If you ask small business owners what the main constraints of their operation are, most of them would probably say “money.” Budget limitations can hinder the growth of SMBs and startups, no matter how promising they are. This is why most of them would find ways to infuse more cash into their operation, like finding investors and selling a stake in their company.
But after getting enough budget to take their business to the next level, there are clearly other concerns to address. Just having a budget to keep your business running is not enough to keep it afloat; you need to keep it safe and secure from emergencies and intrusion.
Let’s take business communications as an example. It is a vital aspect of running a business, as it ensures that your employees are all on the same page, with the same goals, and working on the same deadlines. Without effective business communication, teams can fall apart, projects can get stalled, and in the end, businesses would fail. But again, it is important to keep your business communications secure, so that no vital information would leak into the public, and possibly into the hands of potential competitors.
But keeping your business communications secure is no easy feat. First off, you need to consider if you have the right network and communications system in place. You also need to consider the upkeep of having your own communications system within the premises.
Again, this translates to your finances: check to see how far you’d go or how much you’d spend for a secure communications system for your business. There are several options to consider, so choose carefully to get the best one possible.
Onsite vs Offsite
Business owners (of businesses with an online component, say for example, cloud communications, storage, and/or network) have a choice between investing on onsite equipment or having everything managed offsite, by a third-party service provider. Both options have their pros and cons, so carefully consider all the factors first before choosing one. To better help you choose which is better for your business, consider the following checklist:
Onsite – Business owners get a “hands-on” experience in managing whatever feature or service they’re getting. They have a say on what needs to be done and when, and they can handpick and assign the people they want to handle the operations.
However, having an onsite process like communications system, network, and storage can be quite costly. You’ll have to spend a lot on hardware and infrastructure, and since these are vital to your business (and your day-to-day operations,) you just can’t skimp and buy/build substandard hardware.
Next issue would be recurring maintenance costs, which again, you simply can’t ignore since it directly affects how your system works. A poorly maintained network or server can easily break down, and the outage can mean lost profit every time your system goes offline.
Last but not the least, is the level of expertise required to handle your onsite equipment/system. You need to train the people who’ll work using your system, so that you can avoid human errors which could lead to more costly problems. You can hire an expert to handle these things, but don’t expect them to go easy on their asking salary.
Offsite – Getting a service provider to take care of some of your business processes can help you focus on more important tasks. For example, by getting a communications system from a third-party provider, you can focus your attention to marketing your business.
You’ll be able to get more work done without sacrificing any task. You don’t have to worry about not being “hands-on” on every aspect of your business, because most service providers have everything needed, from experience, to equipment, and personnel, to deliver what’s expected from them.
Relying on a service provider for your network or communication needs basically eliminates recurring maintenance costs. Since everything is hosted elsewhere, maintaining the equipment used for your business processes will be shouldered by the service provider. They usually have a team of experts on call, so that you won’t have to worry about software updates, equipment upgrades, or unexpected system outages.
In a way, the above mentioned examples of why you should choose the offsite route encapsulates the importance of focusing on security for your small business. Choosing the right service provider for your network, communications and data needs ensures that you are keeping your business safe from intrusions, interruptions, and other events that could hinder your growth or that would keep you from providing the highest level of service to your customers.
Choosing the right service provider
Now that you’re hopefully convinced to get hosted services instead of spending on onsite systems, it is time to learn how to choose the provider that suits your needs. Take note, there are a lot of hosted service providers out there, and they all seem to offer the same things.
However, there are certain features and characteristics that clearly set some of these providers apart from the rest, and these are signs that you should look for when choosing one. Don’t just settle with the first one that offers a discounted deal, or the one that has a lot of unnecessary extras.
Again, you need to focus on what best suits your needs, and what can really help you in the long run. The key to that is finding one with the best security offering for your business. Check out the following list to learn more about this.
1) Physical and environmental security
Aside from your own business’ environment and physical location, you also need to consider how secure your third-party service providers location is. Are there data servers protected from physical intrusion 24/7? You need to make sure that they have excellent on-site protection, such as armed security personnel, on-call and on-site specialists for emergencies, and located in a secure establishment.
It would also help if your service provider has geographically diverse locations for their servers in order to minimize the risk of losing data and service interruption in the event of a catastrophe (earthquakes, floods, fires, etc.) You may think that you’re just a small business so fussing over such details won’t matter, but remember, your hard-earned money and vital business information is at stake, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
2) Infrastructure security
A robust network should be a non-negotiable item when you’re choosing a service provider to handle your data and communications. Infrastructure is what holds up everything in place, so having a weak one can easily lead to the failure of your business. A weak infrastructure exposes you to possible threats of intrusion and data leak, as well as attacks that aims to disable or disrupt your operations.
To ensure that your potential service provider is secure, ask if they have firewalls and session border controller in place. This means your network and applications are safe, or at least, protected by multiple layers of security whenever they’re accessed by your employees or by your customers.
There should be administrative functions enabled, so that even when the service is hosted elsewhere, you still have control over what happens on your end. This way, only those who are authorized can access or modify your system. There should also be intrusion-detection systems and fraud analytics in place, as well as monitoring, system hardening, and vulnerability scans scheduled regularly.
3) Transmission security
Information exchanges among employees or with customers and potential clients happen all the time, so it is important to keep this aspect of your business safe and secure. The information exchanged ranges from simple messaging, to personal data, and most importantly, money-related transactions. Keeping the transmission of these information safe gives your clients the confidence to do more business with you.
To prevent intrusion/interception of these information exchanges, there should be encryption between all endpoints. This includes your desktop devices, phones, computers, conference phones, and mobile devices and applications.
A good example of a service provider with a robust transmission security in place is RingCentral, a cloud communications provider. They offer Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Real-time Transport Protocol (SRTP) encryption on all endpoints, so that all your devices are protected from possible attacks and data leaks. You can learn more about the different layers of security that they have on their service plans by checking out their end-to-end security page.
Startups and small business, regardless of the budget, should give proper attention on security. It protects you, the owner, from possible intrusions, attacks and data leaks as well as boost the confidence of clients to continue doing business with you. Beefing up your security on-site can be quite expensive and a hassle to maintain, so the most sensible way to do so is to get help from a third-party service provider.
You can rely on them to take care of some of the most important aspects of your business, like your data and communications system. To choose the right provider for your business setup, pick one with the right blend of location security, robust infrastructure, and information protection.