The need for speed
I NOTED with interest a recent report which said small businesses in Northern Ireland saw faster broadband as one of the biggest potential boosts to their growth prospects. Less tax and a better political environment were two of the other things that small businesses said would help most.
This was soon followed by the announcement that the extra £1 billion in funding Northern Ireland has secured from Westminster through the political deal includes £150m to spend on broadband infrastructure. Clearly this is welcome for businesses.
When broadband services over a telephone line were originally introduced in the early 2000s, they supported speeds of a mere 0.5 megabits per second.
Today, hyperfast broadband is available, offering speeds of 500mbps. And gigabit broadband provides, you guessed it, 1000mbps or a gigabit per second.
Not all businesses are going to need speeds at the gigabit level, or even the hyperfast variety. But the business benefits of having at least a superfast connection shouldn’t be underestimated. It is important than more businesses are able to avail of such speeds.
This is particularly the case as digital transformation happens, and at a time when more and more companies are moving their data to the ‘cloud’.
A good broadband connection for your business means there's greater capacity to send and receive data electronically. This will allow files to be downloaded and uploaded faster, and emails to be sent and received much more quickly, which will be particularly beneficial for companies that regularly need to send large data files.
By way of comparison - with a slow broadband speed of 4mbps, a HD movie would likely take over two and a half hours to download. A typical superfast broadband connection could see the same film downloaded in a mere nine minutes.
Very fast broadband has the potential to dramatically improve the performance of businesses. It could lead to new ways of doing business along with providing access to new markets. It has the potential to improve customer relationships, as the responsiveness of the business gets better.
Faster broadband allows staff to work from home, or another office, which can lead to increased productivity, greater employee satisfaction, reduced travel and, importantly, money saved in the long term. With fast enough broadband, it is entirely feasible for the employee to have exactly the same experience working remotely as working at the head office.
Another benefit of working remotely is that it will help to address the increased emphasis on legal rights and work/life balance within jobs. As a significant number of people experience work becoming a thing you do and not a place you must go to, internet speeds could become the catalyst to make that happen for even more people.
Faster internet speed also makes cloud computing all the more accessible.
‘Cloud’ has probably been one of the most discussed topics in the IT industry over the last number of years and we are seeing more and more companies now making the transition to the cloud.
For businesses in Northern Ireland there are potentially big benefits. Cloud solutions can be very cost effective. Critical business issues such as back up, disaster recovery and remote working, will be improved, and the data can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. As a result, cloud computing can reduce the level of investment a business might need to make in IT hardware and software.
Cloud computing basically means that an organisation’s data and software applications are hosted remotely in a datacentre. With a faster internet connection, the use of such services becomes much easier.
Many cloud-based business applications are now available, ranging from office software like Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office365 to more sophisticated business software like customer relationship management (CRM) systems such as Salesforce.
Businesses are clearly increasingly seeing the benefits of fast internet connections, and if they can be delivered the Northern Ireland economy will clearly benefit significantly as a result.
:: Patrick McAliskey is managing director Novosco, an indigenous managed cloud company with offices in Belfast, Dublin, Cheshire and Cork. It employs 140 people and works for leading organisations across the UK and Ireland, including many of Northern Ireland's top companies, UK health trusts, councils and other organisations.