Wednesday, October 04, 2006

IT Solutions to Deploy this Year

This is my technology article for the month of October.

With the end of 2006 rapidly approaching, many readers will be looking to invest some of their profits back into their company. If you haven’t taken full advantage of the IRS’ Section 179 deduction limit of $108,000 in capital expenditures, IT investments are a great way to help make your business more competitive while cutting down on your tax liability. By deploying your solution now your staff will be well adjusted to the changes made to operations, giving you a running start for 2007. Here are some project ideas that Delmarva businesses have successfully deployed this year:

Small Business Server – Microsoft’s Small Business Server is a very powerful solution for small businesses. Built with Windows Server 2003 and Exchange, SBS gives offices with 5 or more computers many advantages that used to be reserved for larger organizations with larger budgets including in-house email services. By deploying a network server for the first time, businesses will benefit from increased security, simplified data retention policies, and lower support costs over time. A network server sets the stage for future IT solutions, and is appropriate for almost any industry on the shore.

Paperless Office – Is your office over stocked with filing cabinets or banker’s boxes full of paper documents? Perhaps you’re paying high fees for a document storage service. If you operate in a document intensive industry, a paperless office solution could be right up your alley. To implement a paperless office solution, you need four basic elements: an efficient scanner, imaging software, a centralized data store (usually a server), and new workflows to take advantage of the technology. A basic solution for a small office can be had for under $500 – just the cost of a quality scanner with a document feeder. Larger organizations will look for higher speed scanners, Adobe Acrobat, and perhaps a storage server to store document images. These types of solutions can often pay big dividends by improving efficiency and reducing document storage costs.

Desktop Faxing – It's amazing how much more efficient you can become by saving a few steps here and there. While this technology has been around for quite some time, there are still many businesses that rely on the traditional fax machine. Because Windows Server comes with faxing software included and fax modems are built into almost every server, most companies have the ability to deploy this solution already. Outbound faxes can be sent from your desktop computer simply by changing the default printer. Inbound faxes are best delivered to a single person (such as a receptionist) via email for distribution throughout the office. If you work in a heavily regulated industry, you’ll want to automatically save your inbound and outgoing faxes should they be needed later.

Virtual Private Network – VPNs allow your business to connect multiple offices (and even people working from home) to your computer network using a high speed Internet connection. The old alternative was to use costly point-to-point leased lines to accomplish this task. Because VPNs pass encrypted traffic, your privacy is ensured. Using a VPN will allow you to share network resources as if the network were in the same building, so you can print from one office to another, and even share a single network server.

Optimized Edge Routing – The Internet continues to become increasingly important to area businesses, and competition is slowly bringing more connectivity options to Delmarva. The T-1 connection offers the highest levels of reliability, but it’s not uncommon to pay $500 - $800 per month for the service. If you are located in an area that offers both cable and DSL service, you can get more bandwidth and similar reliability for well under $200 per month. All that is required to take advantage of this technology is a Cisco router, which can also give you VPN capabilities.

Business Telephone System – Today’s new telephone systems offer many features to help your office communicate more intelligently. If your phone system is more than seven years old, it might be worth looking at what telephone vendors are offering. One of the best features that I have seen is Unified Communications, which allow your telephone system to email you voice messages to your inbox. You can easily save voice mails for future reference, and the single inbox for all of your messages is very handy. The new IP Telephony systems make your telephone system even more intelligent because they can make your phone system and data network one.

These are just a few ideas for projects that are usually deployed in a month or less, and feature a relatively high Return on Investment. If you have a business need, chances are there is a technology out there that can solve your problems. Don’t hesitate to investigate options to find what’s right for you.

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