The always-on office


11 May 2006

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When broadband as we know it today was being first rolled out it was the business community initially that embraced it with open arms. They recognised the benefits, efficiencies and saving that would come from saying goodbye to dial-up, ISDN and leased lines.

Despite the intensive campaigns that all of the telco companies competing in the business space have mounted there are still a few stragglers out there who don’t have broadband in their company.

These businesses are not only losing money but also potential customers, knowledge of the market and services that only broadband can provide.

“I’d be shocked if any business with more than four or five employees didn’t have broadband,” says Tim Murphy of Strencom. “Although it can be understandable in some traditionally paper-based occupations, from an efficiency point of view broadband increases productivity.”

Murphy points to the simple things that broadband enables more efficiently such as online banking and looking up the online Golden Pages. “It’s also important to keep abreast of the industry you’re in. News sites can inform you of what the competition is up to and you can find worldwide opinion of the industry you’re in. This is essential, especially for smaller business. In fact the smaller you are the more important it is to have a resource such as broadband internet access.”

Niall Feeney of Eircom breaks it down into euro and cent as he paints a picture of the cost effectiveness of broadband. “If you look at the entry-level packages the cost is about 65c a day and quite literally if you can save yourself two to three minutes per day compared to the cost of dial-up you’ll immediately get your money back and businesses who adopted it early on did so, in addition to the time savings.

“What we are seeing is that as companies get broadband they tend to use internet technologies a lot more and they typically find that online banking is a lot easier, filing tax returns and VAT returns is easier. And you also start to see them use email for marketing purposes and use the web for searches a lot more, especially for use in procurement to source cheaper suppliers.”

But it’s not all about browsing the web and getting your email. Of course these two resources are something of a hub around which everything else revolves. But it’s the added-value components, particularly online services and applications that were once the preserve of the large corporate entities, that can now be accessed by businesses ranging from sole trader to SMEs.

“Taking it another step further you can avail of online CRM packages and start to move some of your business process out of the office to hosted services,” says Donal Hanrahan of Magnet. “Broadband is essential for this; dial-up won’t get you there. With broadband you can avail of offerings such as on online backup, hosted services, security and so on.”

“Organisations have a number of pressures on them across the board but primarily in the small to medium-sized enterprise sector,” says John Acton of Smart Telecom. Acton says reducing costs and increasing revenues and competitiveness were essential to business and broadband was a key element in that. “How can they communicate more effectively, distribute product more effectively, take cost out of the business? The answer is broadband. We’re now getting access to technology such as video streaming and PDF documents that can be used to make a business and indeed a nation more competitive and broadband is fundamental to that happening.”

With the obvious benefits to business for getting broadband, why is it that so many still don’t have it? “There are about 50pc of businesses that don’t have broadband,” according to Peter Evans of BT. “Of that 50pc some of them wouldn’t have a computer. But those that do still haven’t made the move. There are problems with location but in any cases it can just be inertia. It’s a change and they’re reluctant to do it because they are going to have to consider issues such as firewalls and anti-virus and so on. But the reasons for broadband are so compelling that those issues are easily overcome.”

Paul Connell of Pure Telecom points the finger at the incumbent telco provider for many businesses not having broadband. “Towns with less than 1,500 people have been told they’ll never have DSL broadband. If they’re lucky enough to be in the group broadband scheme they can avail of wireless. But for some satellite is the only option. And we’re not talking about the Aran Islands, you can be 10 miles outside of Gorey, Co Wexford and you can’t get DSL.”

Ultimately though the country’s broadband coverage is improving through the MANs (metropolitan area networks), Group Broadband Scheme and the development of wireless standards such as WiMax. Soon it would seem likely that any business wanting broadband will get it. As a nation that trumpets itself as being a digital hub it’s essential that all businesses avail of broadband and watch the benefits accrue. As Hanrahan concludes: “Broadband is not just a route to the internet; it’s a route to better and cost-effective services.”

Billy Walker Car Sales (BT broadband customer)
Responding to the high volume of calls from potential customers along with constant online research to get the best deals through the trade required a flawless, always-on communications system. Billy Walker Car Sales needed to ensure that all its needs were catered for efficiently. The company chose a broadband package to fulfil its requirements for this. “In the car sales business, one phone call or internet query can secure a deal so I needed to be sure that I had the most efficient, up-to-date system possible to answer my customers’ needs while being cost effective for the business,” says Billy Walker, managing director, Billy Walker Car Sales.

Tom Fogerty Insurance Brokers (Eircom broadband customer)
As part of a general IT upgrade, insurance broker Tom Fogarty decided his Tipperary-based SME company would look critically at the firm’s entire information and communications technology infrastructure. “On the advice of our IT suppliers, we said we would update everything together and our provider is now hosting the website (www.tfi.ie) and the emails,” he explained. “We had a very basic email solution that just didn’t provide a satisfactory level of operation. Our update tied in well because broadband was launched in Tipperary around the same time. We have the full broadband capability now and we’ve also got a full email and internet solution.”
The company now enjoys all the advantages of a unified email and web-hosting solution, while broadband has given communications in the organisation a new lease of life. “It’s excellent,” says Fogarty. “It’s the way to go. It’s reasonably priced, fast and stable. I can see fantastic savings down the line and an awful lot more business transacted by this method.”

By Neil Dillon