Hurricane Sandy was yet another wake-up call for us to take the necessary steps to safeguard our business information. If you were lucky enough dodge the bullet, then count your lucky stars, but please … take action right now to make sure you won’t be impacted by the next natural disaster.
Eliminate paper at the source: A good goal for 2013 would be to put in place a paperless cloud-based purchasing/payables system that easily converts a request for quote (RFQ) to bids, to purchase orders (POs), to paid invoices without generating any paper in the first place. BuilderTrend.com is well on its way to creating such a system for remodelers. And while you’re doing that, convert any incoming paper to a digital file by scanning it in the office or making use of your smartphone or tablet camera in the field. There are plenty of apps, such as like JotNot Pro, that make it easy to convert photographed documents to searchable PDF files, and many of the cloud-based document management services, such as Evernote, Dropbox, or Microsoft SharePoint (three of our favorites), have add-ins available that make it easy to scan directly into the service.
Stop storing data locally: News footage of the contents of peoples' safe deposit boxes being dug out of 3 feet of flood-mud have hammered home the need for an even more distributed solution — that is, using cloud services that take advantage of multiple storage facilities in different parts of the country (or the planet). By replacing your “documents” folder on every device with a save-and-synchronize cloud service of choice (Dropbox, Box, CrashPlan, or others) users have the safety of a continuous cloud backup coupled with the convenience of a local copy. If you don’t like monthly subscription services and have a few computers scattered around a larger area — say a home server, an office server, and a bunch of laptops or tablets — you can build your own “private cloud” using CrashPlan.com, which is free to use with your own computers. (See THE JOURNAL OF LIGHT CONSTRUCTION's Using Save and Sync for Backup and More. )
Consider virtualization: Cloud-only applications running in a Web browser don’t work for every business. If you are currently taking full advantage of your own local area network with client-server applications, shared document folders, and other shared resources you don’t want to give up, and you have reliable access to the Internet at all of your locations, consider moving the whole shooting match from your network room to the safety of a hosted data center. From there you can access it using Citrix, the Windows Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), or one of the open-source VNC (Virtual Network Computing) products available. Users have the advantage of seeing exactly the same desktop and server screens no matter what device or where they log in from, and you can sleep at night knowing all of your data — including your legacy software — is safe and sound no matter what the weather forecast.
—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology. twitter.com/moucon; firstname.lastname@example.org