The world of computers is evolving and the small business computer systems of ten years ago should be reconsidered. Software-as-a-Service and simplified devices are the main contributors to change. The key things small businesses need to consider is data security, cost, and features set.
In the past most people and business purchased general purpose computers (PCs/Macs) and loaded software specific to their needs. Once the software was installed, it was the owner’s (or their hired IT support) to make sure everything ran smoothly. Today it is common for software companies to maintain their software on a website and charge a subscription fee to use it. The benefit of this model is the software provider is responsible for keeping everything working and you can use the software from any web browser. Most types of software (financial, email, word processing, spreadsheets, etc.) are available as SaaS. Highly specialized software and software that requires lots of local process (video editing and 3d modeling) may not be available with the same level of sophistication in a SaaS offering.
Historically everyone used PCs for most computing tasks. PC’s give the user almost complete control over what they can do with the machine. On the surface this sounds great but PC’s are very sophisticated and often end-users and even experts can do things that cause the PC to be unreliable or insecure. Mobile phones, iPad and Android tablets and Chromebooks are locked down and are relatively impervious to viruses or software that will foul them up. Like SaaS, these devices are supported by their suppliers with limited to no IT support needed. These devices are cheaper to purchase and operate than traditional PC’s and Macs.
Small businesses are all generating more data and the data is more heavily relied upon. Unfortunately, there are significant threats to keeping your data available and secure.
Malware / Virus / Ransomware
Malware is getting harder to prevent and becoming nastier. Once infected, your data may be held for ransom or deleted. The most secure solution is to use one of the above Simplified devices. If that is not feasible, your computer should be on the latest operating system available (Windows 10 or macOS 10.12). You should check monthly that all patches are applied. For PC’s the built in Windows Defender should be on or another antivirus that is kept up-to-date. This usually means paying a yearly fee to have support.
All computers will fail eventually. You should follow the 3-2-1 backup rule which is 3 copies of your data, 2 different formats (like memory card and online), and 1 off-site backup. Most business fail to have the off-site backup even though it is easy to setup. Crashplan is what I have used but it can be expensive ($12/month) but it runs in the background and sends you an email if there is a problem. There are a number of other online backup services available. These are not the same as services like DropBox which are more about sharing files. Data backups can also help you if you give hit by Ransomware.
Some people are concerned that having data in the cloud is less secure than having it on your computer. Having it on your computer does not mean it is safe from other people or the government because your computer is on the internet and in the cloud. Additionally, companies like Google and Microsoft are much better at securing their systems than you are. Cloud services are very insecure if you are not using a complex and unique password for each service/website. This is because if one service is breach, a hacker will try your password on other services. The best solution is to use a password storage vault like LastPass.
Most people at least need email, file storage, word-processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. Google and Microsoft have the top-rated services called GSuite and Office 365. Each cost about $5-$10 per user per month. You can set it up so your email address is coming from your business domain.
Financial services from Intuit (makes of Quicken and Quickbooks) is available online. Quickbooks Online is different than the version you install but has similar features. The free Mint service from Intuit seems better than Quicken as it does everything automatically.
Getting from What you have to the future
I wouldn’t recommend a quick switch to simplified devices and SaaS. If you don’t have backups, unique passwords, latest operating system, and antivirus, start there. As your equipment is to be replaced, consider changes then. For example, if Quickbooks is on an old computer, consider moving to Quickbooks Online and replacing the computer with a Chromebook.