Winning office technology decisions help ensure your company success. When starting a company or expanding your company, you will first consider leads, prospects, customers, and sales. But then you’ll need to focus on the technology behind your sales and delivery organizations.
Winning with Enterprise Architecture
The success or failure of your company always begins with a market opportunity – the collision of customer need, your innovative solutions, and your initiative to find the customer and sell your product or service. Efficient product and service delivery and responsiveness to customer needs helps you retain your customer and earn subsequent orders.
The tasks that make the collision happen, deliver the products and services, and respond to customer needs all depend on your enterprise architecture. Your enterprise architecture includes your people, processes, office technology, business rules, marketing programs, physical location, and even your capitalization. The office technology decisions you make can either dramatically aid or greatly hinder the effectiveness of your sales and delivery processes.
When Technology Goes Wrong – The Wreck of the Penn Central
The Wreck of the Penn Central is a great example of how making the wrong office technology decisions can destroy your otherwise profitable business.
On 1 February 1968, the two largest railroads in the US merged. The Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central Railroad merged to become The Penn Central. The newly formed giant Penn Central only lived a year and 2 days. Ignoring union featherbedding and over-regulation issues, one of the biggest causes of death was an incompatibility in the back office technology each railroad employed.
Each railroad managed its rolling stock, tracked its cargo, sold passenger space, and scheduled crews with a separate system. By the time the railroads merged operations, the two back-end systems could not talk to each other, and the temporary operating procedures used simply did not work. As a fatal result, rolling stock was lost, cargo was lost or delayed, and the trains didn’t run on time. Customer billings dropped, and the Penn Central became the biggest bankruptcy in history at the time bankruptcy was declared.
Yet, at this moment, there were customers with money to spend, freight to be shipped, and passengers to be boarded. There were rails and rail cars in place, plenty of railroad employees to run the trains and tracks, and all the fuel, permits, right of ways, and spare parts needed. Everything was in place, except for the back-end systems needed to take the orders and track the delivery.
Your choice of office technology may seem like a mere administrative issue, but it’s actually too important for you to ignore.
The top office technology decisions you make, as the entrepreneur, should not be made casually or whimsically. Your sales and delivery team will have to use the tools you provide them, and griping about bad choices will begin on day 1. When you hear griping, you should interpret it as lost sales and lower revenue.
We broadly divide your choices into two categories:
- Hardware, Equipment, Furniture
- Cloud Services
The sections following offer some tips and observations within each of the categories.
Hardware, Equipment, Furniture
Laptop / Large Monitors / Tablets
Your choices for a desktop environment is simple – Apple or Microsoft. Ten years ago, Microsoft was your only decision. You’d buy a Dell or HP desktop and then accessorize as needed. Today, a laptop is the personal computer of choice, and the Apple Macbook Pro and Macbook Air laptops lead in functionality, performance, quality, and reliability. Microsoft Windows compatible laptops are lower in cost. Apple and Samsung have a clear lead in capability and performance for tablets.
- Samsung (tablets)
Don’t skimp on accessories, whichever direction you go. And don’t make the computer cable so short that your team members can’t locate their laptop anywhere in their workspace. If you have room for people, let them work where they want in that space so they don’t feel like prisoners under observation.
Apple equipment is usually the best choice for freedom from problems and capability. Apple is famous for stuff that “just works”, so if you are tired of loading drivers, this is the brand for you.
Workgroup and Personal Printers, Scanners, Copiers, Faxes
HP, Canon, Epson, and Lexmark make quality workgroup and personal printers and scanners. Hard to go wrong. You’ll still need a FAX machine and a copy machine at every office location, but an all-in-one device can serve most offices up to 50 persons, as electronic distribution has greatly reduced copying.
Don’t assume that one printer will work as a workgroup printer for 50 persons. It’s probably much more efficient, not less expensive, to buy inexpensive printers for many or most of your employees than to get a high-capacity printer for a group of 50.
Wired and Wireless Local Area Network, Security, Local File Servers, Local Backup
You need a rock-solid wired and wireless local area network, complete with a firewall and intrusion detection gear. Get professional help on the design and installation. Don’t screw around cutting costs here or your staff will hate you.
You need local file servers for file sharing and document folders to support collaboration. You’ll also need offsite backup for your laptops and file servers, and it needs to run automatically. Again, get help on the design and setup. It isn’t expensive, but you want it to run seamlessly. Be sure to test file recovery after installation and setup of your offsite file storage. Delete a local file or several folders, and test recovery from your offsite cloud backup service.
Desk and Chair
We offer two quick recommendations for furniture for your team members.
Selection of a work chair is a very personal and very subjective choice. You will have no success in choosing a single chair that is universally liked by your team members. So don’t make the selection. Have the office chair supplier stop by with five office chairs, and let each person in your team choose a chair. Don’t worry about all the chairs in your office having the same design. Just get them all in black and let your team choose the physical chairs they like best. When new people arrive, let them try out the chairs you have and get new chairs delivered as needed.
If you have the budget for it, buy adjustable height work desks that let your team members stand up part of the day. Even if people only stand up 15 minutes a day, there’s probably a worthwhile health benefit. A good example is the Geek Desk large frame desk It’s a relatively expensive desk, but provides a ton of desktop space and adjusts, by motor, to nearly any working height.
Business Phone System and Toll Free Numbers
Choosing a business phone system and a VoIP service provider is the most important office technology decision that you will make.
VoIP business phone systems offer tremendous advantage over traditional on-premise PBX phone systems. The advantages include powerful features as well as low monthly rates. Besides your Internet connection, there is no PBX hardware to be hosted and maintained on your site. Your team members have VoIP telephones on their desktops, and your VoIP service provider hosts your virtual PBX at the VoIP service provider’s secure data center.
With a Cloud PBX service, you get complete phone service with features like these, for one low monthly cost, just like your Internet service.
- Time of Day Routing
- Call Forwarding
- IVR Auto Attendant
- Call Recording
- Five Free Extensions
- Conference Room
- FAX to Email
- Caller ID
- Hunt Groups
- Dial by Name
- Web Control Panel
There’s nothing more disgusting and off-putting to new hires than antique or outdated telephones without modern features. A new VoIP phone with crisp features and great call quality on every desktop is an inspiration to your team. Your VoIP-based business phone system with hosted PBX tells your team that you are serious about getting on the phone to find, sell, and service customers.
Toll free numbers provide credibility for your business and convenience for your customers. VoIP service providers offer not only toll free numbers, but also vanity toll free numbers that let you provide a memorable number for your customers. International toll free numbers let customers worldwide buy from you.
Let each person BYOD bring your own device. Don’t make iPhone users carry your Samsung or vice versa.
Your team members can find their own devices and forward calls using your cloud PBX service. Provide a monthly phone allowance instead if competition for employees requires this.
Cloud Storage and File Sharing Services
Cloud storage, file sharing, collaboration, and offsite backup solutions have transitioned from “novelty” to “required” status. Yours needs to be in place from day 1, and it’s likely that you will use two or more services rather than just one. For example, you may use a service like Barracuda to gather laptop backups to the cloud, but use Box or Dropbox for file sharing and collaboration. There are more that 30 top-rated cloud services that work as “cloud file shares” where departments work together.
A key tip: some of the cloud file shares also provide offsite storage that is not a mirror of someone’s laptop. (Box.com can do this). Other services (like Dropbox.com) require that the portion of the online share be mirrored to someone’s local drive. Just be sure that the department folders don’t have to be mirrored to everyone’s laptops, as not everyone wants to give up disk space for all the departments documents, just the ones they use. A few suggestions to try:
Collaboration and Knowledgebase
This is the Wild West of the Internet, a great place for startups to find new value and to build effective business processes. A few suggestions to research follow.
- Evernote – Business notebooks let you share customer, project, process information. Task notes, account narratives, reports, how-to information. A truly wonderful tool to use in any case. It’s for keeping task notes and how-to information.
- Sharepoint – A real application environment, with records and data collection, reporting, messaging.
- Zoho – A build-it-yourself collection of collaboration tools, calendars, databases. Potential to use drag and drop to build your business.
Marketing Automation and CRM Software
There are many good web-based marketing automation and CRM tools, but five stand out for features and capability. Salesforce tracks customers and interactions and recurring revenue. Marketo provides landing pages, drip marketing, email campaigns,and more. Hubspot builds your website and landing pages and runs email campaigns, automating ROI calculation. Ion Interactive and Unbounce builds landing pages and campaigns.
- Ion Interactive
When you Google for Basecamp, you see all the good alternatives, but Basecamp is still a leader.
Built from day 1 to support distributed teams. Your sales office is in Chantilly VA, your software development team is in San Mateo CA, and you have a big project office working on-site at Ontario Hydro in Canada. So Basecamp works well for you.
Accounting and Reporting System
If you are just getting started, it’s likely that your CPA can support you if you use QuickBooks or Quickbooks Online (QBO). Better known titles that cover low to mid-market size companies include these:
- QuickBooks Online
- Microsoft Dynamics
If you do client billing for professional services, you’ll benefit from time collecting and billing systems. We think two of these are leaders, but there are other online services as well. These are all cloud-based services that can let you save data to Excel or PDF locally for reporting.
- Zoho Invoice
Office Technology Decisions – References
- Best Cloud Services for Startups
- The Wreck of the Penn Central
Daughen, Joseph R. & Peter Binzen (1971). The Wreck of the Penn Central. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 1-893122-08-5.
- Wikipedia Comparison of Accounting Software