If you were building a house with a turreted window, you wouldn’t start there. You would start by building a strong foundation and then constructing the frame of the house and the turret after that.
Such is the case with small businesses and emerging technologies. Where it makes business sense, smaller companies should invest in the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and other emerging IT solutions.
However, in order to make those deployments successful, small businesses must first ensure they have strong and well-designed wired and wireless networks and fast connections to cloud services that often power IoT and AI platforms.
Without a strong network foundation, small businesses will not be able to effectively compete with their peers. While it might seem obvious, small companies should not rush head first into adopting leading-edge technologies without first ensuring that they have a strong network foundation. Once that scalable and secure network infrastructure has been deployed, small businesses can layer IoT and other advanced technologies on top.
How Your Small Business Can Build a Strong Network Foundation
The first thing a small business should do is conduct an assessment of its network technology and strategy and determine: What is the state of our network now and what do we want it to be? Small companies can do this on their own with business and IT leaders or work with a trusted outside technology partner to do so.
This assessment often involves checking on the health of a network and its underlying infrastructure, developing a strategy for what the company wants to use its network for and then creating a roadmap that will help the company achieve those goals.
After that, small businesses must set about designing and architecting their network. Often, this involves taking disparate systems and combining them on a core IP-based network.
IT organizations must ensure they have a robust routing and switching foundation to serve as the backbone for both wired and wireless networks. The backbone should be highly available, redundant and efficient to allow employees (and potentially customers) to take full advantage of it. Without fast and reliable connections to the internet, small businesses can’t fully make use of cloud-based services, and advanced analytics driven by AI and IoT solutions.
Small businesses should also think through their wireless networking strategy, and determine what kind of access points they need, how many they want to deploy and where they should be placed. If your small business has multiple branch locations, you might want to consider using software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), which allows you to set up wireless networks at branch locations that do not rely on a single connection. SD-WAN solutions from companies such as Cisco Meraki, Riverbed, Cradlepoint and Cloudgenix, also offer increased agility, efficiency, flexibility, security and control for the network.
Throughout all of this, network security should be top of mind. The process can also be streamlined and orchestrated via a managed service provider.
Use the Network to Deploy IoT and Other Technologies
According to Spiceworks’ “2018 State of IT” report, which was released in October, companies with fewer than 100 employees are interested in deploying IoT solutions — 20 percent already do so and another 17 percent said they plan to launch IoT in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, 14 percent use software-defined networking and 13 percent plan to do so in the next year; for AI, those figures are 4 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
There’s clearly a lot of runway when it comes to emerging technologies in small businesses.
Once a small business has a pervasive Wi-Fi infrastructure in place, it can begin to think about specific IoT use cases and how it can benefit from instrumenting the physical world with sensors. Boiled down to the basics, an IoT deployment requires small businesses to invest in objects that collect data, networking solutions that transport the data for processing and analytics tools that create value from the data.
Other emerging technologies will also be enabled by robust, resilient and secure connections to the internet. Low-latency connections deliver the insights that businesses and their customers need. Without that base, a small business sits on a house of sand. It’s time to build the foundation.