Digital Transformation | Hybrid Cloud | IoT

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Managed Services: The Ultimate Small Business Contingency Plan


Today could have been a really bad day for my one-year-old company, Nine Lives Media Inc. My New York office suffered a broadband outage.

If our Web sites, network, email, phone and application systems were all centralized in that office we would have been dark all day. But our small business didn't skip a beat. Why's that? The three-word answer: Redundant managed services.

Our New York office has a redundant managed broadband connection. Plus, we depend on a range of decentralized managed services and SaaS (software as a service) solutions to keep our business growing. Here's a look at the services we're leveraging today -- and a few that we hope to leverage in the next six months.

Managed and SaaS services we're currently leveraging:
  • Hosted Email: I don't know why any small business would consider an on-premise system these days. Hosted email is cheap (it's a commodity, in fact), reliable, fast and accessible from anywhere in the world. It's so cheap I can't remember the annual price.
  • Hosted Web Sites: At my first start-up, all of our web servers were located in our own data center. Our network administrators wanted to "touch" the servers and work on them right in our own offices. These days, the smarter option for many small businesses is to pay a low monthly fee for a shared or dedicated server managed by a data center provider. We started our business using a shared server (about $89 per month) but recently moved to a dedicated server (about $250 a month) because our traffic has been growing fast.
  • Phone service: We depend on hosted voice-over-IP and we don't own our phone equipment. Our service provider does. Over time, I expect our service provider to introduce new unified communications services, which will ease my life from the road. (Scroll down for our future plans for unified communications).
  • Software as a Service: This list is getting pretty long. We're depending on a range of SaaS solutions to build our customer database and drive viral marketing. Inexpensive, reliable options include SurveyMonkey (free for basic service, about $200 annually for unlimited service), a great way to survey existing and target customers; WordPress (free open source content management, which you can customize); WebEx and FreeConference (online collaboration and teleconferencing; MyPodcast.com (hosted podcasts).
  • Mobile Broadband: If you drink coffee and travel a lot, sign up for Starbuck's WiFi service. It's a life saver when you're on the road and your hotel or conference center has lousy Internet service. For about $30 per month, you'll be able to find a strong WiFi signal in virtually any Starbucks location.
Future Managed and SaaS Services: We're evaluating the following managed and SaaS services for 2009.
  • Public TelePresence: For about two years, I've been predicting that TelePresence (next-generation video conferencing) would find its way into hotels and conference centers. Our small business can't afford to build out a complete TelePresence location. But we can -- and will -- use Public TelePresence centers. Cisco is introducing such centers right now, and signing up to use one sounds easy. As more public locations launch, I suspect we'll use managed TelePresence to communicate with clients across North America, Europe, India and Australia.
  • Mobile Unified Communications: I fell for the iPhone the day Apple started selling it. I love the iPhone App Store. And I generally like the iPhone user interface. But I want better integration between the device and a range of services (hosted email, hosted VoIP, remote application access). Slowly but steady, those services are coming. Azaleos and other managed service providers are introducing Microsoft Exchange-to-iPhone integration. And the iPhone also supports Cisco's VPN technology. So I'm seeing progress. But I want to see more and more corporate services, managed services and "follow me" unified communication services touching the iPhone.
  • Hosted Customer Relationship Management: We're looking at a range of options here. Salesforce.com is the best-known option. But Zoho (which often competes with Google Apps) has an interesting on-demand CRM strategy.
I suspect we're using a dozen additional managed services and SaaS applications to keep our small business humming along. Sometimes I forget just how many managed services we leverage. And that's a good thing. While we're focused on our business, somebody else is focused on managing and maintaining all the back-end technoology.