From the first time someone copied a file to a diskette, people have recognized the importance and value of sharing computer files among users and their computers. It wasn't long before a handful of enterprising companies began developing hardware and software that enabled personal computers to be linked together, or networked. These network servers enabled PCs to "talk" to each other, sharing printers and files.
In the years since servers were introduced, their sophistication and features have increased. Unfortunately, so have their complexity and cost. For the average remodeler, these costs have put the benefits of server ownership out of reach — until now.
With a combination of hardware devices and online services, most small businesses can put together an affordable networking solution. Start by purchasing a router that also functions as a print server and firewall. This device gives multiple users the ability to securely share a high-speed Internet connection and printers. Choose a model with wireless capabilities to provide easy access for field employees. A number of high-quality solutions are available for under $100. Check them out with your local computer equipment supplier.
With your infrastructure in place, it's time to move on to the online services part of your solution. Market leaders such as Intranets.com and Microsoft's SharePoint ( www.microsoft.com/small-business/online/collaboration-software/sharepoint/detail.mspx ) provide virtually all of the benefits of having your own server without the high costs. Starting at $40 to $60 per month, with a 30-day free trial, these providers offer functionality such as document storage and version control, file change alerts, contact management, template and form management, digital photo management, task assignment and management, appointment scheduling and calendar sharing, and client, employee or subcontractor collaboration.
Some services go well beyond the realm of a standard server by also providing online surveying, expense report tracking and processing, Web conferencing, and database creation and management.
|Online services such as Microsoft SharePoint allow businesses to store and share files without having to purchase a networking server.|
Both Intranets.com and SharePoint are easy to use. Online training, help files, demonstrations and support come with your monthly service agreement. With very little effort, your whole organization can be up and running. You can even create accounts for your subcontractors and trade partners.
In no time, you'll be using the online service to store job site photos, create and manage contracts, collaborate with subs on proposals, maintain client lists, develop prospecting lists, create and maintain project plans, and develop team assignments.
Compare the relatively small cost and numerous features of an online service to the total cost of owning your own server, which would include hardware and software purchase, set up, and ongoing maintenance. While hardware costs have diminished and software prices have remained constant, the cost of and need for ongoing maintenance has grown tremendously. The unrelenting assault by hackers and virus programmers has led to a flurry of software patches, sometimes sent daily, from vendors intent on securing their customers' data. Other costs include running backups, upgrading and maintaining the hardware and software, and maintaining user accounts. To properly maintain an in-house server, most companies employ a full-time employee or, minimally, contract an outside technician. Without my adding it up for you, I'm sure you can see that the comparative costs difference is remarkable.
Give this simple solution a try. Share it with your business partners and clients. It won't be long until you say goodbye to your diskettes.
|Dave Taraboletti is chief operating officer of Montecito Property Company, which specializes in condo conversions, rehabs, property development and apartment management. Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.|