Perhaps the biggest mistake a company can make when setting up branch offices is allowing its data to be scattered among the offices, rather than centralized in one location where it can be shared, secured and reliably backed up, says Joe Rejeski, founder of Avenue X Group, an IT support and consulting firm. In a worst-case scenario, scattered data can make it hard for a business to rebuild its network after a major technical failure. But not having a central data server can also lead to day-to-day problems within a business. For example, employees may be communicating with customers using old or incorrect documents, with the correct versions stored on someone else's desktop.
Rather than keeping sensitive data on employees' computers or on servers at each office, a more integrated solution is to collect it all and store it on one server or collection of servers in a central location. The servers don't have to be in the same building as the main office -- they may be in another facility. The important part is that IT staff only need to secure, maintain and back up data in one location.
Employees working in the same building as the servers can get to their data using a local area network (LAN) or using WiFi. Elsewhere, employees can access their data through terminal server, which allows users to log in remotely. Another important tool is a virtual private network (VPN), which lets employees access and retrieve data from outside the office while still keeping the communication between their computers and the central server secure.
These tools do more than just offer flexibility and remote access to important data. They can also help prevent employees from accidentally duplicating or losing important files. If everything's stored on one central server, IT staff can perform regular backups in case of problems. And since everyone's on the same system, everything from training to system upgrades can be easier and more efficient.
Read on to the next page for more on integrating remote offices.