|Issue:||Latin America 2004|
|Topic:||Connecting small business|
|Organisation:||3Com do Brasil|
Vittorino Dattrino is 3Com’s General Manager in Brazil. Dattrino has had a long involment in carrier information and communication technology. He earned his degree in computer engineering at PUC – Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Rio de Janeiro.
Close to 40 per cent of Brazil’s investments are for information and communication technology. Much of this investment is from micro and small businesses. Accordingly, suppliers are developing solutions specifically for small business applications, and SMBs are turning to standardised IP (Internet Protocol) telephony solutions, for affordable, easy to deploy and operate, voice and data systems – many with advanced call-handling capabilities. Connectivity with security is a challenge; antivirus and firewall software, hardware firewalls, IDS, WPA and other solutions are needed.
Business organisations are increasing their investment in technology. This is a global reality; this is the reality in Brazil. Today, 40 per cent of Brazil’s investments are for IT (information technology). This is just behind the United States and Europe, which allocate, respectively, 55 per cent and 45 percent of their total investments to IT. In Brazil, figures published in the 15th Annual FGV-EAESP Survey of the Brazilian IT Market reveal how the country reacted to the 2002 to 2003 downturn. During this period Brazil saw a marked decrease in investment. This was due to the generalised nervousness generated by the political and economic scenario, specifically, the effective devaluation of the country’s currency and the impact of importation upon the balance of payments and upon IT goods. Now, in 2004, the market is starting to breathe again and shows clear signs of recovery. The micro and small business sector is among those that have contributed most to increase IT investment. Brazil’s micro and small business sector, with 4.6 million companies, is responsible for 20 per cent of Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product. Between 2003 and 2004, the sector’s investment increased significantly, by 33.3 per cent, according to FIESP, the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo. These small companies need to improve their infrastructure and make better use of the Internet to build their businesses. Technology market suppliers are aware of this and are developing services and solutions focused specifically upon these needs and concentrating upon small business applications, security and infrastructure. Technologies and security Broadband solutions are used to connect the small companies; wireless and ADSL broadband technologies are most frequently used. Wireless networks facilitate interconnection among stores, branches or departments and simplify the operation of the company. Broadband is used to minimise the cost and increase the speed of data transmission. Small businesses worldwide are turning to wireless networking to reap the technology’s proven benefits. Wireless networks can do anything that their wired counterparts can – only more easily and affordably. Moreover, wireless systems eliminate the expense and hassle of hard-wiring a site. By providing pervasive network access, wireless systems enable users to work anywhere within the company, not just where network connections happen to be installed. Employees remain connected even as they move around the company’s sites and new users can be added simply and quickly. Wireless systems are compelling solutions for building new local area networks (LAN) or expanding existing ones. As a result, it is not surprising that the use of wireless technology has become a global trend. Within a few years, it will be the standard connectivity technology. Mobile applications, together with those to manage customer and partner relationships, are already best sellers in the SMB (small and medium business) market; they account for 20 per cent of the IT products developed. According to a Gartner survey, in 2003, the market grew 35 per cent compared to 2002. Growth in this market is expected to reach 50 per cent by the end of this year, with 57.6 million units shipped. When thinking about connectivity and mobility, one must also think about security. Providing connectivity with security is one of the toughest challenges a CIO (Chief Information Officer) has to face. There is an increasing number of systems on-line, many of them accessible through wireless devices. All these systems – and the networks they run on – must be protected against hackers, viruses, and other threats that knock at the doors of the corporate network via Internet. Today, many SMBs already have installed basic antivirus solutions in their computers and servers, and use commonly available firewalls and software to enable and protect network access. Among the solutions successfully used to provide security are embedded firewalls (firewalls embedded in the network hardware) that protect the machine and keep it from being taken over and used as hostile agent in the network. Embedded firewalls let an enterprise centralise the administration of its security management policy; just one administrator can direct the company’s entire network security. To increase security, the embedded firewall can be deployed with other protective applications such as concurrently running software firewalls, IDS (Intrusion Detection Systems), content filtering, VPN (Virtual Private Networks) and antivirus solutions. Another often used security solution, WPA (Wi-Fi protected access), is available in many Wi-Fi products and offers adequate security. Some systems also support MAC (Media Access Control) addressing, which permits only specified devices to access a wireless LAN. For still greater protection, there are solutions, such as 802.1x RADIUS authentication, which require users to enter passwords to use the network. By choosing solutions that deliver sufficient security, the company can reduce their vulnerability and safeguard their data when using wireless links. IP telephony We cannot talk about connectivity without mentioning IP telephony. Smaller organisations increasingly depend upon remote and mobile workers. As small business operations become more dispersed, their communications infrastructure must support multi-site networking without multiplying the enterprise’s IT and administrative burdens. Therefore many SMBs are turning to IP (Internet Protocol) telephony solutions, based upon network infrastructures that provide converged voice and data. Small organisations are choosing IP telephony because it enables them to address economically a compelling business issue today, while establishing a foundation for future growth. The present demand is for telephone solutions that are affordable, yet deliver the features of powerful telephone systems, including call handling and even call-centre capabilities. Telephony systems for the SMB marketplace must be flexible, easy to scale, simple to manage and be undemanding to administer as they grow. A carefully selected IP telephony solution can help small and medium-sized organisations meet the challenges of today’s marketplace, enable them to increase productivity, better support mobile and remote employees and reduce their total cost of ownership (TCO). This last issue is very important to organisations, which are finding that a networked telephony solution offers a significantly lower TCO than a traditional circuit-switched phone system. The cost of a telephone system is much more than simply its purchase price; the true total cost of ownership includes equipment, long distance telecommunication costs, administration, upgrades, expansion and other expenses such as the productivity lost due to inadequate application support. Three factors are especially important to consider before investing in an IP telephony solution: its architecture, application support and ability to deliver multi-site connectivity. All of these features will have an impact on ease of use, cost and long-term value. Open, standards-based architecture is critical for easy network integration and interoperability with third-party applications. The infrastructure should also deliver maximum Quality of Service (QoS) and high availability to support time-sensitive voice traffic and vital business processes. Other key points to be considered when building an IP telephony network are its ease of management and the facilities provided to maximise efficiency and minimise maintenance costs. Items including scalability, reliability, flexibility, voice quality and such extra features as unified messaging (UM), communications audit trails of and call recording should also not be forgotten. Assured connectivity SMBs do not have the networks large corporations with big-budget investments in technology have. That is why their investment must be carefully analysed, and double the attention paid, when choosing devices and solutions. There are some precautions, though, that can be taken to minimise risks and guarantee the sort of results that SMBs need. One precaution is to buy from a market-leading vendor that offers proven and reliable products. This sort of supplier will stand behind its offerings and provide strong support and warranties that protect the investment. Moreover, it is important to select a manufacturer that provides a complete line of solutions, to easily and cost-effectively upgrade the systems as needed in the future. It is also essential to use trusted devices and pay a price for them in line with the benefits to justify the investment. Solutions running standardised systems are always a good choice for the small companies. These products assure interoperability with a wide range of devices and virtually eliminate expenses with dependent or proprietary systems that, many times, force the companies to change their network just to upgrade a system. Open, globally accepted, wireless standards such as Wi-Fi or 802.11 (a, b and g) are supported by hundreds of providers worldwide. Small businesses do not have large IT departments; they need solutions that are easy to deploy and operate and products that feature intuitive, plug-and-play installation. Systems that are complex to implement or operate demand pricey technical expertise that increases their cost of ownership. Affordable solutions Small businesses need to purchase affordable products. Generally speaking, they require neither the expensive and complex products with bells and whistles nor the sophisticated management capabilities that large enterprises need. There is danger in over-investing in unnecessary features and capabilities instead of selecting solutions that deliver just what a company currently needs. Scalability, the ability to add capacity and features when needed – to expand the system as the company grows – is more important than features that are only marginally useful at the moment. The need for SMBs to invest in technology is clear, but thorough technical and financial analysis of the specific solutions and services is called for. IT suppliers and manufacturers have been actively positioning themselves to supply the special connectivity needs of the SMB sector and now have a wide range of technologies – including, among others, ADSL and IP – to offer. Meeting the growing needs of SMBs for connectivity solutions is an exciting, promising, new challenge for the information and communication technology sectors.