There is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution to networking. You will need to carefully consider your networking requirements to decide what type of network can best meet your business needs.
When assessing your requirements, think about:
- the data you need to communicate, and how you are currently doing this
- what you want the new networking system to do
- if new technologies could boost your efficiency or provide new business opportunities
It may help to express your requirements in business terms, rather than computer terms. For example, you might consider the value remote workers can provide customers by having immediate access to stock levels.
Define your network requirements
To assess and define your requirements, consider the following:
- Your business processes - Do any of your processes or working practices depend on producing or accessing information? Could you benefit from storing this centrally?
- Your existing equipment – an audit will allow you to take stock of your inventory and determine if you need to invest in new components for the network.
- Network users - Consider how many people will use the network - staff, suppliers and customers.
- Peripherals - Assess how you will use peripheral equipment, such as printers, scanners and copiers, and what would be the best locations for them.
- Your budget - Set a budget and calculate costs - include purchase, installation, support, maintenance and training as well as loss of business due to staff involvement.
- Potential savings - eg through replacing manual and paper-based processes, reducing hardware costs by sharing facilities, and capital allowances.
- Your future computing requirements - If your business is likely to take on more staff, your network will need to be scalable.
When determining your needs, you must also consider any network security issues. This may involve:
- deciding who will use the network
- identifying what access controls you will require, such as passwords
- devising regular backup procedures for your data - eg in case your system crashes
Looking at the problems and opportunities in a structured way will give you a better idea of which technologies might be appropriate. It will also enable you to understand the data transmission capacity - often referred to as bandwidth - each part of the network will need.
Analyse the technology options
Research the available technology through networking suppliers' websites, special exhibitions, or networking magazines - these often include features on the latest developments. To help you select a suitable product:
- prepare a shortlist of products from different vendors
- talk to people who use these products or read magazine reviews
- consider the support facilities for each solution
You may want to use professional help when choosing a networking solution. Consultants or networking contractors can help you to analyse your needs and understand the costs involved in addressing them.
Businesses in Northern Ireland can get practical ICT advice from Invest Northern Ireland.