By Neil Armstrong, Director of Business Services, Timico

The way an organisation connects and communicates is key to the success of its business model. But what does connectivity actually involve? And why should companies pay it so much attention?

What’s all the fuss?

In a world dominated by data, the cloud and Wi-Fi, there’s so much more to maximising your connectivity than a stable internet connection. Connectivity is the lynchpin of business critical applications like CRM and client communications - so overlooking or underestimating its impact can prove costly.

There are four types of connectivity designed to cater for different locations, business uses and user demands:

· Basic ADSL broadband lines with up to 16Mbps download speed
· 4G mobile broadband, where available, as a viable alternative to ASDL
· Fibre broadband capable of up to 76Mbps (depending on location)
· Ethernet leased line services, often delivered over fibre, with guaranteed download speeds of 50Mbps, 100Mbps or even 1Gbps

The challenges

Problems can occur when businesses, particularly SMBs, are unsure of what type of connectivity will best serve their requirements. The top three considerations to bear in mind when choosing are:

1. Applications
2. Capability
3. Cost

Hosting, cloud usage, data storage, data transfer, Wi-Fi access, web browsing, security, disaster recovery, internal and external telecoms… and that’s just scratching the surface of business applications. Multiply this by the activity of customers, employees and partners across multiple offices and identifying how much and what type of connectivity is required can soon cause a real headache for businesses.

On top of considering applications, the geographical location of a business can also pose a challenge to network connectivity. This directly relates back to the issue of which internet model best suits your needs. ADSL uses existing copper wire structures, meaning it can be installed almost anywhere; fibre provides greater bandwidth for growing businesses but isn’t yet available nationwide, whilst Ethernet can enable a powerful local network to run multiple applications. It’s all about assessing your needs.

Demand for data

The volume of data created within an organisation on a daily basis can simply prove too large and too complex to process traditionally. Add to this the huge increase in data upload requirements – whether to the cloud or to customers – and this can lead to a strain on business networks, impacting web browsing and even causing Voice over IP telephony to fail. A trusted connectivity partner will be able to help assess your speed and accessibility needs and develop the most efficient solution for your business.

BYOD, browsing and Wi-Fi

The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) culture has led to the introduction of new software and solutions which help you connect and manage the smart devices on your network.

Wi-Fi is relatively low cost and readily available, but with employees, customers and visitors all logging on, the demands on networks can become costly. Guest-specific networks and pay-as-you-browse options help with capacity, but require the installation of a more powerful network. Again, it’s important to assess all the options.

Of course, Wi-Fi can also make your network vulnerable. With employees now working on multiple devices such as smartphones and tablets, it’s important to protect the data moving within your network. This is particularly crucial for employees who work remotely and pose a security threat. To stay protected, networks should be protected by Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) or a Secure Sockets Layer virtual private network (SSL VPN).

Hackers prey on unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots thanks to poor wireless protocols. Generically password-protected networks can be cracked in minutes, allowing unauthorised access to internal infrastructures, confidential data and customer details.

Can you afford downtime?

The majority of businesses depend on a secure, responsive and accessible connection. After all, an unreliable network is problematic for reputation as well as capability. Amazon.com felt the real cost of this back in 2013 when internal issues caused its home page to go down. Lasting only 49 minutes, analysts calculated that the downtime translated to $5 million dollars in lost revenue[1].

According to a 2012 study by Aberdeen Group, UK SMBs record an average loss of £138,000 for every hour of downtime[2]. Budget is obviously a factor when it comes to your network, but in an age where downtime is money, can your business afford to lag behind?

Help available to SMBs

Connectivity can make or break organisations, so it’s all about working with a provider to help create an efficient, reliable and secure network using the most suitable resources available.

There are number of grants available to SMBs, like SuperConnected Cities - a government funded programme involving 22 cities – that is designed to meet local connectivity needs and support SMBs in their development.

You can also check out the IT Manager’s Toolkit blog series for advice and guidance.