The modern world would be unthinkable without technology, yet many of us take it for granted. Information at our fingerprints; a video conference with business partners in New York, London and Tokyo; wireless printing; an office phone service that ensures 24-hour contact for your customers irrespective of your location – it is amazing how far we have come.
While technology is now an integral element of our everyday business lives – aiding our efficiency, communication and output – it only takes a breakdown or an outage to remind us of the critical role it plays. One way for business owners to be able to focus on their core business and competencies, and not their IT problems, is to choose a serviced office as their business base.
Offering exceptional benefits for businesses, and taking away much of the everyday hassle for owners – including that of IT, at first glance serviced offices looks like dream offices. Not only do they offer a range of time and cost-saving services, but their integrated technology solutions also promise to deliver efficiency, connectivity and protection. Unfortunately this isn't always the case, so make sure you ask the right questions before you sign the lease.
The internet has changed the face of the business world, affecting how companies operate, communicate with their employees and customers, and transmit information. As the pipeline that connects a company's IT devices, its speed has never been more critical. Ascertaining the reliability of the Internet service provider (ISP), checking for consistent data speeds, quick access to the cloud, as well as fast download, and upload, speeds are all important elements for business owners to check. In regions where the service provider's transparency code is publicly available, it is also worth studying it to understand what traffic management practices take place, for what purpose, and with what impact.
Going wireless has become an obvious choice for many businesses, improving productivity, mobility and employee satisfaction. But it also requires taking certain precautions to prevent hackers from using or accessing information on your network. This entails verifying whether the serviced office provider delivers a multi-layered security solution that safeguards your business and protects its reputation – at the network, content and endpoint security levels. What kind of encryption does the network provide? Is there a firewall, configurable to the needs of individual organisations, to protect against external threats and attacks? And does the serviced office provider deploy virtual local area network (VLAN) segmentation, separating networks carrying sensitive information and applying appropriate controls to reduce the risk of system breach?
Although the process is predominantly hidden from network users, information is sent and received. Understanding how much data you can send and receive, and how quickly and securely, are questions worth seeking answers to.
Several factors can impact your experience. This includes the tier of the ISP that the serviced office is connected to, as well as the connection type – ADSL, cable or fibre optic – which affect Internet speed. It also includes the ability to configure and deploy various networks. Virtual local area networks (VLAN), for example, offer small and medium businesses greater security by allowing them to be on their own individual secure network; virtual private networks (VPN) permit data sharing across private and public networks as if users are directly connected to the private network; and demilitarized zones (DMZ) serve as barriers that protect business' local area networks (LAN) against external threats.
In a world where time is money and moments of downtime could signify lost opportunities, enquire how much uptime the serviced office's network guarantees. Does it also provide bandwidth on demand – the ability to efficiently accommodate fluctuating usage and spikes in traffic, around the clock, and is its setup easy and seamless?
Audio and video continue to play an important role in work and collaboration. As businesses increasingly engage with customers and business partners, seamless border-transversal capabilities are an important infrastructure consideration.
Unified communications – the convergence of voice, video, and data communications around a shared IP-based infrastructure – allows users to make calls, send messages and join audio and videoconferences while controlling IT costs. This is how VOIP, conferencing capabilities and video-enabled handsets bring functionality and cost savings to the table. Voicemail-to-email improves response time, delivering customer's audio messages straight to your inbox while the Internet fax feature sends faxes directly to your computer, away from prying eyes, and eliminates unnecessary wait times.
When it comes to phone answering, there's a variety of tech-savvy solutions to make your business truly portable. Global number portability allows business owners to take and make calls anytime, anywhere – on their computer, telephone or tablet – all that's needed is an internet connection. A virtual receptionist, capable of delivering tailored messages in different languages, and an interactive voicemail system with the capability of transferring calls to numerous extensions simultaneously, presents a business professionally and prevents business owners from ever having to miss a call again. Other options to consider include the availability of phone rate cards for quick affordable calling, no extra roaming charges for your business number in other locations, and the forwarding of calls to your mobile through voicemail outside office hours.
A conference call that you can't connect to, a server that you can't access, or a document that you can't print is frustrating and can cost you time, money and reputation. Having access to an IT support team is essential, even in a serviced office environment, to ensure smooth and seamless operation for your business. Find out where the team is based – does it have a local or a remote presence? Is the IT staff employed by the serviced office provider, or are they outsourced to another company? What are their credentials and qualifications – do they have the right skills and expertise? Are you confident that your problem will be resolved quickly – how many clients do they service, how easily can they be reached, and what is their average response time? Additional vital capabilities include the ability to manage, if needed, your business's transition to the cloud, along with its support and maintenance, and the provision and maintenance of the physical infrastructure.
No Business can afford to buy a lie
Starting out, most businesses operate with lean teams and cannot afford additional IT expenditure that can easily eat away profit margins. This is why a serviced office, offering the latest state-of-the-art facilities at a fixed cost, holds appeal – it mitigates the risk and allows for better planning.
Before signing a lease with your serviced office provider, however, discuss and test the IT services on offer. Understand their advantages and limitations, and make sure that there are no grey areas or hidden costs. After all, no business can afford to buy a lie, and neither can you.