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By Aziz Khadbai

Information technology is an integral tool for businesses of all sizes, including small and mid-size business (SMB) and branch office market. In these sectors, understanding how IT can grow your business, reduce operating expenses, improve customer service and enhance employee productivity is imperative to achieving top and bottom-line success and maintaining a competitive advantage over larger competitors.

There are five key technologies that owners of startup and small business should keep their eyes on:

The New Telephony Model: Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) can help increase the productivity of your small business. The benefits of VoIP are simple: only one network must be built, operated and secured. Moving a telephone is as easy as moving a PC, and the added cost of moving a traditional phone line is avoid. A converged network enables connection to a broadband network through a business digital subscriber line (DSL) line or cable modem rather than the more expensive public voice network. With IP, itís possible to cut your phone bill in half.

Telephony-Grade IP Networks: Most networks used by small businesses donít distinguish between data and voice traffic. These data networks will not deliver the quality that youíre used to over a standard phone line. When considering convergence, it is important to ensure that other applications donít impact voice quality and that voice traffic gets preferred treatment to data.

You can determine if the existing network is ready for telephony by making implementing appropriate telephony powering, priority handling and reliability hardware and software. If your network requires an upgrade, there is an emerging technology, Power over Ethernet (PoE), that foster reliability. After all, it is important to ensure that there are no telephone problems when youíre talking with a customer.

Built-In Security: If your company has ever been the victim of a security breach, you know how expensive it can be. Perhaps you've been lucky enough to avoid it. Even so, itís very easy to imagine the costs in terms of productivity and customer confidence. There are several layers of security that can be implemented to fight a security breach. These include login passwords, virtual LANs, firewalls and virtual private networks (VPNs).

Mobile Connectivity: Telecommuting has become popular. Not only is mobile connectivity important in creating a balance for employees, but it is an important competition asset. The ability to effectively track inventory and serve clients faster can be the difference between retaining and losing a customer. Mobility should be incorporated into your business plan.

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Aziz Khadbai is vice president and general manager in various areas of Nortel Networks.
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