A reseller I was speaking to about his adoption of a new product said something quite interesting: every small business has at least two locations. One is the office, store, or shop, and the second is the owner's home. I understood that intellectually, but hadn't heard it put so clearly. Kudos to Dave Sobel of Evolve Technologies in the DC area.
What small business owner or manager doesn't take work home? Usually, their family forces them to cut the hours at work and get home at least a few evenings per week. And if you're a sole proprietor in a home office, you have to go out to do business at least once in a while, so you'll have a mobile office at least.
How can a small business afford to have reliable and secure connections from a few home offices to the office? Costs of remote access technology keep dropping, but the type of equipment big companies use (Citrix, Windows Terminal Services) still require an investment in hardware (servers) and software far beyond the reach of small businesses.
I don't have the room to detail all the answers here, because it could be a book. I can, however, tell you how to start your search for the best remote data access technology that fits your business needs.
First, decide what you need access to from remote locations. Do you need access to your word processing files? To your accounting program? To your e-mail? To a specialized program running on a single computer? To every file anywhere on any computer or file storage device? Do you need access to applications running on a server or just data files?
The more areas inside your company network you need remote access to, the more complicated and expensive it can get. On the other hand, some new technologies, such as the ones Dave Sobel in the first paragraph discussed, cut the complexity considerably.
Second, decide where you, and others, need access from. If one person needs access from one location, such as the business owner from his or her home office, your job becomes easier. If one person needs access from multiple locations, such as a mobile sales or support person, complications increase. If many people need access from many different places that change, such as a group of sales or support people, dial up the complication meter even more.
Next time I'll start detailing some of the options for remote access to data and to complete networks from remote locations. You may be surprised at how inappropriate some old standbys are, and how effective some new products can be.