Windows 8: A Worthwhile Investment For Small Business?

With technology innovation continuing to unfold at break-neck speed, the past few years have introduced a wealth of new connectivity, mobility and device options for business. Windows 8, the new operating system from Microsoft, is one of the latest IT innovations in the spotlight – one which many small businesses are looking at closely.

Designed to enable more flexible ways of working, this could be the ideal operating system for small businesses where device freedom and mobility is a priority. However, businesses have four fundamental options to consider before deciding whether making the switch is the right decision for their organisation:

  • Test: Trial a select number of new touch devices in your business environment and see whether the likes of tablets and convertibles make sense for the way your employees work
  • Enhance: Consider enhancing existing PCs and laptops, adapting them to make them Windows 8-ready. The upgrade process is made easier with options to upgrade from earlier versions of Windows using a USB memory key, a DVD or a direct software download
  • Reconsider: There are many advantages of upgrading your organisations hardware, but the timing may not be right – a new operating system release is a good opportunity to evaluate your technology infrastructure and put in place longer term plans to support your businesses objectives
  • Migrate: If touch technology appears to be the right choice for your organisation consider making the move and benefit from the stronger security and manageability, plus the opportunity to refresh old hardware. However, you don’t have to migrate all your devices you may decide a mixture of Windows 8 and non-Windows 8 devices might be a better mix for you.

But, as with any IT purchasing decision, if small businesses do decide that migrating is the best way forward they should closely scrutinise what business benefits upgrading can bring to the company before making a final decision.

Empowering mobile workers

There is growing awareness within the small business community that companies can benefit from increased workforce productivity by allowing employees to have greater freedom to choose where they work from, with the device of their choice.

‘The Evolving Workforce’ research reveals that 76% of small businesses are already implementing flexible working and 40% of employees have the opportunity to ‘bring their own device’ to work. Small businesses clearly recognise that the traditional pattern of working 9-to-5 using a fixed desktop PC is now a thing of the past, and are beginning to capitalise on the business benefits that come from enabling greater employee freedom.

For small businesses where a more flexible model of working is, or will be, a priority, Windows 8 makes an attractive proposition. Providing one interface across multiple devices, it enables users to move seamlessly from working on conventional PCs, to tablets and mobile devices, and back again. It’s geared towards empowering users of touch devices and will ensure that tablets and portable connected devices are truly viable business tools.

Key information and core applications all work in the same way, regardless of what device employees are using, and the “Roaming Accounts” application offered by Windows 8 means that documents and settings can follow workers no matter what physical device they sign into – ideal for companies where devices are loaned on a temporary basis or shared amongst employees.

Harder, better, faster, stronger

Windows 8 is designed to support a new generation of lean, efficient applications, focused on doing a fairly small range of tasks, really well. The applications are less memory intensive than their Windows 7 equivalents so businesses can expect an improvement in performance. It’s also faster; it boots faster, sleeps faster and wakes faster, all while delivering stronger battery life. Improved networking gives employees enhanced mobile broadband when working away from a PC with the benefit of the system checking across the available Wi-Fi connections and automatically connect the user to the one providing the best bandwidth.

Securing your business

It may be early days for Windows 8 but what’s clear is that it does deliver a new level of protection. The new OS has anti-malware protection hardwired into the operation system which provides instant alerts if malware is detected, as well as “Secure Boot” technology against pre-boot attacks, making it far more secure than Windows 7. What’s more, the new “Refresh” application restores Windows in minutes, but keeps all personal data, Windows 8 apps, and vital settings, while ‘Windows To Go’ allows consultants to work safely and securely from home.

Minimising disruption

One factor which might make a small business think twice about making the move to Windows 8 is the potential disruption to business operations during rollout, but of course the level of disruption depends on how a company chooses to implement Windows 8.

For businesses looking to make the move to Windows 8, now is the time to start preparing a smooth transition and ensuring they get the help and support they might need in place if they don’t have the luxury of a dedicated IT department. Training users before the rollout, rather than afterwards, will greatly reduce the potential disruption to productivity, and for the short-term pain of learning Windows 8, businesses could accumulate long-term gains.

Windows XP’s days are numbered

In April 2014, Microsoft will drop support for the Windows XP operating system. Businesses still using an XP environment leave themselves exposed to security risk and support challenges. In addition, they are losing out on the benefits of a modern operating system and the dramatic savings and higher end user productivity it facilitates. Businesses have the choice to upgrade to the tried-and-tested Windows 7, or may see value in investing in the future promise of Windows 8.

Ultimately, migrating to Windows 8 isn’t a decision small businesses should take lightly. Investing in IT simply because it’s the latest thing is just as wrong an approach as ignoring it because of a lack of understanding. Companies need to take the time needed to figure out whether Windows 8 can be applied to help move their business forward and boost productivity.

As with the adoption of any technology, businesses should make IT decisions with a considered approach and open mind. But for small businesses needing to do things in a different way – whether it’s working in a more mobile way, embracing the ‘consumerisation’ of IT, or granting employees more device freedom for greater productivity – Windows 8 could be exactly the tool for the job.

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Andrew Miller is Marketing Manager, Dell Small Business UK & Ireland.