Business and Internet: Moving Your Systems Online

Some time ago, a person asked me to develop some software for his company. He needed a management system. He didn’t want an out-of-the-box system, he wanted something that resembled perfectly the way his company worked. The sales process involved salesmen travelling different states. I still remember his surprise when I suggested implementing the system over a web based platform. He had never before thought of the company using the web for anything else than email and the institutional website. As he wasn’t totally convinced, we decided to implement one online module first, and then gradually move the rest of the operations online. He agreed, and it worked great. However, it does not mean that it will work great in all cases. It is necessary to analyze the company business process, and consider whether moving the systems online will be beneficial or not. In business, as you know, it is essential to make the right moves.

Let’s have a look at the advantages the web offers:

1) Reach your systems from anywhere in the world

It doesn’t matter if you are at your office or travelling far away. If you have Internet access, you can login to your company system and work or check reports. This is very important if you travel often, or some employees do. In the case of the salesmen I mentioned before, moving the system online provided a way for them to directly load the sales sheets from their home or a hotel.

2) Easy to use

If you know how to use a browser, you know how to use the system. The system is easy to learn, using it is much like surfing the web. It is an advantage when new personnel needs to be trained.

3) No infraestructure needed

All you need is a web server where to locate your system, and computers with Internet access. For small businesses, even the same hosting package you have for your institutional website may be enough. Your online system will be a private, password protected area of the website.

4) Modular development

It is easy to develop systems in a modular way, adding new pages gradually.

5) Different technologies available to build your system

Nowadays, there are many different programming languages and database engines you can pick from to implement a web based system. You can go with an open source solution, for example using Php and MySQL; or you can decide to implement using ASP.NET and SQLServer. Which configuration you choose will depend on your particular needs, personal preference and budget.

6) Centralized updates

When the system is updated, all you have to do is upload the changed or new pages to the server.

7) New services for employees, customers and suppliers

The online system allows you to offer new services to your employees, like distance training. You can also add services for your customers and suppliers, incorporating them to your business process. You could allow customers to view their bills online, for example, or query the status of their orders. You could allow suppliers to view their payment status or you could even implement a way to load orders to your suppliers systems automatically. The possibilities are endless.

When you suggest an online system to a company, the typical drawback is about security. There are ways to make the system safe. Sensible data can be encrypted in the database. The system scripts can be encrypted themselves. The whole system must be password protected, and passwords should be stored encrypted. So only someone knowing the right combination of user and password would be able to get into the system. Users should be instructed to change their passwords every now and then, and never write down their username and password together. If you are highly concerned about having the system on a remote server, you could even have a server in-house. Although this will imply you need to have someone able to manage and maintain this server working.

Should you move your business system online? Well, this is a question that can’t be answered without knowing your particular needs. But it is highly probable that it will be beneficial for your company if you at least move certain parts of your business process online. If you are not sure, try picking one aspect of your business and implement it. You can then check how it goes, and decide if you will keep moving more processes online. My experience tells that more business aspects are being moved to web based systems every day.