Technology has always been a double-edged sword. When we humans first discovered fire, it allowed us to keep warm and cook our food. But it also burned down our houses.
And in 21st-century business, technology remains a double-edged sword. When it’s working, it allows our businesses to compete on the national and international stages. But when it breaks down, it threatens our very operational integrity.
Now that we’ve become so dependent on technology for our businesses, how do we minimise our exposure to risk? It’s a difficult question, but there are some potential solutions.
Employ Cloud Computing
Cloud computing is a rapidly expanding. More and more businesses are jumping on the bandwagon. According to a recent report by Goldman Sachs, the market for cloud computing has grown by a factor of six since 2008. And it will continue to grow at a compounded rate of 30 percent until at least 2020. This means that the overall market for cloud computing will become larger than the economy of New Zealand.
So why is cloud computing now so popular? One reason is that it means that companies no longer have to service and maintain their own in-house IT solutions. In-house IT solutions tend to be costly for a number of reasons. The first is that they require the hiring of in-House IT workers to maintain them. Your business essentially has to be both an expert in what it does, and an expert in IT if you want to compete. For smaller businesses and startups this is not an option since they don’t have the requisite resources.
But the cloud does away with this problem. On a cloud computing platform, your business can simply pay a regular monthly fee to a cloud computing provider for a cloud service. All your IT is essentially outsourced from your business to a third party of experts who will manage your IT resources. That means no more cumbersome IT departments and no more having to maintain your own servers.
It also means that planning the cost of your IT is easier since monthly payments to a cloud cutting service will not vary by a large amount. This is in contrast to the times when your in-house solution breaks down and you have to incur unforeseen costs to resolve the problem.
There are also downstream ways in which cloud computing can ultimate end up saving you an enormous amount of money. The first is that with cloud computing, you’re likely to suffer less downtime. One of the problems with in-house systems, again, is that they tend to be less reliable. Furthermore, it’s hard to find out whether a system is experiencing problems until it crashes.
With many cloud computing services, however, providers are able to monitor their client’s systems. This means that they can sometimes defuse any predicted problems before they become manifest. Remote monitoring also means that if systems are compromised, an engineer can be sent out immediately to fix the problem. Usually, problems can be resolved overnight, before having a detrimental impact on your operations.
Cloud computing minimises security risk to a greater extent than most in-house IT systems. If your business is dependent on certain systems or data, cloud computing can offer important protection. One thing that a quality cloud computing service will offer is a firewall from the rest of the internet, behind which data are secure. In other words, there is a way to block off your company’s sensitive data from the rest of the traffic on the internet. This is especially important if your company holds sensitive personal details about its customers. If this isn’t adequately protected, your company could face litigation.
Cloud computing allows you to control the degree of security you want for various systems to a fine level of detail. For example, there are services that will allow you to control which employees have access to which data. You can also track who used data and when. This way, you can minimise the risk to your systems whilst not compromising on business efficiency.
Lastly, cloud computing allows companies to become more widely distributed. In fact, cloud computing has done more to do away with the traditional office environment than has video conferencing. With the cloud, your employees can access vital information from any location, including when mobile. This means that you get to conduct your business more flexibly than if people were stuck in the office. And of course, one of the benefits of this is that you may not even need to have a large office.
Perhaps your business would benefit from having a core of people at a central location. Then these people would simply manage and organise others dotted around the world. This way, businesses can attract employees from a far wider pool of talent. And employees can continue to work from their preferred location. It’s no wonder that people are now raving about the cloud. It’s no longer a buzzword, it’s something that really is useful for cutting-edge business. And like so many great technologies, it is levelling the playing field.
Set Up A Virtual office
One of the downsides of organising a business through the cloud is that you often don’t have a set physical location. People are scattered all over the place. That means that you potentially save on office space, but at the expense of not having reputable business premises. This is where setting up a virtual office can help.
A virtual office is a surrogate for a real office. Most of the time it involves paying a third party company to act as your office on your behalf. This may sound a little weird – outsourcing your office – but doing so gives your business credibility. And it keeps costs low- far lower than if you had to rent out your own office.
Plus virtual offices are often located in prestigious locations. It’s, therefore, a way of adding value to your corporate brand without actually having to finance the rents on exclusive offices.
Most virtual office packages will provide receptions to manage your calls from a given location. You’ll also get to use a range of office spaces at different locations for a set period of time if you need to meet with clients in person. Plus, you’re often not forced into a limited term contract, as you would be if you were renting your own offices.
This way you get the benefits of cloud computing and avoid the downsides if you choose a fully mobile and dispersed business model.
Have Somebody Else Migrate Your Applications
If you’re looking to upgrade your IT, one of the first things you’ll investigate is migrating your existing applications. Perhaps you have a legacy application that is absolutely essential for the continued running for your business. But the problem is that you’re stuck using Windows Vista, or worse still Windows XP. These systems are now out of date and represent a threat to your business security. However, your applications may be incompatible with the latest platforms.
The solution is, again, to seek out the experts on applications migration. There are people who specialise in the matter of migrating old software so that it can be made compatible with newer, more secure systems.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to insure a business using standard insurance. Often, the standard insurance will not cover business liability on business-specific risks. But insurance is a vital way to mitigate risks that would otherwise be fatal to operations.
For example, suppose that you are a business that installs kitchen equipment at customer houses. Now suppose that your kitchen equipment is stolen from the customer’s home. Your regular business insurance will cover the loss of stock if it is stolen from your business site, but not if it is stolen from a third party location.
When it comes to technology, a similar principle applies. If your business just uses computers for playing solitaire, then perhaps you don’t need specific insurance. But if your business uses and transfers personal customer data, then you will need additional insurance. Firstly, you’ll need to protect yourself against the cost of litigation, should customers sue you for losing their data. And second, you’ll want to insure against any loss of revenue you incur should mission critical systems fail.
If the worst does happen and your business cannot operate, does your insurance company cover these costs too? Also, does your insurance cover the costs of managing customer relations whilst your business cannot be carried out? If the answer is no and your business is dependent on mission critical systems, then it is probably a good idea to upgrade your insurance. You want terms in the contract that specifically protect you from specific contingencies in your area of business.
Remember, if you change the nature of your business, your insurance will need to change with it.
Technology has brought untold benefits to business, making them more dynamic and efficient. But it has also brought many new risks that need to be mitigated. As we go forward, it will be the businesses that manage this new world successfully that will come out on top.