Not just a passing fad: Improved productivity looks good on your business

Technology, like fashion, evolves constantly, but one thing that is always in fashion is saving money.

Business professionals from small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are constantly looking for new ways IT can help reduce costs and increase productivity, hence the significant increases in the demand for products focusing on mobility, storage and communication.

Mobility products

Mobility-enabling products continue to grow in popularity. Why? According to the iPass Mobile Workforce Survey of employees at 3,500 companies, 93% of respondents believed mobile technology made them more productive.

Netbooks, e-readers and Web-based applications help business professionals keep in touch with the home office and customers. Netbooks in particular are resonating with SMBs as a cost-effective way to move work outside of their four walls, with many issuing netbooks to managers, sales and service people who spend significant time away from the office.

Rise of the netbook

Acer and Asus netbooks have been very popular. Asus is arguably one of the pioneers in this category, but Acer has capitalized on growing market interest with competitive pricing. Lower prices and improved designs have increased popularity and driven netbook demand, but you won't find too many bells and whistles. Netbooks are not a category where you're going to see a lot of innovation. The very concept of the netbook confines it to the most essential functions at an affordable price.

While netbooks are light, small and affordable, they may not be the most practical solution for employees working with more than basic applications. Large documents and high-quality presentations may require something with a higher-resolution screen and more RAM -- something like a notebook.

In addition to the convenience notebooks provide for working almost anywhere, the technology also plays a critical role in business continuity planning. By enabling employees to telework in virtually any emergency situation, SMBs can avoid or minimize the impact of major business disruptions. Also, prices have come down on traditional notebooks -- many now are in the high end of the netbook price range. Notebook price decreases have helped increase their popularity and demand as SMB owners fully recognize the flexibility and additional productivity they can provide.

The increased popularity of mobile technology extends beyond netbooks and notebooks. The demand for smartphones as a core communications tool also continues to grow. Enhanced computing capabilities and improved applications position smartphones as a trend not likely to go out of style anytime soon.

Currently, BlackBerry and iPhone remain the clear smartphone leaders in business markets, with new models attracting a lot of attention. However, Android-based smartphones are growing in popularity as 4G coverage expands. As with netbooks and notebooks, it is important for SMBs to consider their specific mobility needs before choosing one solution over another.

If your employees simply need to access e-mail on the go, smartphones may be the only solution you need, but consider all of the platforms and choose the best tool for each person. A recent, more detailed Network World article takes a look at the latest mobile devices, addressing their perks and downfalls based on specific needs and uses. 

Storage made easy and fast

As the amount of data contained in e-mail and electronic documents continues to grow exponentially, businesses must continue to look for more cost-effective ways to simplify data storage with fast solutions. Currently, many businesses are looking toward network-attached storage (NAS), which is a hard-disk, file-based data storage solution accessed via a network. As a plug-and-play solution, NAS provides access to varied clients at high speed, improving data sharing.

There are myriad of simple and accessible NAS options from companies such as Buffalo, D-Link, HP, Netgear, Seagate, Western Digital and more. Each OEM offers a wide range of devices varying in price, performance and capacity. Most now come with built-in data backup tools for added protection and convenience.

Additionally, some of the more sophisticated devices include multiple drives which provide more data protection and added capabilities, such as mirroring and expansion opportunity. Looking ahead, more NAS devices will include built-in wireless connectivity, taking data storage and file sharing a step further.

Communications using IP

Why should you hang up the landlines and switch to VoIP? Simply, VoIP is more than a product or set of products -- it is a set of capabilities that dramatically lowers costs compared to plain old telephone service (POTS). Businesses can save nearly 40% on local calls and as much as 90% on international calling.

Additionally, VoIP can save about 40% in cabling costs in new buildings. Even the smallest businesses can combine voice and data infrastructure into one system that is easy to manage and provides all the core tools a business needs -- translating into a more productive workforce.

VoIP funnels voice traffic over the Internet, delivering easier accounting and management as well as voice mail, call forwarding and video conferencing. For small professional services firms, such as law or engineering firms, VoIP-based phone systems can even track calls and provide records for billing purposes. Additionally, SMBs can reduce travel expenses through audio, video and multimedia conferencing and collaboration tools.

Like the mobility products and storage solutions discussed above, VoIP will expand and evolve. Undoubtedly, businesses will continue to seek out affordable products that offer substantial solutions and, in turn, shape market trends. It is not surprising that the latest trends we are seeing in the small business market revolve around mobility, storage and communication, because the cost savings and productivity benefits are compelling.

While the technology will continue to develop, efficiency is a style that won't fade, even as the economy continues to improve.

Read more about pc in Network World's PC section.

This story, "Not just a passing fad: Improved productivity looks good on your business" was originally published by Network World.

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