In the ever-growing realm of cloud computing, virtualisation and managed and hosted IT services, organisations are faced with the big question: should we leverage hosted services or should we expand on existing in-house IT infrastructure?

Although at first glance, building, operating and managing an in-house IT Infrastructure seems to be the obvious, reasonable and cost effective choice for most businesses, hosted services also has its benefits – specifically when it comes to cost, flexibility, scalability and managed service platform. The decision must be weighed carefully against key business objectives to make the optimum decision.

This article will discuss and evaluate several factors against both delivery models – hosted IT services models and traditional in-house IT services model.  

Financial Costs

For many, cost is the number one driver and qualifying criteria for any IT product and service. Organisations seek IT solutions that not only automate business processes and improve performance but also have less TCO and a quicker ROI. In this regard, in-house IT infrastructure is much more expensive to create and manage. Organisations have to pay substantial upfront capital costs to source IT resources, manage and plan for infrastructure upgrades and depreciation costs, along with ongoing operational and maintenance costs to operate and manage such an environment. 

In comparison, the hosted IT service models provide a flexible and predictable monthly cost based on the amount of hosted services being used. There is hardly any capital or operational costs attached with hosted services and organisations just have to pay a fixed or pay-per-use monthly rental. Moreover, the vendor is responsible for managing the costs associated with backend infrastructure upgrades.

IT Flexibility

Organisations these days move at a very fast pace and require access to IT infrastructure that stays up to the mark with the business. Technological advancements, ever evolving business functions and changing markets requires backend IT’s flexibility to adjust and address new challenges. Traditionally, in-house IT can be flexible but only up to a certain point. They usually don’t welcome a new IT advancement and constrain themselves to a specific technology and limited skill sets.

In comparison, hosted IT services must innovate, change and evolve on an ongoing basis. A good hosted IT service provider will embrace IT flexibility and adapt to new and unique business requirements.

Infrastructure Scalability

Similar to IT flexibility, growth trends and business evolution have equal effects on the backend IT infrastructure supporting it. Organisations working in fast paced consumer environments generally face several scenarios where computing requirements surpass the ability of in-house IT infrastructure.

Hosted service providers mostly have IT infrastructure that can scale and sprawl to greater capabilities and do so quickly as required. Most resources are added to the existing resources instantly – which generally take days and weeks in a traditional IT delivery model. An established hosted IT service provider will have a broad range of solutions and services enabling organisations to source only a single provider for all their needs, thus decreasing IT complexity.

Access to Skilled Human Resources

Skilled employees and resources are the key to managing a highly efficient, readily available IT infrastructure. However, it’s very difficult to find and hire good employees, especially if your organisation has limited IT skills. Even if you somehow have access to such personnel, their performance turnover is unpredictable and their sudden absence can leave IT in shambles. With hosted services, the hosted service provider will do whatever it takes to hire and retain the best resources to deliver consistent and reliable IT services for their clients. They usually have access to multiple highly skilled, qualified and certified IT human resources.

Information and Infrastructure Security

Information and infrastructure security is something that can’t be extracted out from any IT environment, whether in-house or hosted. Even companies running a basic website and some e-mails require a level of security to avoid intrusions and exploits. When it comes to in-house security, small and medium organisations generally have limited security capabilities. They rely on standard security practices and usually don’t innovate or change to increase their security. However, with hosted services, a hosted service provider is bound to implement and manage enterprise-class security measures that go beyond basic security techniques. They are usually certified with industry leading security standards and certifications and have well-crafted security measures.

IT Services Delivery and Monitoring

Perhaps among the top requirements for any IT environment, IT services delivery and its continuous monitoring is a key business requirement. With in-house IT environments the internal resources manage and monitor the IT infrastructure and ensure it remains above the benchmark requirement. Organisations large or small rely on their IT staff for delivering business critical applications, interacting with customers and automating business processes. However, most small to medium businesses lack such management and monitoring support around the clock. If a service fails in the later hours of the day, the response and resolution time is comparatively higher. With a hosted service provider, organizations receive 24/7/365 IT services and monitoring support-backed by service level agreements and performance based pricing. With the always-access service platform of hosted IT service, delivered through the collective pool of IT and human resources, service degradation and failures are quickly addressed and resolved.

As any IT practitioner can attest, server virtualization empowers businesses to become more agile and resilient across the board, from the IT department to the bottom line.  The technology transforms bare-metal hardware into a dynamic platform that lets administrators address their users’ needs far more easily and effectively than any traditional solution.

Desktop virtualization brings these benefits out of the server room and into the office, where the personal computer is often the single greatest technological liability. By separating software from hardware, VDI enables business owners to eliminate many problems associated with traditional personal computers.

Lowering Hardware Costs

Virtualizing your desktop environment involves migrating applications, data and operating systems to a data centre where workloads run on servers with small individual footprints. Offloading the computational heavy lifting to your backend environment makes PCs redundant, which means that you can switch to thin clients – the modern-day equivalents of the mainframe era console computer.  Thin clients are cheap, have long refresh cycles (five to seven years compared with three for PCs,) and they’re easy to manage, which brings us to the second way in which VDI can boost your business’s bottom line.

Centralized Management

The cost of keeping a traditional desktop running smoothly until it reaches its end of life exceeds the price of machine by as much as 300 percent. VDI eliminates this expense by marrying the cost-efficiency of thin clients with the agility of virtualization, a combination that simplifies maintenance and boosts administration productivity.

User Experience

Desktop virtualization enables administrators to quickly access apps and data, handle security from a single pane of glass, and resolve issues with minimal downtime. These capabilities not only save precious person-hours, but also greatly improve user experience and productivity. In an era when workers are dependent on network access, high availability is essential for operational efficiency.

Work from anywhere

While some applications or email can be used remotely, users need their desktops to access documents, settings and systems. Users with laptops are often stuck out of the office with slow access to files or an inability to access important applications. With VDI, every user has a virtual desktop which can be accessed from anywhere, any time.

Users can access the exact same virtual desktop from the office, from home, from a laptop or tablet, as long as they have an internet connection.

Conclusion

VDI allows desktop administrators to access the benefits that server administrators have had. While it is certainly not applicable in all situations, VDI has the ability to reduce costs and risk while increasing flexibility.

There has always been a great debate on the usability and benefits that cloud has to offer. Cloud pundits and most industry veterans speculate that cloud computing is one of the most evolutionary and fast growing technologies since the internet. Although low entry cost, flexibility and scalability are among the key benefits, cloud computing has to offer a lot more than that. When sourced by a recognised and certified cloud provider, it can provide higher levels of security than in-house IT.

This white paper will discuss and review 10 benefits of cloud computing that directly benefits the business operations and objectives of small and medium businesses as well.

1. Global Access

The need for global access to business applications and data is more important than ever. Cloud computing enables businesses and end users to access their software, servers, data and other IT resources from anywhere with an internet connection.

According to “The State of the Telework in USA” published by Global Workplace Analytics, a 73% increase in telecommuting was witnessed from 2005-2011, where teleworkers grew from 1.8 million to 3.1 million in the US alone despite the recession.  Migrating and adapting to cloud-based solutions will certainly help address the challenges of business’s dependence on the internet.

2. Flexibility

Cloud computing provides enormous flexibility in implementing IT solutions for your company. Small and emerging businesses generally require access to IT solutions which adjust with their business pace. Cloud virtually provides most business-critical IT resources essential for the operations of small businesses.  These include virtual servers, dedicated servers, vendor developed business applications, productivity applications, custom enterprise class applications, application development platforms and more. With the ever growing transformation towards cloud, newer and much better solutions are always rolling in.

3. Capex and Opex Reduction

Cloud computing tremendously reduces the capital costs to purchasing stacks of IT infrastructure. Besides the standard desktop/workstations and Internet connectivity, SMB can replace their existing application servers, storage servers, business applications, etc with cloud-based resources. New companies can start off their servers on a low monthly rental without paying any upfront cost for their purchase. Most SMB require anywhere from 10 to 100 servers to meet their business needs and savings of approximately $1,000 per server can make a big difference.

Although cloud computing is considered more of an operating expense than a capital expense, it also reduces operational expenses to quite an extent. These include the human resources required to manage servers, electricity, cooling, and maintenance costs.

Even private cloud solutions that are integrated within the organisation greatly reduce the amount of hardware infrastructure required to deploy, host and operate applications, services and storage.

4. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

SMB’s generally have fragile business environments, where changing market conditions, consumer demands and other factors greatly affect the business. Similarly, most of them lack well designed disaster recovery and business continuity infrastructure. Their IT Infrastructure is prone to data loss and has limited resources for restoring business operations in case of a disrupting event.  Financial costs and operational management restrict them in creating a disaster recovery solution that matches or exceeds their business requirements. This is where cloud computing is of great help. Cloud computing ensures the protection, restoration and continuation of business processes and applications in various ways.  Due to the managed service platform of cloud computing, business data and applications are stored, managed and secured by the cloud service provider. Regardless of the type of solution sourced from a cloud service provider, they are continuously backed up on the secure and disaster tolerant provider’s infrastructure. Cloud service providers are responsible for ensuring the availability of resources all the time.

5. Automatic Updates

Among the major tasks in an IT department is keeping all the software and services up to date across the organisation.

Cloud computing sourced from a managed service platform under a formal and pre-agreed SLA ensures the end-users and organisation receives the most up to date software version. Regardless of the type and number of products, it is the cloud service provider’s responsibility to keep the system up to date.

6. Managed IT Services

SMB’s usually can’t afford an IT department that ensures its computing resources perform as expected. The managed service platform offering of cloud computing provides SMB’s a platform to source and manage their IT resources. Cloud service providers work throughout the day as your dedicated 24/7/365 help desk and IT support that manages your cloud-sourced infrastructure. SMB’s are relieved from buying, deploying and managing the underlying infrastructure and are better positioned at focusing on their key business processes and objectives. Cloud service providers also find and resolve network problems much quicker than in-house IT.

7. Security

Cloud computing has long been criticized for not being secure and providing very limited privacy. In contrast, cloud computing is more secure than in-house IT in several ways:

  • One of the top priorities and most essential service offerings of cloud providers is to secure the IT assets of its customers. They will do whatever it takes to ensure the security of their customer’s data and applications.
  • Cloud service providers have industry certification and standards that validate the strength of security within their processes and IT systems. SMB’s have scarce security-specific staff and usually are not certified by an industry standard.
  • The data is protected using military grade or equivalent encryption algorithms that are virtually impossible to exploit. It is stored in an environment that has multi-layered security and authentication mechanisms such as physical security checks, biometrics, component-level login and more.
  • Cloud service providers have better IT governance frameworks and practices which ensure their IT-based processes are controlled and less prevalent to risk.

8. Minimal deployment time and higher competitiveness

Cloud computing gives small and medium businesses a level of freedom, flexibility and scalability in being more competitive. SMB’s can quickly launch new products and services, meet demand spikes in busy seasons and scale their business when they want to.

What usually holds back small organisations in developing, testing, and launching a product is the time and money required to invest in a new venture. With the available cloud computing configurations the time to market is substantially reduced and new products and solutions can be quickly deployed.

Cloud computing fosters innovation by providing a pre-configured platform to work on new and innovative ideas without jeopardizing extreme investments in IT.  IT solutions that take weeks and months on traditional in-house IT models can be sourced within days.

9. Environmentally Friendly

IT Infrastructure accounts for one of the major producers of carbon dioxide emissions, specifically which evolve from large data centres. Small businesses, although having smaller carbon footprints than large organisations, play their part in environmental pollution.

With cloud computing, they can be greener. Enhancing cloud technology means you are reducing the amount of IT infrastructure required for your business. The less IT infrastructure, the less electricity, cooling and lighting requirements, which result in a more environmentally friendly business.

10. Economical

Regardless of a business’s nature, striving for monetary gains is among their top business objectives. Cloud computing is considered more economical than traditional IT models as they require only minimal operational expenditure and cost less to source, manage and operate. With cloud computing, the in-house servers, storage and disaster recovery capital costs can be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether.

When a business considers expanding, they can upgrade to a more powerful server without incurring any additional capital costs. Businesses are only required to pay for the services used, not for the server purchase and the associated resources.

Cloud computing also ensures that IT costs are predictable and help to forecast future IT budgets more efficiently.

Everyone is aware of ‘the cloud’ but there is often confusion about how it can be used by business. There are many different cloud solutions available, each with their own advantages and pitfalls. In this report we look at some of the main areas where the cloud can have a positive effect on your accounting firm.

Work from anywhere

The cloud has the potential to revolutionise business in the same way that the mobile phone did; you no longer have to be sitting at your desk to work. If your data, your programs, and even your entire desktop computer are running in the cloud, you can effectively access these resources from anywhere on the internet. This means that you can work from the office, from home, from a client’s site, from a café, on your laptop or on your iPad with the same ease and get access to the same systems.

Backups

Data is the most important asset of many businesses, and most businesses would classify their financial data as their most important. It cannot be easily recreated if lost. Typical on-premise solutions place backup responsibility in your hands and while you have probably engaged your IT provider to back your systems up, how much time has really been put into a full disaster recovery plan.

What are your Recovery Time Objectives (RTO)? Eg how long would it take you to restore if you had to? An hour? A day? A week? A month?

What are your Recovery Point Objectives (RPO)? Eg, could you restore back to last night? Last week? Last month? How far back could you go?

How do you ensure that you could meet these objectives if you had to? How do you know the backup is working? Who’s responsibility is this backup? You should know because the responsibility is most likely yours! That’s a problem because you aren’t an IT professional.

A cloud solution takes responsibility for this off your shoulders and places it with the cloud provider. Obviously in this situation you need to trust that the provider has things in hand, but if they do then they will typically have more resources, more technology and more time to plan their disaster recovery strategy and make sure that all of your bases are covered. They should be able to communicate these plans to you at a moment’s notice.

Guaranteed Reliability

Professional services companies like accounting firms know the value of downtime. The profitability of your firm relies heavily on the utilization of your billable staff. If they cannot work for an hour, that’s an hour of billable time lost.

Traditional on premise deployments do not have any sort of guaranteed reliability. IT providers in this space will recommend that you invest in reliable hardware, ongoing maintenance, regular upgrades but in the end they cannot guarantee the reliability of your systems. The reality is that your systems are not redundant and could fail at any time; the best equipment and maintenance in the world only reduces the risk of failure and cannot remove that risk completely.

Cloud providers typically invest in redundant equipment because they know that equipment will fail and they know that you need to keep working through these failures. The redundancy is there to keep you working even when things do go wrong. This enables cloud providers to guarantee levels of reliability, usually with penalties to them if they do not meet these guaranteed levels.

Data Security

Most companies are very sensitive about their financial data and as an accounting firm, you probably have a requirement to keep copies of financial data for all of your clients. It is therefore important that you have this data secured, both physically and logically.

Physical security is only as good as the room where you keep your server. Unless you have your server hard drives encrypted, and you probably do not, it is possible for anyone who has the server to access all of the data stored on it. Physical security is therefore a major concern; how long would it take a thief to break into your office and walk off with your server?

Cloud providers have varying levels of security but good providers will be situated in a commercially secure facility. These facilities are typically protected by fences, camera surveillance, 24×7 manned security guards, swipe cards, biometric scanners, and a range of other measures. The chance of someone physically stealing data housed in one of these facilities is remote.

From a logical perspective, it is critical to secure your data from possible breaches over the network or internet. Some cloud providers will store your data on shared systems and there have been instances where cloud users have found it possible to access others’ data. This is obviously a major concern. Most small businesses do not have the budget to invest in security measures for their on premise deployments and therefore it is possible that these systems are exploitable by hackers on the internet. It is therefore important to ensure that whether you deploy data in house or in the cloud that the data is adequately protected by the appropriate access policies as well as intrusion prevention systems.

Pricing model

There is constant debate about the pros and cons of OPEX vs CAPEX expense and as an accounting firm you are probably exposed to this every day. Cloud deployments with their set monthly fees are by their nature more OPEX based which appeals to many businesses operating today due to the reduction of ‘lumpy’ spending.

While on one hand increased monthly spending may appear unattractive, the reality is that businesses will need to invest that money on systems at some stage, whether it be for on premise or cloud systems. Unfortunately on premise spending often comes as an unbudgeted lump sum which can cause significant cashflow problems.

Lower Total Cost of Ownership

A common concern with cloud solutions is that a fixed monthly fee ‘looks’ to be more expensive than current systems. Quite often this is not the case because current spending is hidden due to the unpredictable nature of many small business’ IT spending. One month there may be no expenditure on ad hoc support. The next month there could be a problem which costs thousands of dollars. This is difficult to measure and track and usually adds up to more than you think.

A fixed price cloud agreement will typically have a lower total cost because the support costs are lower. What is easier for an IT company to support, a group of users with a mix of different on premise hardware, or the same group of users who are using a standardized cloud environment run by that IT company? Clearly the second option is easier for the company to support which means you get a better service for less expense.

Value Added Services

The cloud opens up a range of possibilities for accounting firms that are only limited by your imagination. Do you have a range of small clients running MYOB on their home PCs? How easy is it for you to help them with their books? Do they have to post you their MYOB file on a CD? Do they back this critical data up?

Would they thank you if you could help them cost effectively implement a system which ensured they were backed up every day? If you could help them access their data from anywhere? If you could access their MYOB file whenever they needed advice? With the right advice you could help them in these areas.

That’s just one example and there are many more. Either way the cloud is not just a tool to help you run your business more efficiently, it can be used to help you help your clients which is a much more important consideration.

Key Lessons

While cloud technology certainly poses some concerns and pitfalls for business it also offers a range of opportunities. These opportunities not only present in the form of improvements to your business, but also in ways that you can help your clients improve their businesses.

Not unlike businesses selecting an accountant, selecting a cloud provider is critical; a good choice can certainly make your life easier while a bad choice could be a costly mistake.

If you’ve been looking into productivity and organizational tools (or even if you haven’t), you’ve most likely heard of Evernote. It’s a popular productivity app that lets you “Remember everything” – their tagline – in an easy and straightforward manner. Its most basic use is allowing users to create photo and text notes, and getting these synced across multiple devices.

But once you actually get down and get the hang of using it, you’ll find out soon enough that it really goes way beyond simple note-taking and having a digital to-do list. For all the purposes that it can serve – an electronic file cabinet, project management system, research information organizer, universal inbox, etc. – Evernote may well be the Swiss army knife of productivity apps.

Here are some tips on how Evernote can help boost your productivity. With Evernote, you can:

1. Capture ideas right away

Have you ever experienced having that Eureka moment when suddenly you got the best idea ever? Unfortunately, all you can do is scribble down your idea on the nearest piece of paper, and when you finally find the time to act on it, that random piece of paper is… gone. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.

Now, you’ll be sure to get those concepts immediately documented each time the inspiration hits you because you can easily jot down notes and record your thoughts (with the audio feature) using Evernote.

2. Make it your inbox for everything from everywhere

Individuals who’ve found the most use for Evernote are those who utilize it as their universal storage. Every Evernote account comes with a unique incoming email address where users can forward emails, tweets, web pages, photos, audio recordings, newly-created notes, and others to their respective accounts.

You can even send content from other online services such as Gmail or Google Reader to your Evernote inbox with IFTTT (If This Then That) support. And because it’s designed to be accessible from multiple platforms, you can forward all forms of content and information from any of your devices – smartphone, desktop, tablet – and be assured that you’ll find everything in your Evernote account.

3. Create as many notebooks as possible

Many people say that even after using Evernote for some time already, they still don’t see what makes it so amazing. Well, it could be because they’re actually limiting the notes and ideas they’re saving. The good news is, there’s no such thing as information overload with Evernote. Once you dump everything into it (see number 2) it’s all just a matter of putting which files into what folders. In Evernote, these are called ‘notes’ and ‘notebooks’.

A collection of notes can be organized into notebooks, and a notebook can have an unlimited number of notes, each of which have their own title. You can think of a notebook as any ongoing work assignment, projects you plan to tackle in the future, personal plans such as a travel itinerary, and others. You can also create a Notebook Stack where you can group together two or more notebooks. For instance, a stack labelled as ‘Household’ may include notebooks such as Paid Bills, Renovation Projects, Weekly Budget, Kids’ Activities, and others.

4. Create as many notes as you want across different notebooks

You can create an unlimited number of notes to record information relating to any project and then save these into the project notebook. As soon as a note is created, you can attach content to it. Attachments can be any form of content including text notes you made with the app’s native editor, audio notes you’ve recorded, web pages extracted by the web clipper, snapshots, and screen captures.

Evernote notes can also be a smart way to go paperless. You can conveniently scan bills, receipts, letters, song lyrics, recipes, medical results, and just about any paper document that you wish to file electronically. There are just so many ways to capture, store, and organize information with Evernote.

5. Go through your notes using tags and saved searches

Worried that you might have misfiled important notes or web research? Don’t be. Any content uploaded to Evernote is searchable by keywords. This means you won’t have any trouble finding all ideas and information related to a project, even if that note is erroneously saved in another notebook. Evernote even comes with a character recognition tool that searches for words within a photo or image.

In addition, Evernote also has a built-in tagging system that allows you to add tags to all relevant notes of whatever media type so you can retrieve all data intended for that project quickly. For example, you can tag all your payslips and receipts with 2013IncomeTaxReturn for easy reconciliation and tax preparation, while you can use 2013SummerGetaway as a tag for notes on your travel itinerary, ticket details, and hotel bookings.

6. Make the most of the web clipper

If you think that Google bookmarks is the only way to easily save relevant articles you may want to use again later, you obviously haven’t tried Evernote’s Web Clipper yet. This feature works like a bookmarking tool, only better, because instead of just generating a long list of links, the Web Clipper actually pulls out the specific information from the Internet and lets you store it in the right Evernote notebook.

The content could be an entire web page, or just part of the text or an image from a page. You can easily clip anything and everything that you find interesting or useful. Going on a trip? Just copy that list of great yet budget-friendly hotels on the web, or cut images of the amazing places you could be visiting to review your options later. Now that’s research made easy.

7. Use it as a GTD/ task management tool

Evernote also works great for managing tasks, whether on a daily basis or for projects that may extend for over a period of time. While Evernote does not come with the usual trappings of task managers, i.e. it does not have reminders, you can set up a system for task management using Evernote’s notebook and tagging features.

In fact, a quick search in the web will point you to several templates that have been specifically created to integrate the GTD (Getting Things Done) productivity method with Evernote. While setting up a GTD system with Evernote requires some reading, structuring of your Evernote notebooks for task management, and integration with other apps such as email and calendar support, the results are guaranteed to help you really accomplish more. Some users even go as far as calling it a “life-management” tool as opposed to just a simple task manager.

8. Sync and collaborate

What makes Evernote powerful as a productivity tool is having your notebooks and notes synced and available across all your devices. Whether you’re in the office, working remotely, or just killing time, you always have the option to be more productive because your ideas and projects are practically a click away.

Evernote also allows you to share notebooks and notes with other Evernote users, who can add to or edit the existing notes. This makes it easy to pitch a sales proposal to your business colleagues, collaborate on your kids’ softball team schedule with other parents, or share ideas on Grandma’s 75th birthday with family members.

9. Review your To-Do and Goals lists as well as your Complete List

Knowing what you need to accomplish and what you’ve done so far makes for great motivation. By keeping a To-Do, Goals, and Done list on Evernote and evaluating these on a regular basis, you can keep yourself focused on your priorities. At the same time, you can also give yourself a pat on the back for the objectives you’ve met so far. Ideally, To-do lists should be reviewed on a daily basis, Goals lists weekly, and Done list bi-weekly or monthly.

10. Jump in with both feet

Evernote can only be as useful to you as how much you want it to be. If you only use some of its features and not in its entirety, you’ll be missing out on how smoothly it integrates with all other features. Consequently, this also means you pass up on the chance of being as productive as possible. By putting all of Evernote’s powerful tools to use, you can get more things done and get tasks done more quickly.

To Review

Evernote is a basic yet excellent tool for keeping track of all manner of information and helping to increase your productivity. It is easy to use, available for almost any device, and also free. Everyone should give it a go!

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the laptop was regarded as THE gadget of choice for most company executives, professionals, business owners, and even students. After all, what’s not to like about it? A laptop packs computing power, storage capacity, connectivity and functionality in one compact and portable device. But it only took the entry of the tablet for the laptop to lose some, or should we say, much, of its luster.

A tablet PC offers many of the features that laptops have but in a much lighter and more portable form. Since Apple’s 1st generation iPad launched to massive success, more tech giants have come up with their own versions of the device, trying to grab a share of the rapidly expanding market. At this point, it’s pretty safe to say that we are now in the era of the tablet. Everyone seems to own one and even every kid wants one. Does this spell the end of the laptop?

In this laptop vs. tablet article, we evaluate the pros and cons of each based on several key factors. It’s up to you to decide which device is the better fit for your specific needs.

Screen Size and Functionality

The screen size of a tablet can range from 7 inches to 10 inches, while that of full form laptop (not the smaller netbook) starts at least 13-inches. Resolution-wise, neither device has the upper hand as both tablets and laptops feature HD resolutions, especially if you opt for the higher-end variants. It has to be said though, that you can better maximize a full-HD display with a bigger screen, whether it’s for work or entertainment.

Now the larger screen size of the laptop is only one of its major benefits over the tablet when it comes to functionality. The other obvious advantage is the availability of convenient input methods like the physical keyboard and mouse. Because really, how much work can you accomplish and how fast can you get things done with just a virtual keyboard and a small display? If you’re writing long documents or working with spreadsheets, physical keyboard trumps a virtual one any day, and that means laptops have the edge in this category.

Portability, Battery Life and Connectivity

The tablet is touted as the pinnacle of mobile technology, and for good reason. It’s just the right size for being productive even while out of the office. Having a tablet on hand rules out scenarios of having to type and send emails using the cramped screen of a smartphone, or lugging around a heavier and bigger laptop for light tasks like email checking, web browsing, creating presentations, reviewing documents, and taking quick notes.

The device’s battery life also comes into consideration in this aspect and it doesn’t hurt that tablets can last longer than laptops. Many tablets boast of a minimum 8-hour battery life and even longer, while even the higher-priced laptops can only muster about 7 hours battery. When assessing the portability factor, connectivity is a crucial feature factor as well. Although both device types are configured for Wi-Fi connectivity, most tablets can be linked to a data plan that allows web access practically anytime, anywhere.

As more companies adopt a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, the demand to be easily accessible even outside the workplace is increasing. The tablet’s handy size and weight, long battery life, and always-connected features take mobility to a whole new level, making it the perfect device for communication and collaboration while on the go.

Software and Apps

The type of applications available for laptops and tablets remains to be a differentiating factor between the two. Standard laptops can already support all the business tools you need and often use such as Microsoft Office applications, QuickBooks, CRM tools, Adobe Photoshop and other similar software.

On the other hand, the tablet offers a wide range of apps that make full use of its touchscreen interface and mobility feature: games, video and music content, social media, learning apps, and a whole lot more that amp up the entertainment value for the user. On a personal consumption level, the tablet and its apps are hard to beat. As a platform for business tools though, there are serious limitations.

While it would be great to have the exact same tools on your laptop also available on the tablet, this isn’t something that’s happening right now. Many business applications may require standard input method (keyboard), high processing power and sizeable storage capacity, all of which are limited on the tablet. At best, you can make do with the scaled-down tablet apps of these tools which may be available (e.g. QuickOffice HD, Adobe Photoshop Touch, QuickBooks Mobile), but these aren’t as feature-packed as the desktop/laptop versions.

An alternative method to utilizing business apps on the tablet would be to use a VPN in creating a virtual desktop that allows the user access to non-tablet applications. In doing so, it’s possible to stream your entire computer to your tablet and with it, all business software available there, using an Internet connection tied to the company’s remote server. Everything will appear as if it was saved in the device’s internal storage (although it actually resides in the server), and by utilizing a VPN, the virtualization process is as secure as it is efficient.

Cost and Value for Money

It goes without saying that cost is a major factor in the purchase decision, and for some, it may even be the tipping point regardless of the other aspects. But rather than focusing solely on the price, it’s also worthwhile to take into account what the device offers in terms of value for money.

For instance, it’s easy to say right off the bat that that the tablet is the cheaper option. As more manufacturers have gotten into the fray, the average price for tablets seems to have settled within the $300 to $400 range, with the more known brands and large-memory variants going as high as $700 to $800. In comparison, you can already get a consumer laptop (at least 13-inches display) for about $650, although business grade machines are $1,000 upwards. 

However, it’s interesting to note while a laptop could already offer you the full functionality of a mobile PC, owning a tablet doesn’t stop with the purchase of one. The total cost of ownership of a tablet would also include buying apps and media; plus, if you want to be more ‘productive’ with it, you might as well count the costs of necessary accessories such as a detachable keyboard if there is such an option.

All told, the saying that you get what you pay for applies to this case. A tablet that offers features as close to the laptop as possible including higher processing power, larger storage, and option for accessories, would cost you more. In the same way, a high-performance laptop would come with a steeper price tag as well.

The Tablet/Laptop Hybrid

Any laptop vs tablet article would not be complete without a mention of the emergence of the laptop/tablet hybrid. Hybrids or convertibles are devices that basically combine touchscreens with full feature keyboards, somewhat blurring the line between the tablet and the laptop. They come in various form factors – slider, dockable, tent, flip and swivel – all promising the best of both worlds.

One of the more notable hybrids that have come to attention in the past months are the Windows 8-powered Microsoft Surface that comes in the ‘lighter’ (specs-wise) Surface RT version and the more powerful Surface Pro. The Surface offers a dockable keyboard for easy crafting of documents which you can conveniently undock, for a tablet experience.

Other recent devices that are currently making the hybrid landscape more exciting include the IdeaPad Yoga that offers a touch screen that folds back 360 degrees for a tablet form and the HP Envy.

Laptop vs Tablet: Choosing the right device

So is the laptop going away anytime soon? And if not, which is the better gadget?

Based on the quick feature-for-feature comparisons we’ve made earlier on, it’s apparent that there is still a target market that finds much use for the laptop and will continue to opt for it, even as the tablet increases in popularity. As emphasized earlier, there really is no clear winner between these two because the needs and expectations differ from consumer to consumer.

If the emphasis is on computing rather than mobility, functionality rather than the ‘cool’ factor, then the laptop is the device to beat. But if you’re after a portable entertainment gadget that also works well for basic computing and web-related tasks, then you should be looking more closely at tablets. And then of course, there’s also the option of choosing an in-between, the tablet/laptop hybrid which yet may best leverage the winning features of the two devices.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing refers to the practice of delivering computing services to end users through the Internet or a similar computing network as a service. This is in contrast to the traditional approach of providing these services ‘on premise’; running in an organisation’s office on that organisation’s infrastructure. For example, data storage can be considered cloud computing provided that the data is stored on distant servers, but so too can virtual desktop infrastructure, web-based email services such as Gmail and other hosted applications. In summary, cloud services involve any system where your data and software is run by a provider’s system.

Services offered through cloud computing have become more and more popular in recent times, prompting questions from IT managers about whether their businesses stand to gain more than they lose by adopting such services. Although it might be frustrating to hear, the answer to that question is that it depends, because cloud computing is not all benefits across the line. As with anything, it comes with both advantages and disadvantages, and it is important to understand these prior to committing to deploying systems.

Advantages of Cloud Computing

Here are the most important upsides to be had from taking up the cloud computing:

  1. First and foremost, cloud computing is convenient. Users can access cloud computing services at almost any time and from almost anywhere provided that they have access to the Internet. As a result, the employees of your business can keep in touch and continue working so long as they have even a smart phone with them.
  2. Purchasing computers and then keeping them updated to the latest standards is an ongoing expense. If your business is using cloud computing services, then those concerns are handed over to the service providers. Although you have little control over the update process, you gain access to the latest technologies because service providers are incentivized to update their services.
  3. Although this particular feature is not true of all such services, cloud computing is often scalable. Simply put, your business can easily adjust the IT resources that it is getting from its service provider as its needs change. Furthermore, service providers often provide discounts on more long-term arrangements, making for an easy way to pick up discounts.
  4. Using cloud computing makes your business more responsive to changing circumstances. You can easily scale up or down your business’s IT resources. Similarly, you can add or remove services in a shorter timeframe.
  5. Cloud computing can reduce IT costs in two ways. First, there is less need for the fixed costs of procuring the needed software and hardware. Second, there are fewer variable costs due to the reduced need for IT maintenance on your part.

Disadvantages of Cloud Computing

In contrast, here are the downsides to adopting cloud computing, listed here to present a clear and complete picture of its consequences:

  1. Cloud computing services are extremely complex and can go down, rendering your business helpless until the service provider solves the problem. Although service providers aim for high uptime percentages, no provider can assure 100% uptime.
  2. For the most effective usage of such services, your business and its employees require a fast and reliable connection to the Internet. Deficiencies in either factor can cause your business’s internal processes to grind to a halt should you adopt cloud computing. As a result, cloud computing services have not one but two points of potential failure.
  3. Cloud computing can be more expensive than alternatives. For example, it is possible that over the medium term, the monthly cost of cloud computing services will outweigh the hardware, software and maintenance costs of a traditional on premise solution..
  4. You must consider whether you are willing to trust the service provider with your business’s information. Do you trust your service provider to erase your business’s information once your relationship is over, or do you believe that your service provider might make nefarious use of that information in some manner?
  5. Security is one of the most important concerns with cloud computing services. You should not use cloud computing services if you are unwilling to risk your information by putting it up on the Internet. Similarly, if your service provider is inexperienced or error prone, then you might be the one who ends up paying the price.
  6. Cloud services can result in ‘vendor lock in’. Once your data and systems are safely in the hands of the provider, it is very difficult and costly to change providers at a later date should you wish to do so.
  7. Cloud services are typically inflexible. While on premise solutions can be customized and integrated, cloud solutions need to be able to cater for thousands of businesses and therefore must remain standard. As a client, you have no control over versions of software in use or often how the software is configured.

So should you move to the cloud?

In the end, you are the person who must answer the question of whether your business should adopt cloud computing. You have access to the information about your business that is most relevant to an honest analysis of the costs and benefits involved for your particular situation. Remember not to fall for the shining promise inherent in the latest technologies, but also remember that sometimes that which glitters is indeed gold rather than fool’s gold. Some businesses are well positioned to gain from taking up the usage of cloud computing, while others are not and might even find its usage outright detrimental.

Use your discretion.

As IT creeps into more and more areas of an organisation’s day-to-day running, it is increasingly important to select the right service provider. No longer is “good enough” sufficient, you need a business focused IT solution to capitalise on your investment.

Given the number of IT “experts” in the market, it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by jargon or beguiled by deceptive pricing. With this handy guide, however, you can avoid the top seven pitfalls of finding an IT provider and be well on your way to getting the solutions that are right for your sporting organisation.

1. Don’t just choose the cheapest provider

Everyone knows that if you buy cheap, you get cheap. In the confusing realm of IT, though, it’s often tempting to go for the lowest price, simply because you don’t have much else to go on.

A provider who’s offering well under the market rate usually has a good reason for doing so. Perhaps they haven’t been in business long; do you really want to be the organisation that they practice on until they’re ready for the big leagues? Maybe they’re a small company with fewer staff – in which case, can you be sure that you’ll be able to get the support you need during deployment and afterwards?

If you’re left with IT systems that aren’t fit for purpose, you’ll end up having to pay for new solutions down the line. The fleeting satisfaction of a cut-price deal won’t be much consolation if you pay twice for something that could have been done right the first time.

2. Ignoring specialisation

As a sporting organisation, your IT needs are different to those of other enterprises. If your provider doesn’t grasp this, it’s possible that they’ll overlook key factors. By looking for a provider who’s got a good track record in delivering effective IT solutions to organisations like yours, you can save a lot of headaches later on.

3. Forgetting the need for 24/7 availability

Imagine this: you’ve found a great provider and put together what looks like the ideal solution. Deployment has gone smoothly. There’s just one small problem: when devising the system, your provider assumed that having everything go offline for backups for a couple of hours a night wouldn’t be an issue.

Sport is a global business. For example, it might be the small hours of the morning over here but in London, Australian officials will need to access their data. In a 24/7 world, downtime is unacceptable. As well as the systems themselves, your provider must be able to deliver round-the-clock support if there’s ever a problem. Which brings us to another big IT mistake…

4. Hiring a lone gun

He’s a freelance IT professional with armfuls of qualifications and recommendations from satisfied clients. You’re a smaller organisation with modest IT needs.

Before you recruit this Lone Ranger, consider the following. Freelancing instead of taking a comfortable job at a big firm is not unheard-of but not typical. Virtually anyone can set up as an IT expert and it’s not hard to wrangle recommendations out of friends and colleagues. Even if everything checks out, what happens when the project is finished and he moves on – what kind of support is he planning to offer? You could be left high and dry if there’s a problem.

5. Poor ERP/CRM selection and planning

ERP systems help your organisation manage resources and
handle your customers’ needs more effectively. CRM (customer resource management) is a part of ERP. Without an effective ERP, you are most likely not able to perform some critical functions and other functions are probably wasting valuable administrative time.

It’s important to choose the right systems and line up the right approach to deployment. You can integrate ERP/CRM with existing systems, or upgrade everything to a single unified solution. Either option can have pitfalls which could cause you trouble down the line. You also need to roll out new ERP systems slowly so that your organisation can adapt to the new procedures – if a provider who wants to do everything in a hurry, avoid them.

6. Failing to allow for communication between clubs and the organisation

The free flow of vital information between the organisation as a whole and the clubs that constitute it is a crucial consideration. Clubs need to be able to gain access to records and other data held by your organisation whenever it’s required. Your IT provider needs to understand the importance of allowing all the clubs under your organisation’s umbrella to connect with central systems.

7. Failing to check the safety net

Even the best IT solutions can suffer technical hitches from time to time. Failing to allow for this by providing a comprehensive and reliable backup system will put you at risk of losing important data.

As well as backups, you need to consider IT security: if your organisation isn’t in compliance with current regulations on sensitive data storage, you could be legally liable if unauthorised access occurs.

Key lessons

In conclusion, choosing an IT provider needn’t be a gamble if you carefully consider your needs and choose the company that can best meet them. Before you hire your friend’s cousin’s cut-price IT start up, remember the old adage: if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

  • Ask about the technicians: their training, qualifications and experience
  • Ensure they’ll spend time helping you understand any problems
  • Ask for testimonials from past clients
  • Make a list of any questions relating to your organisation’s unique needs

 

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