Small & Medium Business

The Basics of Connecting Employees and Offices

The Basics of Connecting Employees and Offices

To be competitive today, you've got to move quickly. Customers expect immediate attention. If they don't get it, they'll turn to your competitors—who are only a click away. Meanwhile, product cycles are growing ever shorter.

But conducting business at warp speed requires a constant flow of information. Your workforce needs secure, reliable, fast access to vital company data, such as customer records. Mobile workers and remote employees must be able to jump onto your network and the Internet at any time, from anywhere.

How Things Will Change: Business Efficiency
Things to Consider: Preparing for Change
Down the Road: Planning for Future Efficiency
Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Partner about This Solution

How Things Will Change: Business Efficiency

So how can your company stay one step ahead? You start with a secure data network foundation that is flexible enough to meet your needs today and can support additional applications down the road. And you securely extend the network to your entire workforce, so they can remain in touch and on deadline, wherever they may be.

Here are some ways a secure network foundation can change your business:

  • For mobile employees and teleworkers, it will almost be like they're in the office. Employees can work at home, on the road, or at customers' offices. Yet, they'll still have full, secure, remote access to your company's phone system, data network, customer database, and other tools they need to be productive.
  • Customer data will always be securely available. Employees can input, update, and view information about your customers in a database that's accessible over wired or wireless network connections, using a computer, phone, or other handheld device. Having always-available access to your business applications help workers better serve your customers—and satisfied customers translates into increased revenues.
  • You'll be prepared for the future. A secure, flexible network foundation will allow you to easily and cost-effectively add new applications, such as voice and video, when they're needed. Your business will be better positioned to stay a step ahead of competitors and offer new services to customers—both of which will help you continue to grow.

Adding voice and wireless to your secure network foundation will help change your business in other important ways:

  • There will only be one network to manage. Combining voice, data, and other applications on a single network greatly simplifies network installation and management. And a single network will require much less physical space than is needed to accommodate separate networks for voice and data—which helps maximize office space.
  • Communications will be easier and more effective. You can check e-mail, voice mail, and faxes, all from one integrated inbox. One phone number will ring simultaneously on multiple devices, so important calls won't go to voice mail. Employees can hold impromptu meetings online with colleagues, partners, suppliers, and customers. By enhancing communications, your company can more easily expand into new markets globally.
  • You'll reduce costs. Consolidating all communications onto a single network saves companies an average of 46% in network costs, according to market research firm IDC.
  • Workers can take their phone numbers wherever they go. Employees will be able to take their phone numbers with them, whether they're moving permanently to a new office or just spending the afternoon in a conference room or at home.
  • You'll be able to take advantage of wireless technology for voice and data. Your people can roam the sales floor, warehouse, office, or campus and take their phones with them so they're never out of touch. They can also use their wireless phones to look up customer data, access your company directory, get stock quotes, and perform other tasks.

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Things to Consider: Preparing for Change

Chances are, you already have some type of data network., but it may not support your business needs. Your network may be stitched together with products from multiple vendors—one vendor's firewall, another's wireless access point/router, and so on. The downside: A network built piecemeal can create security gaps. It's more difficult and expensive to upgrade and manage—you may have to get rid of appliances and buy new ones.

Adding new technologies and applications, such as a phone system, to a piecemeal network can create even more costly confusion. A piecemeal network often doesn't provide the powerful bandwidth or reliable support you need. In fact, when something goes wrong, you're inevitably caught between multiple vendors, pointing fingers at each other.

An end-to-end Cisco network foundation provides the security, bandwidth, upgrade flexibility and support your business needs. Here are some key things to keep in mind if you are considering a secure Cisco foundation for your data network today, and if you'd like to add voice, wireless and other technologies and applications tomorrow:

  • You don't have to go it alone. Certified Cisco partners that specialize in working with small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can help you throughout the entire process. Even before providing you with a bid, your partner will thoroughly inspect your current network (and phone system if desired) to determine what equipment is needed. Your partner will suggest applications and solutions based on your short- and long-term business goals. You invest only in the equipment your business needs, when it's needed.
  • Ask your partner for an estimate of how long the upgrade process will take. The time required to upgrade your network depends on such factors as your company's number of employees and locations. Ask your partner for a real-world estimate of how long it might take to upgrade or install your network. Also, ask what can be done to minimize any potential down time. For example, if your business operates during traditional Monday-Friday business hours, your partner might suggest the installation process occur on Friday evening or during the weekend. Either way, chances are the process will go a lot faster than you might have imagined.
  • Avoid potential pitfalls by being prepared. Once you're committed to a network upgrade, your partner will need information to facilitate the installation. For example, if you're adding a phone system to your network, your partner will need to know your company's telephone numbers, extensions, and fax numbers. Ask your partner early on exactly what information he or she will need and have it ready as early as possible. This will help the transition go smoothly.
  • Determine what training you'll need. Your partner will review the network features with the network administrator or whoever will be managing network operations in your office. You can request additional training to help your workforce transition to the many features that will be available to them with your new voice and data network. Be sure to ask your partner what training he or she recommends. In addition, you'll find Flash tutorials on the Cisco Website that illustrate the features of Internet Protocol (IP) phones and how to use them, such as a tutorial for the Cisco Unified IP Phone 7970G.
  • Decide how you want to handle ongoing support and maintenance. Discuss with your partner a service-level agreement (SLA) that guarantees specific levels of support at different fee structures. Depending on the size of your business and your needs, you might want to hire one or more people to provide ongoing support and maintenance. Whichever direction you take, carefully consider the pros and cons of each as early in the process as possible.
  • Map out the future. Will you be adding software or solutions to your network down the road, such as customer-relationship management (CRM) software integrated with your phone system? If so, your partner will meet separately with your network administrator and others as necessary to add the desired solution to your network with as little disruption as possible.

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Down the Road: Planning for Future Efficiency

A secure network foundation from Cisco enables you to easily and cost-effectively add new users and applications as needed. In turn, this built-in flexibility helps your company stay competitive, react quickly to change, and expand to international markets, among other benefits.

Here are some ways in which a secure Cisco network foundation can help you continue to enhance your company's productivity in the future:

  • Go wireless. As your company grows, it may need to expand its physical space. A wireless network helps your workforce stay connected to business applications, such as your customer database, without the costs and limitations of wiring. Support for adding wireless data connectivity is built into your secure Cisco network foundation.
  • Stay in touch wherever you go. Wireless IP phones are as easy to use as traditional cordless phones but have a far greater signal range and can provide much more functionality. With wireless IP phones, your workforce can roam the sales floor, office, campus, or warehouse, answering customer inquiries and accessing company data, such as an inventory database.
  • Communicate using your computer. Cisco SMB Solutions let you access powerful communication tools from an easy-to-use multimedia interface on a PC or Mac. These tools include voice, video, instant messaging (IM), Web conferencing, call management, directories, and "presence" applications that can constantly update user locations and availability.
  • Participate in video conferences. With Cisco SMB Solutions, you can participate in a video conference using a familiar, easy-to-use phone interface on your computer.
  • Route calls to the best available employees. Cisco SMB Solutions can intelligently route calls to contact center agents or those employees most qualified to meet a caller's need. The software integrates with customer databases to provide agents with customer information the moment a customer calls. And it provides management with insight into the contact center so they can staff at the appropriate levels, manage agent performance and optimize customer service.

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Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Partner about This Solution

Ready to get started? Here are five questions to ask your technology partner:

  1. Do you specialize in working with small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)? Cisco has a network of certified partners who specifically focus on providing technology solutions and support to SMBs. Many of these partners are SMBs themselves, so they understand the business challenges you face and the goals you have in mind. Cisco certified partners have proven their qualifications in specialized technologies. They have the training, support, and services to design, deploy, and optimize networking solutions for your business. They also stay up to date on the latest software and hardware changes as well as upcoming Cisco products and solutions.
  2. What do I need to add to my network? A Cisco partner can discuss your business requirements and evaluate your current systems and network infrastructure. From there, a Cisco Partner can present solution options that will meet your needs today, grow with your business over time, and fit within your budget requirements.
  3. How can I minimize my overall costs? An end-to-end solution from Cisco is easier to maintain and support than a piecemeal, multivendor solution. Also, when budgeting for network enhancements, always take into account the cost of any software not included with your hardware purchases; maintenance; training; support; additional staff (if needed); and other factors. Research firm Gartner estimates such indirect costs account for up to 60% of an organization's total technology expenditures. Your Cisco partner can help you budget for all direct and indirect costs related to your network enhancements.
  4. What happens if there's a problem? Ask your partner detailed questions about the support he or she can offer after the sale. For example: Does the partner offer after-hours or emergency support? If so, during what hours is that support available? The specific support levels offered should be detailed in a service level agreement (SLA).

    Also, keep in mind many Cisco partners offer an award-winning technical support service that offers anytime access to Cisco engineers and an extensive range of technical resources.
  5. What do we need to do to prepare? Before the installation, ask your partner what information—about your network, users, business procedures, and security requirements—he or she needs from you to make the network upgrade go as smoothly as possible. Also ask your partner what are the common oversights or challenges businesses like yours face when upgrading their networks, and how you should prepare for them.

Questions?

Contact a Cisco partner to learn more and get exactly what you need.

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