Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) is key to every company’s daily activities. It can be a hindrance or a productivity boon. This guide aims to give you a belt-andbraces overview of the ICT issues you face when starting out.
1. Domain Name
Get one if you do not have one already! This is the online address for your company. It is not the same as having an email system or a website, it is only the rental of the address details. With a domain name you can create a website like www.yourcompany.co.uk and have emails delivered to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A simple site to check availability and instantly purchase domain names is www.123-reg.co.uk. You should at least buy the .co.uk, .com, and .net variants to prevent others purchasing the same one. Annual costs are around £25 for the popular variants.
2. Consider Outside Help
ICT infrastructure setups take a lot of time and effort to get right, so it often makes sense to pay for outside help. For office and ICT setups or any significant projects make sure you get a
comprehensive fixed cost for the works. Most companies charge £100-£200/hr, but ensure you read the small print and their service level agreement. The right supplier should understand your business and its processes and be fairly local to your premises to be on site quickly if required.
Before purchasing anything always ensure you weigh up all the benefits to your business, and prioritise everything you need. Hardware includes the following:
The first piece of hardware you’ll need is a desktop PC, which is essential for your day to day duties. If you’re constantly on the move you may want to consider a laptop instead.
A 'typical' user workstation, including hardware, operating system and with MS Office installed, costs c£800. As a rule of thumb laptops are 30% more expensive than PCs with similar specifications. PCs are easier and cheaper to repair than laptops and have a longer life, though laptops give greater mobility and flexibility.
3.2. Copiers, Faxes, Printers
They come in different shapes and sizes and vary in cost greatly depending upon speed and quality.
Multifunction devices (MFPs) are printers that include scanning, copying and faxing capabilities and are available from £300 upwards. These multi-purpose devices should be among your first purchases. Spend time examining the options available to your budget as over time printing adds up to being a considerable expense.
You can buy, hire or lease equipment, but always enquire about expected lifespan and running costs. Generally inkjet printers are better value for money than laser printers, however there are trade-offs in capacity, speed and quality.
There are many different types of phones available (cordless, hands-free, or for conference calls with speakers and microphones), from which you should choose the best suited for your business needs. They are inexpensive and easy to set up, and if you are investing in a phone server, ensure the phones are compatible.
BT and other vendors also provide "FeatureLine" phone lines and phones which add some of the functionality of your own phone server, though they are more expensive.
3.4. Mobile Devices
They offer your employees greater working flexibility and include mobile phones, smartphones (ability to send/ receive emails), PDAs (emailing, diary management and productivity tools), and 3G modems (can be plugged into a laptop or PC to give you access to the Internet almost anywhere).
The latest gadgets can be high in cost, but may be free with a longer term phone contract. It is often difficult not to recommend the leading mobile network due to reliability of services and network coverage. Shop around and budget £20-40 per user per month for rental, phone use as well as email and web use.
Software increases your efficiency, being useful for normal activities like word processing but also for more comprehensive activities like accounting, payroll, supply chain integration & management and stock control.
Costs vary widely depending on the type of software and how you licence it. You should budget for annual upgrade & support costs, licensing fees, and new versions. Outsourcing through cloud computing and/or SaaS (Software as a Service) is a possibility to reduce cost. Speak to your employees as they might know best what is needed for the day to day activities and finally prioritise your software investment.
Your ICT infrastructure is all the "behind the scenes" equipment used to support your staff. From servers which store files and share services such as printing, to your Internet connection and phone system.
It’s essential you get the right equipment required for your business. Remember to get the telecoms lines, one of the fundamental items in your ICT infrastructure, surveyed & tested as part of your order – do this first! – as depending on the results you might face longer lead times for installing.
5.1.Telecoms Lines & Lead Times
If lines already exist and are compatible with your requirements, the remaining telecoms infrastructure can be set up within 10-65 working days depending on the scale of your requirements (see below for individual lead times).
If installing new phone lines add another 10-30 days. Check that no Wayleave agreements are required by your landlord before work can commence, which can cause 1-2 months, or more, of unplanned delay. Longer lead times than this are possible, some taking as long as 4 months, so plan for a healthy time contingency and make sure you get firm commitments in writing on dates for the installation and setup of all lines.
5.2. File Server & Network
A server stores your data and programs and centralises databases and email. The network is the central part of your ICT system, providing the physical links between all of your computers, servers and the Internet either through a wired network (LAN) or through a wireless LAN (WLAN) for mobility around your office. You should consider setting up a network immediately, unless you only have 1-2 staff.
CTI (computer-telephony integration) is possible with a special network server. VPNs (virtual private networks) use a broadband connection for remote access to your network, which is an extremely secure system for transferring data between locations. Any system which affects all of your users should be as good as you can reasonably afford but you should budget at least £1-2k for your first file server. Also, secure your network, especially your wireless one, and check your network logs regularly for potential issues that may affect everyone.
5.3. Telephone System
This is a basic requirement for your business. There are two types of telephone systems:
1. Key System, where all calls come in to one number and are then transferred;
2. Private Branch Xchange (PBX), offering features like call logging, individual voicemail and DDI (direct dial in). In order to handle higher volumes of calls, employ an automated attendant system, or use basic CTI software for call centrelike call management (complicated CTI systems often do not justify their costs). VoIP (voice over IP) is a new way of communicating, routing telephone calls over the Internet instead of the traditional phone network.
You will still need an account with a VoIP provider to make VoIP calls to standard phone numbers, but VoIP to VoIP calls are free. Video conferencing is less expensive than before, however you will need a high quality broadband connection. Identify what is required, like number of lines and extensions both now and in future. Use tariff comparison websites to find the right package/price. Allow up to 10 days for a telephone system and 5-10 days more for “FeatureLine” lines to be installed.
Nowadays broadband, an always-on high-speed Internet connection, is a standard requirement for businesses and brings several benefits like efficiency, greater productivity, and lower phone and postage bills. For a business with up to six or seven users a speed of 2 Mbps is enough for most needs, though speeds of up to 10Mbps are common place.
The most common types of Internet connection you will come across are: ADSL (20-30 days lead time), SDSL and Leased Lines (both 40-65 days lead time), 3G and Public Wireless (both can be set up in 1-2 days).
Initial cost for router, modem and cables are often included in the subscription costs for a broadband connection, though you should consider spending at least £200-£300 on a better firewall which will provide better security and offer other services, such as secure remote access to your network for authorised users.
Monthly broadband subscriptions range from £10-£30; the faster the speed and the lower the contention, the more expensive the fee. Some phone providers offer free broadband with a phone contract, but there are often onerous restrictions. Packaged deals are available with unlimited email addresses, website hosting, spam, filtering and anti-virus. Some things to bear in mind are: check cost and availability for technical support, which is often pay-as-you-go at a high rate or difficult to access; choose the minimum contract length, prices are falling and capacity increasing all the time; check the restrictions on how much you can download.
Email is now the ubiquitous communications medium for business. It is an extremely effective and efficient form of communication, both when in the office and on the move via email enabled PDAs. However, security issues are seen as a big drawback, but can be mitigated against with firewall and antispam software as well as an effective email policy for staff.
Different email options are:
1. owning your own system (most costly £700-£2000, but most secure, suitable for 5-5000 staff).
2. piggy back on another email system until you are ready for your own servers (from £10 per user/month).
3. basic email functionality provided by many Internet web hosting companies (cheapest £80-£100/year, least secure, not suitable for more than 3-4 staff).
A few things to bear in mind are: check with your Internet Service Provider if there is a size limit for attachments or a restriction on the volume of data allowed, ensure your correct company details including address, registered name and company number are included on your email signature – this is a legal requirement.
5.6. Intranet & Extranet
These are methods of sharing data which enable you to communicate and collaborate with employees inside your business (Intranet) and business partners outside your business (Extranet). Intranets are used as common knowledge bases and give access to company data, systems and email.
You and selected business partners can access Extranets 24/7 securely and easily from the Internet. Intranets are inexpensive to set up and after this the cost is constrained by the functionality you add. Extranets are typically hardware devices that work alongside or replace traditional firewalls and can cost from £300-£30,000. The devices, as with all ICT, will need maintenance and ongoing management to remain secure and effective, and this should be kept in mind when drawing up budgets. Carefully selecting which users have access to what data is a must for security reason.
All companies these days are expected to have at least a basic online presence. Apart from costs for designing, developing, and registering your domain name you need to “host” your website. This can be done in-house or through an external Internet service provider (on its own dedicated server or on a shared hosting service).
Unless you have very particular requirements or expect 10,000’s of visits to your website per hour, sharing a web server is more than adequate for most companies and drives the cost down. Do use a 3rd party for hosting services as the effort of hosting your own website (management, security, etc.) is not worth the trouble given the relatively low cost of £80-£100/year for web space and email traffic.
Ecommerce allows you to market and sell your products/ services on the Internet, which is becoming increasingly important to many businesses. An ecommerce system should be professionally designed and installed.
Having security measures in place is essential since sensitive customer information is processed. Budget at least £2k for a basic system and allow 3-4 weeks implementation time.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) based on IT systems allows better management, analysis and reporting on customer and sales data, working more effectively and efficiently, building stronger relationships and resulting in higher revenues and profits.
There are four types of CRM solutions:
1 web-based outsourced solutions,
2 off-the-shelf software applications,
3 bespoke CRM applications,
4 managed solutions (a combination of 1 & 3). CRM systems range widely in value, but some of the best ones have either flexible, cost efficient licensing or low cost.
Database technology, where information relevant to your business is collected, organised, processed, managed and reported on, enables you to find required data quickly and process it efficiently.
Databases tailored exactly to your business needs can be an expensive and time consuming process. Sometimes the most appropriate database could be a single Microsoft Excel file, keeping things simple.
A few things you need to bear in mind are: comply with data protection legislation; keep data updated regularly and accurately; test your database and train your staff how to make best use of your data.
Securing your ICT systems is a must as your stored business information and data is the most valuable asset to your company. One of your first steps in ICT is to ensure that access to your systems and data is protected by passwords. Carrying out a comprehensive risk assessment, where all possible risks are identified, is an essential starting point.
In general the following safeguards need to be in place:
10.1. Firewall; Malicious Software
A carefully configured firewall controlls what should be allowed into your business from the Internet, and also what traffic should be allowed out. Through malicious software, including viruses, worms, Trojans, and spyware, computer-criminals can gain remote access and control of your systems. To defend you against these common threats all PCs and servers should be protected with anti-spam/-virus/-spyware software and website filtering software, which should be kept up to date.
You must ensure you make a copy of all of your data only as infrequently as you are prepared to lose work.
Backup copies can either be made to portable media (magnetic tapes, external hard disks) or stored by online providers on the Internet. Prices vary depending on how much data you store and how often it changes.
Tape backup routines are the most reliable and have the greatest capacity but are expensive to implement, 800GB of data can be backed up onto tapes using a tape drive costing several £1000. These tapes are then put into rotation and stored offsite. Online backups can be set up in a few hours and cost as little as £20 per month for online storage, but have limited capacity and speed.
10.3. Resilient Systems; Disaster Recovery
If your business is extremely sensitive to downtime or data loss, redundancy to key systems can be built in to minimise, as much as possible, disruption from any failures. Disaster recovery takes into consideration unexpected events like fire, flood, earthquakes, etc., and it should be outlined in detail in a contingency plan, which is available to senior staff members.
10.4. Patch Management; Asset Management
Careful patch management and updating of hardware, server software, and desktop application software is essential, where critical software and equipment are updated with the latest security and software patches as they become available. Once your data is secure you should also secure your premises and equipment against theft. Keep a record of all serial numbers of all items for asset tracking and insurance purposes.
Security threats might not only come from the outside but can also come from the inside (ex-, dishonest and/ or incompetent employees). You must educate your staff about acceptable and unacceptable use of company resources and have policies in place which need to be signed by staff. Secure login measures and restricted access also increase the security of your systems.
Identify skills needed by your staff depending on their role and applications used, this will ensure they make best use of your systems and are more productive. Costs depend on the level of training and the training provider. However, most providers are happy to help you find a suitable date and time and can even do a training session in your office if you have a group of 4-5 people or more, which can be very cost effective.
ICT maintenance makes sure your systems remain functioning and unplanned system downtime is kept to a minimum. It is essential that your critical hardware has support and maintenance contracts, either directly from the supplier or from an ICT support company. It is important your agreement includes an on-site warranty to minimise downtime.
13. Systems Support
Despite everything working in tip-top fashion, at some point your ICT systems will inevitably malfunction and require ongoing maintenance. In order to minimise disruption retaining ongoing support which guarantees your systems will always be working as expected, is strongly recommended. This support takes the form of remotely monitoring systems, proactive maintenance, and taking action on minor issues before they become major, preventing a system failure and resolving problems before you even notice. Ongoing support can be charged on a fixed costs basis, a timecard basis, or a combination of both, depending on the ICT company and your preferred method.
At the start “pay as you go” support is recommended and you can negotiate fixed fee support as you grow and understand your cost structure better. The typical hourly rate is £100-200, but check the increments in which the provider charges and be aware that outside business hours rates can be significant higher.
Allow 2–4 weeks to find a suitable support company, which is willing to support small requests and provides support for a broad range of services. A few things you need to bear in mind are: the location of the ICT company should be close to your offices; the support office hours should be compatible with your office hours; the response time of the ICT company and if there are different levels of service and what the response & fix times are for these.
ICT is a significant investment and ongoing cost for any business, new or established, and as such needs careful budgeting and planning with a clear view of your needs from the start. You should plan for ICT growth in line with your business plan and objectives, making realistic assessments of how your needs will develop.
For a small start up of around 5 staff, a competent support company can get you up and running given 1 months notice with a basic but comprehensive start up package, including desktop PCs, a configured network and basic email, file serving and printing requirements covered for £8-10k depending on your specific requirements. A comprehensive package which covers all the bases and includes a website, a reliable backup and a choice of improved collaboration and remote access, tight security or empowering your business with databases should cost £10-14k.
Whatever solution you choose make sure you budget £1-2k per annum for subscriptions and support (not including systems maintenance) and ensure your supplier is very clear about your costs, fixing them where appropriate.
It is best to make one person responsible for your ICT not only when dealing with a provider but also internally.