Business Technology

Investing in IT - how to make the jump from consumer-grade technologies

10 min read

02 October 2014

As the economy continues to recover across Europe - many small businesses are experiencing significant growth. Businesses need to find the right hardware, services and software to enable efficiency.

With over 20 million SMEs contributing to the European economy, many IT providers are putting additional efforts into developing SMB offerings to provide the market with specifically designed offerings to suit their business needs. These range from cloud-based services, to essential hardware such as laptops and tablets, all of which can help SMBs access infrastructure and achieve levels of functionality that were previously only available to large businesses.

Due to their size, SMBs face a variety of challenges relating to factors such as cost, security and reliability which may differ to those faced by consumers. It is for this reason that consumer-grade IT equipment is not the optimum fit for SMBs. By using tailored, targeted business offerings, small businesses will not only have access to more reliable solutions and enhance security that will minimise downtime, but they will also be able to maximise their productivity. Furthermore, with access to these more advanced solutions, SMBs will be able to compete with far bigger firms without the need for vastly increased capital expenditure – and in a scalable and flexible manner to better suit their business requirements.

Investing wisely

While the familiarity and pricing of consumer-grade technology may be tempting to small business owners when they’re looking to purchase new equipment, this could end up costing the company dearly in the long run.

According to IDC, by 2015 the world’s mobile worker population will represent 37.2 percent of the total workforce; this uptake in mobile working is consequently making a large number of consumer-grade devices unsuitable, with factors such as security, connectivity, and reliability not always being taken into consideration with products that are designed with home use in mind. Laptops and tablets designed specifically for business use will have been created with these factors taken into account, providing devices truly designed to meet business needs.

Another key factor of mobile working is the need for increased connectivity to make sure SMBs can run their businesses as efficiently as possible. High speed connections for uploading content, sharing data and hosting applications are critical for day-to-day business operations. 

Cloud-based services have been a favourite for SMBs due to no capital investment. Business devices are much more likely to house full size ports – meaning there is no need to carry dongles – modular connectors that ensure fast and secure cable connections and a range of USB and SD card ports for any peripheral connectivity and external storage needed. These additions give employees the flexibility to work wherever and whenever they want, with limited risk of downtime, which is essential for SMBs.

Using cloud-based tools can also help SMBs to better manage their end-point devices, regardless of their location, providing complete estate asset management and comprehensive tools to ensure device efficiency and compliance. Using a standard web browser, administrators can oversee and control devices online, in real-time, without the need to invest in servers and dedicated management software. Cloud based services offering these capabilities can be used to reduce business risk and complexity as mobile device management becomes increasingly important.

With smaller businesses increasingly encouraging employees to work remotely, SMB owners need to ensure the reliability of hardware that is on the move. Smaller businesses often do not have in-house IT support to provide advice or backup equipment, and any time offline will have a large impact on productivity and the ability to serve customers. With this in mind, SMBs should make sure they buy from a reliable brand that has a strong focus on customer support and creating products with reliability guarantees. For example, Toshiba is so confident in the reliability of its products that it offers free repair and money back if on selected laptops if it were to break within a year of purchasing it.

Security is key – protect what matters

As people become more dependent on their devices and spend the vast majority of their working lives online, the amount of confidential material being stored on smartphones, laptops and tablets is also on the rise. Data is the most valuable asset for the majority of businesses today and strong security measures should not be ignored by SMBs – if a device is stolen it’s not just the hardware you are losing but potentially a large amount of valuable, business critical information. Buyers should therefore be considering products that have advanced security measures built in, such as Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and tamper-proof BIOS passwords that will not allow system start-up if BIOS is hacked. This level of security is not required for traditional consumer laptop use, however these features can give business owners peace-of-mind that their business data are devices are sufficiently secured.

Warranties on SMB products will also provide improved levels of cover compared to consumer offerings. For example, Toshiba offers three years on-site warranty, accidental damage and anti-theft lock, wipe and find protection against its devices that are specifically designed for SMB use. Business laptops, such as the Toshiba Satellite Pro R50-B, will also have added extras such as impact sensors, which protect devices if they are dropped, to help guarantee work is kept safe, regardless of whether employees are in the office or on the move. Unauthorised access can be prevented by making sure authentication protocols are implemented, especially for those making the most of cloud technologies.

Leasing – making business devices accessible without the upfront costs

Despite the obvious advantages of devices built with business in mind, small businesses may not always have the capital to invest in new technology of this sort. Some vendors therefore offer the chance to lease products, removing large up-front costs and keeping IT expenditure down. For low cost and low risk, SMBs can choose from a range of devices to find one which is most suitable for the needs and requirements of their business. This can also be done in a scalable and flexible manner, with leases available for different timespans, different models and payment plans giving businesses full control over their IT investments. As an SMB evolves, leasing can allow the business to adopt new top of the range technology at an affordable price point, or scale back depending on requirements. As a result, there is a growing offering of hardware as a service for the SMB community.

Many SMBs have previously been drawn to consumer-grade IT due to fairly basic needs, and the reliability and familiarity associated with products they have used before in a personal capacity. However, laptops that have been designed and built with business in mind and aimed at SMBs can provide numerous benefits at an affordable cost that consumer devices cannot match. With IT spend continuing to increase globally, businesses must ensure that that they are investing in products that are suited to them, providing benefits to support this growth.

Gartner predicts that the global SMB market opportunity will exceed £600bn by 2016.

For European small businesses to capitalise on this opportunity, they need to equip themselves with the right IT solutions so that they’re in a strong and competitive position. If SMBs try to achieve this goal while still using consumer-grade hardware that can’t support business software or cloud services, rather than products that are designed to minimise downtime while enhancing productivity and reliability, they may find themselves on the back foot in an increasingly competitive market.

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By Neil Bramley, B2B sales director, Northern Europe at Toshiba