Managers at Olé Mexican Foods , a family-run specialty foods manufacturer based outside of Atlanta, didn’t have business continuity at the top of their list when they chose to implement a remote-access system for their sales and administrative teams. The company, which sells to supermarkets and other retail and food service outlets, has been growing rapidly in recent years and now has manufacturing in three states and sales staff spread out across the country.
Olé’s main goal in deploying a virtual private network (VPN) was to offer anytime, anywhere access to enterprise applications and data. The company was also looking to achieve business benefits that would give it a competitive edge. Some business goals included increasing operational efficiency, improving customer service and boosting sales and productivity.
Business continuity, however, proved to be an added but highly welcome benefit earlier this year when a historic blizzard and ice storm hit Atlanta. The storm brought the region to a near standstill, and most local businesses had to close their doors for nearly a week.
Not Olé Mexican Foods. Using its remote-access system, Olé continued to run its business, says Rolando Angulo, the company’s IT manager. Although the local manufacturing facility was hampered because many essential employees couldn’t make it to work, company executives, administrators and the local sales team simply pulled out their notebook computers, logged in to the company network and worked from home.
“We have 10 distribution and three production facilities, and the only one that was having trouble during that time was in Atlanta,” Angulo says. “So it was critical to our business that we were able to support those places as we would any other day; and with our remote-access capability, we could.”
For many companies, it’s fairly easy to show top management a positive return on investment when deploying a remote-access system. Once in place, a remote-access system can deliver bottom-line rewards, such as greater mobility, more-effective communications and less need for ongoing expenditures on capital IT equipment and personnel. Remote-access systems also let companies offer telework and flexible work hours that can help businesses attract and retain top employees.
For all these reasons, sales of remote-access services and solutions are expected to grow, says Stacy Crook, a senior research analyst for the mobile enterprise market at research group IDC.
“Every time another huge disaster happens in some area of the country, it makes companies think about what they would do if it happened to them,” she says.
More and more, that “if” mindset is changing to “when,” Crook says. “Businesses increasingly realize that they are vulnerable,” she says. “So there is definitely a forward momentum going on right now with remote-access solutions, because even with smaller events, like a snowstorm or a day-long electrical outage at the office, having that capability in place can be a lifesaver for companies, especially small ones.”
CSM Research , a small business-to-business market research firm that’s also based in the Atlanta area, relies on a cloud computing model for remote access. When the big storm hit Georgia in January, the company’s 15 employees were stuck at home for a week. Instead of calling in to report their absence, however, researchers used notebook computers to log in to the remote provider’s site using a web browser or Citrix virtual desktop client, then pulled up their applications and data and settled down to work.
The company, which serves businesses in Russia, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere around the globe, didn’t miss a single deadline because of the weather.
President and CEO Frank Sanders says he doesn’t like to think about what would have happened if the company hadn’t had a remote-access system in place. “I guess we would have called all of our clients and told them, ‘Sorry but we’re shut down and we can’t do your work for a week,’ ” he says. “This is a very competitive industry, and we’re a small firm competing against larger companies. Whether we would have lost business, I don’t know; but we would have gotten way behind and put our customers in a tough spot.”
A reliable remote-access system also helped the 30 employees at Ongoing Operations , a company in Hagerstown, Md., that provides data backup and recovery services to credit unions and relies on cloud computing services from a third-party provider to manage its administrative IT operations. When a major blizzard buried two-thirds of the country this past February, “it just didn’t really affect us,” says Kirk Drake, the company’s president and CEO.
“Given that we have staff in seven or eight different states, there’s always something going on someplace, whether it’s a snowstorm or high winds or whatever,” he says. “Our employees are so used to working in the cloud environment that whether they decide to work from home or from a hotel or wherever they’re at, it ends up being not unlike any other work day to them. With remote-access capability, we just don’t have much in the way of disruptions to our day-to-day performance.”
Even companies that aren’t located in disaster-prone areas sometimes find remote access to be a boon to their business operations. PSSI Global Services , a provider of mobile satellite transmission and live streaming services, with offices in Las Vegas and Van Nuys, Calif., has on occasion had work stop at its physical offices because of interruptions to its local Internet service. However, now that the company has transitioned to a cloud service, many of its employees can stay up and running.
“Our cloud service enabled those users who were not relying on the local connection, whether they were on- or off-premises, to continue to work,” says Matt Bridges, the company’s senior vice president. Bridges says that the business continuity benefit offered by the cloud computing model helped balance any concerns officials had with storing applications and data at a third-party location.
CSM’s Sanders says the value that remote access brings to his company is so compelling that he recommends that all small business owners seriously consider deploying such a system.
“Most small businesses need to have flexibility if they are going to provide the extra value needed to effectively compete in this economy,” he says. “That’s what remote access does for us.”
Read the Small Business Remote Access Checklist  for more helpful tips for businesses considering remote-access solutions.