provides you with better data throughput.
Remote access for technical support and training is one of the benefits Glyn Insurance gets from its broadband implementation. The Cornwall-based insurance broker also has offices in Devon. Founder Glyn Rowett explains that the firm used to connect its branches using leased kilostream lines. Since moving to DSL he has saved about £48,000 a year, and has installed an e-mail and internet proxy server for the staff in all his offices, running on a virtual private network. Under the old system, employees only had limited access to the internet via an ISDN line - the kilostream lines were only point-to-point links between offices.
The addition of broadband internet access means the company can do away with many of the paper files it receives from the 40 insurance firms it deals with.
"We are trying for a paperless office," says Rowett. More files are now downloaded instead of sent through the post, he says. "We are about halfway there."
Because it is relatively inexpensive compared to a leased line, broadband offers SMEs connectivity options that were previously only available to larger companies. It can be useful for everything from teleworking to branch connectivity.
SMEs adopting broadband must think about ways to use it that capitalise on more than just its speed, to create a solution that is about brains as much as brawn.
- Broadband's benefits stem from two technical features - speed and always-on connectivity
- Speed enables larger file transfers and better quality streaming
- Remote systems management lets a team of experts monitor your network and system resources. This can increase both your security and your system reliability
- Broadband connectivity makes it easier to run your own e-mail server on site. This gives more control over how incoming and outgoing content is filtered, and provides a more flexible virus protection at the server-level
- Remote desktop access is possible via dial-up, but it is better on broadband. It can benefit both "road warriors" and home workers, making your business more flexible. It also has the potential to make technical support more efficient between remote locations
- Remote file back-up can save your company in the event of a local system failure or natural disaster. Broadband's speed and constant connectivity make such a rescue easier to achieve.