Today is the age of mobility, being mobile and being able to work anywhere sounds like the ideal for a lot of people but those same people seem to think it’s a complicated procedure but in essence it breaks down to a small number of options.
All in One Box
The simplest method is to buy a laptop and load all your information onto the laptop and you are good to go. There are some obvious drawbacks to this, collaboration becomes hard, sharing a document involves sending it around from person to person each with their own copy, a nightmare for versioning, calendar and mail box sharing becomes next to impossible. In addition no laptop no work.
There is also the backup and disaster recovery consideration, what happens if that laptop breaks or worse is lost/stolen your mobile office could be inoperable for a long time.
VPN/Back to Base
VPN or virtual private network creates a secure connection between you and your office, your machine becomes an extension of your office network and you work just as normal. Collaboration becomes easier as you can work on centrally located files and can connect to your Enterprise level email system. Nothing is stored on your remote machine and as your data is centrally backed up (or should be) if your machine breaks down or is lost you can just setup an new machine and VPN connection. The downside is that the infrastructure and security requirement is quite heavy and can be a regular issue meaning your connection is unstable. No connection, no working.
There are a number of methods under this category, but there are really only two solutions, Remote control and Terminal Services. Looking at remote control first, this relies on a third party service supplier such as Logmein or GotoMyPC. An application is loaded onto your work PC and then at any time you can, via a browser, log into your PC and work as though you were there at the office. I use this service a lot but mainly to support clients, being able to see what they see and control their PC to make changes etc. The services are all very secure and you can add additional security along the way such as login passwords to your work PC etc. Again you need to have a good connection and your PC in the office has to be switched on.
The other Method is Terminal Services/Virtual PC’s here rather than logging onto your specific PC you log onto a virtual PC on a central server, this central server can be running dozens if not hundreds of virtual PC’s. Like the VPN it requires an element of infrastructure and expertise but there are plenty of companies offering this service in an outsourced way.
Both methods you are able to use any PC, although you may need to download and install a small piece of software first, most solutions also allow access from Tablets and Phones, although screen size is an obvious consideration if you are trying to use a PC screen on a 3.5 inch phone screen. But at a pinch it is possible. Like the VPN, collaboration and disaster recovery should all not be an issue if its supported and implemented correctly centrally.
The big plus for Cloud based systems is that there are normally applications designed specifically form factor of the devices you may use, be it tablets, PC or smart phones. There are, as you would expect numerous different ways to work when utilising the cloud. You could for instance use one supplier such as Microsoft, Apple or Google and work entirely in their infrastructure, whilst they are at the forefront of a lot of cloud services they do not necessarily offer best of breed so if you want the best of breed you would be wise to use a number of suppliers. One downside is connection, last year I would say this was a real problem, but now most suppliers are starting to offer systems that will work off line but you do need to consider this if you are regularly mobile in areas without internet connections. Rather than going through all the different variations this is the way I work and why:
Google Apps for Business: Best for service levels and they supply the main apps we need, ie email, calendar sharing, Intranet. Google are also great for informal document sharing and collaboration with all parties being able to work on a single document at the same time wherever they are. In addition there are a lot of third party apps which bolt into the Google Apps Infrastructure that we also use.
For CRM we use three systems: CapsuleCRM, very simple to use and has basic functionality and links nicely with Google Apps. Zoho CRM, this is part of the Zoho suite of apps, it’s a very good CRM system bridging the gap between the simplisticity of CapsuleCRM and the high level versions of Salesforce. We have also just started to use CallProCRM, this CRM system contains very powerful campaign and call centric functionality, it’s great for processing a large numbers of leads and creating automatic processes and workflows.
For Accounting we have recently moved to Wave, we do not need anything complex just simple Invoicing and Cashflow management, something Wave does nicely although it can do a lot more.
File management: Whilst Google allows amazing collaboration there are times when it’s just not up to speed (but that could soon be changing) so we use Dropbox as well. Dropbox keeps all the PC’s and Mac’s I use in file Sync, I can share and be shared folders by internal and external colleagues and all the files are sync’d offline allowing me access anywhere, if I do not have one of my sync’d devices handy I can always use any browser to download the latest version. Another advantage that this has over Google is that it works with any file type.
Security: A lot has been said over the years about how secure your data is when its in the cloud, in the main your data is more secure than it would be located at your office. Google takes this all very seriously having just been ISO 27001 compliant so as long as you take sensible precautions, i.e. good passwords you keep to yourself, don’t log into a public computer and leave it logged in etc. I would have no concerns.
A final word on Communication
There is no better way to communicate on the go than via your traditional mobile phone, however as usual there are some caveats, firstly coverage, we have a great land line connection but mobile coverage at the office is very bad, this makes us relying on mobile hard, for that reason we work a two tier system of Voice over Internet (VOIP) that transfers to mobile when we are mobile. Secondly, international travel, this is still very expensive although if you prepare before you travel there are services such as Truphone which can make it a lot cheaper.
Skype is another option we use, however we find that Skype is best used in an environment where everyone knows we are using Skype, i.e. current clients and colleagues, the quality is just too intermittent to be used for incoming and outgoing first line business calls.
If this still is still daunting and you do not know where to start Relativity has a number of years experience in implementing and supporting remote and cloud based infrastructures for our clients, give us a call to discuss your needs