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Solution Identification and Discovery Process for SMBs

It is hard to imagine that today a successful SMB of any size is going to function without a networking solution, even if it means the most rudimentary file or printer sharing. When prioritizing the spectrum of networking solutions according to their importance and deployment, it is helpful to categorize them in terms of direct versus indirect support of the business mission.

If a wireless solution is a must in a manufacturing facility because of the impracticality of running cables or the exorbitant costs associated with doing so, that wireless solution directly supports the business mission. Forms of remote access in this scenario might be deemed desirable but not necessarily critical to the direct support of the business mission. Security considerations apply to both wireless and remote access deployments. Thus, in this example, the identification process yields that a wireless solution is a must, relevant security in support of it is a must, overall security is a distant second, and remote access is a "nice to have" capability that might happen someday. Following are some of the con and pro arguments for deploying various solutions.

The Case Against and for a Security Solution

The obvious case against a security solution (as well as any other networking solution, for that matter) is that the solution is complex, partial at best, and expensive to implement and to maintain. As discussed in Chapter 5, Cisco security solutions run the gamut in terms of ease of implementation, range of threats that they protect against, and cost.

What any SMB contemplating a security solution ought to know is that a security vendor like Cisco is not in the business of developing specific security policies for SMBs. In the process of attempting to sell a solution, a vendor can offer assistance in guiding the development of a security policy, but the SMB must recognize that without a policy and without the business placing a value on the assets to be protected, it is easy for the SMB to shoot down any proposed solution. So the SMB must clearly communicate to the designer the need for a solution and the degree of required protection before arguing against the solution because of its cost or complexity.

If an SMB has nothing to protect, the case against a security solution is clear-cut: There is no need for one. If an SMB comes to the conclusion that its network and information assets are worth protecting, the case for a security solution is even more clear-cut: It should get one. If the SMB reaches this conclusion, you can begin to determine the appropriate solution from a range of choices.

As discussed in Chapters 4 and 5, implementing a security solution is not a static, one-time event; it is an ongoing process of reexamining the value of what needs to be protected against the well-known and emerging threats to determine if the degree of deployed protection is adequate. The good news is that, as a general rule, security solutions from Cisco are getting easier to deploy, offer an increasingly comprehensive and integrated level of protection against varied threats, and are geared toward a spectrum of SMB budgets.

The Case Against and for a Remote Access Solution

The case against a remote access solution might be as simple as the perception on the part of an SMB that a solution is not needed because the business does not understand the possibilities associated with it. In that case, you should make sure the SMB considers the business possibilities that a remote access solution offers.

Remote access by itself is a generic solution without a face. But what if it translates into the following?

  • A flexible work environment, by allowing employees occasionally to work from home, thus boosting employee morale and commitment to the business

  • A high degree of collaboration with business partners, thus decreasing time-to-market cycles and boosting productivity

  • Improved customer service, by allowing customers to place orders online, view order status, or search through an SMB's databases

These benefits sound like e-commerce, customer care, or just online access, but underneath them is the ability to remotely access SMB's resources. Every time someone logs on to the Internet, it is a form of remote access. Try taking that away from businesses and individuals alike and observe the impact.

The case for a remote access solution is quite compelling if the prospective SMB considers the solution in terms of business activities that it facilitates and the resulting value that it creates for the business. Remote access is the ultimate enabler of modern-day business communications. Strong security that is currently available through VPNs and firewalls adds to the appeal of remote access solutions.

The Case Against and for a Collaboration with Partners Solution

Making the case against or for a collaboration with partners solution depends to a large extent on the existing SMB's network implementation. For example, if an SMB already has an effective VPN solution, then granting outsiders access to internal resources becomes a matter of Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting (AAA). Separate Virtual LANs (VLANs) for different partners on the SMB's internal network might be the result of applying the AAA principle to partner access. If an SMB already has a firewall solution with one or more DMZs, collaboration with partners might also be a matter of providing them with the needed resources on the DMZ networks.

Because any collaboration solution is closely tied to security, an SMB should have a well-developed security policy and update it when a collaboration solution is being considered.

If remote access and, consequently, security solutions are not in place, there might be a stronger case against collaboration with partners because that solution might require a more comprehensive design. It depends on how exactly collaboration with partners is defined. Simple collaboration could be a matter of additional configuration or setup without any new hardware or software. However, remote access and security already in place will ease any collaboration deployment and create a strong case for it, subject of course to SMB's business objectives. Naturally, not every SMB is going to have partners to collaborate with.

The Case Against and for a Customer Care Solution

There is really no effective case against a customer care solution. No magic formula defines such a solution because it is unique to each business, but if this lack of a clear-cut definition is used as an argument against designing and implementing one, it is a weak argument at best.

The case for a customer care solution is simple. Other networking solutions—including IP Telephony, security, wireless, and the well-developed networking infrastructure—all stand in support of developing effective customer care, whether it takes the form of a call center, online banking, or VPN access by customers to internal resources.

The Case Against and for a Front Office/Back Office Integration Solution

The overwhelming case against a front office/back office integration solution is that it is generally a complex process that requires a lot of up-front planning and preparation. Such a process is not something that a typical SMB might be readily willing to undertake given the high level of risk associated with the entire process, the level of project management expertise required to see it through to completion, and the required degree of understanding of the existing applications environment and business processes.

The case for a front office/back office integration solution is equally strong. It can increase revenues and reduce costs through more focused and targeted customer service and the reduction of production overhead or the cost of sales. The availability of high-performance computing platforms and networking infrastructure that is capable of large throughput over long distances facilitates the deployment of complex applications, which an integrated CRM/ERP application suite can certainly be.

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