From: Ben Narasin, Boston Prepatory Co. New York City
If you've ever been cold-called by a business you already have an account with, you understand the value of sharing data. Our company needed to share our customer-history database with everyone in the office, so we needed a network.
We chose a peer-to-peer network called Invisible LAN (Invisible Software, 800-982-2962; $399 to $599). A peer-to-peer system allows each computer to share files with the others, and to act as a server to the others. A server stores data for all the computers on the network to use. Invisible was rated the fastest of its type, and it also had a reputation for being easy to use, so we went with it.
We also installed a networked information manager called Maximizer (Modatech Systems International, 800-804-6299; $149), which keeps track of individual stores, our contacts there, and all our notes and documents concerning them. So if a temp talks to a customer about a shipping problem, a salesperson calling up the file on that customer will know about it. Everyone reads off the same page.
By keeping seldom-used or especially large programs on one computer -- for instance, the programs that handle our order, invoice, and shipment information -- we free up space on the other computers. For those programs, that computer acts as the server to all the others.
A server also allows all computers to share hardware. Now everyone in the office shares one laser printer, one color printer, one dot-matrix printer, one high-speed modem, and one CD-ROM drive. All our computers can gain access to those devices as if they were attached directly. Until recently, you couldn't network a fax board without a server dedicated to that piece of equipment. But a new program we bought, Winfax Pro (Delrina, 800-268-6082; $90), allows you to do that.
Sharing expensive hardware can save a company a lot of money. A high-speed modem, for instance, can cost a couple hundred dollars. A 10-person office that shares one networked modem instead of buying one for every user can save $2,000, which goes a long way toward paying for the network.
Though it's often taken for granted, E-mail turns out to be a big advantage of networking. Of course, we can message one another, but we can also keep in touch with our customers via external E-mail links. They receive our notes instantly. Our E-mail system (cc:Mail, Lotus Development, 800-448-2500; $95 to $2,380 for a 50-user license pack), like most, allows us to look at one another's calendars when we're scheduling meetings, and it updates everyone's calendar when a time is set.
All these are simple tools, but on a network their power increases geometrically. Our people are more productive, and so is our equipment. To our customers we look more efficient than before -- and we are. For once, a product proves as good as the hype.* * *
Ben Narasin is founder and CEO of Boston Prepatory Co.