5 pieces of must-have tech for every small business
Note: NONE of the featured products have any financial connection with Tech HQ or its associated companies.
At Tech HQ, we absolutely believe that technology has the power to utterly transform your business. Plus, it needn’t be complex or expensive, and it won’t need a degree in computer science to deploy and use. What follows are the five products or services we would use from day one in any business we’d start. We’ve picked each one for its ease of use, suitability for a wide range of organizations, and the bang for your buck for each. Some may be more expensive, but each represents excellent value for money in the cost-conscious business technology space.
Bitwarden for Enterprise
As a business owner, you have to be aware that you will suffer a cyber attack one day, maybe sooner, hopefully later. This will have damages to your organization ranging from a minor inconvenience to catastrophic loss of intellectual property, public reputation, and the eventual closure of the company. While no single solution will protect you with 100% certainty, playing the numbers game means you need to address the most common cause of cyber security incidents: people.
An organization’s employees cause the overwhelming majority of data breaches. Almost entirely, these are not malicious; rather, they result from a mistake made by someone, usually someone practicing poor cyber hygiene.
Top among the list of culprits is people using the same password (or the same few passwords) for just about everything they do online. Once a personal account is compromised, hackers try the stolen credentials everywhere.
Bitwarden helps people create unique and complex usernames and passwords for any account in their private or business lives (the platform separates the two completely). It remembers these details and then recalls them when the user returns to the site, app, or service. It will auto-fill web forms, log into users’ applications on their phones, pop up the answers to security questions when needed, and keep the entirety safe.
Bitwarden Enterprise users get free accounts for employees’ families, too, and the service is probably the most secure on the market. Even if Bitwarden itself is hacked, there is no way that a hacker can gain access to any user’s accounts. It’s ridiculously secure, and the company ensures this remains the case with publicly available third-party audits on every part of its business published regularly.
The cost is about the price of a cup of coffee for each user per month ($5). With the costs of a successful ransomware attack sky-high (ransomware demands rose sharply over the last twelve months[FIND LINK]), you cannot afford to be without this type of protection.
If you only invest in a single cybersecurity solution (not something we’d advise), it should be Bitwarden.
Every business is different; therefore, there’s no single application that suits every use case. But few pieces of software are as malleable and easy to use as Claris FileMaker. It’s a “low-code” (even “no-code”) development environment designed to create powerful business-specific applications that are suited to your organization. The thinking behind low-code is that you don’t need to be a developer to create software: FileMaker comes with hundreds of templates to get you started, is simple to learn, and starts realizing value almost immediately.
Entire companies turning over millions of dollars run exclusively on FileMaker software, and even large enterprises will probably have an application or two, somewhere, quietly getting on with the day-to-day tasks of automating mundane and repetitive tasks.
Applications run nicely on PC and Mac, can be run off a phone or tablet, work as web-based applications, and will happily run alongside and with other technologies the organization might be running. It’s simple to “tap into” an existing database, for example, to pull data into a new environment to be used in new ways. The entire end-user interface is beautifully-rendered, is simplicity itself to use, and whole software platforms can be created with relatively little work (compared to “traditional” development).
Unlike quite a few low-code/no-code platforms, Claris FileMaker is here to stay the course. Fully owned by Apple, the FileMaker platform has been around for decades, evolving new ways of interoperability and making programming simple and logical for non-programmers.
A YubiKey is a hardware device that ensures probably the most secure and safe way for your staff to authenticate who they are when signing into company applications and services. The YubiKey range gets around many problems and security gaps associated with multi-factor and two-factor authentication. Security experts are suspicious of authentication methods like SMS or email – these channels are too easily “spoofed” by bad actors. YubiKeys are hardware devices that are easily programmed to identify their owner and provide probably the best reassurance when accessing secure services.
Users are given a small (sometimes tiny) USB or NFC device, which they activate when prompted by suitably-equipped software. Holding the device near a phone or physically touching the device sends an encrypted burst of code to the application requesting verification.
Without the key, users can’t access remote digital services (or at least can’t gain access anywhere near as easily). A huge swathe of platforms supports YubiKeys, including SSO (single sign-on) services, login screens to computers, online banking, SaaS applications, websites, and much more. Each device is usually around $50 and can come with a “traditional” USB A connector or smaller USB C (or both). There are nano versions for permanent insertion into smartphone charging ports, or there are NFC-enable devices that just have to be nearby a reader (a smartphone, tablet, or many laptops, typically).
Even when combined with a “standard” username and password, hardware verification renders the majority of impersonation attempts null and void. While the individual YubiKey can be stolen and misused, business users can manage to stop access from any key as soon as it’s reported missing or stolen. The organization’s key “fleet” management helps companies keep tabs on who’s got what privileges to which resources and ensures that access is denied to anyone who doesn’t know a password and has a key.
Most businesses end up using dozens of apps and services: Dropbox, Google Docs, Twitter, Slack, Zoom, Office 365, QuickBooks, and possibly hundreds more besides. Although each is powerful and undoubtedly useful, they rarely work together coherently. Zapier is here to change all that.
Zapier acts as the technology “glue” that binds services like “Box” with your CRM (Salesforce, SAP, HubSpot), your social media platforms, your phone system, and just about anything else you use regularly.
In Zapier-land, a Zap is a mini-app that runs on its own, linking those apps and services together whenever triggered. For example, how about a Google Sheet automatically updated whenever someone mentions your company in a Tweet? Simultaneously, a member of your Sales team gets messaged the details of the person who name-checked you for a follow-up call.
That’s the power of Zapier. When a potential new lead appears on a social platform, sends you an email, or downloads more information about your product, a whole chain of activities can be triggered without human intervention. Instead of some beleaguered office junior having to copy and paste information and manually send messages and emails, Zapier does it all automatically and does it 24/7.
Zapier’s great for internal automation too. Your designer dropping a PDF into a Dropbox folder can inform your marketing manager that the campaign is one step further, move the job along one row on your Trello board, and email the print shop to stand by for a new job to create a brochure.
There are literally hundreds of applications and services that Zapier can work with, and the chances are, yours will be among those served. Forget mundane, repetitious processes; start to use Zaps!
The problem with online file-sharing services (like Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, SharePoint, and OneDrive) is that people mix and match their preferred services and confuse (or somehow intermingle) private accounts and the business’s version. People save documents, often containing highly sensitive information, in their personal space to access work documents at home or just drop the payroll Excel sheet into the wrong shared drive.
At its least malign, that practice leads to lost information, people working from older documents, data ending up where it shouldn’t be, and key documents unavailable to people when and where they need it.
One way around these situations (and one that’s arguably more secure for highly sensitive information) is to store a company’s digital assets locally on a NAS device (network-attached storage).
The Synology brand has long been the go-to provider of reliable, secure, and competitively-priced storage devices. They are available in various storage capacities and form factors (rack-mounted or standalone) and will keep serving shared files and data for years to come. Like most network-attached storage devices, Synology products come configured as a RAID array (redundant array f interchangeable disks), meaning that if one drive fails, the machine continues to work despite the potential data corruption. And while RAID is not a backup (backups need to be handled separately), it gives small organizations ta level of reliability that a single, plug-in USB drive never could.
And while we’re on the subject, another huge advantage of a Synology NAS is that it sits on the network inside a building and appears available to every connected user. Companies and working groups or teams can share files, resources, pictures, videos, and text with ease, and all participants will be working on the same files with no danger of new versions being lost or work duplicated.
The Synology web interface for administrators can carve out access privileges according to who needs to see what, who can edit, and who gets limited access only. That means the entire company can see and fill out feedback forms, for example, but only Finance staff get access to the Financial folders.
Armed with the devices, services, and software detailed above, the smaller organization is a long way along the road to pursuing safer, more productive, and efficient business. While each solution stands on its own as a viable proposition, we have chosen them all to be interoperable to one degree or another; the presence of one does not exclude any of the others.
And as a final note, none of the companies or products featured above have any financial dealings with Tech HQ or its associated companies at the time of writing. Our opinions are objective and unbiased. Good hunting!