Setting up a new business

I have been working from home for 14+ years as a systems integrator and have recently decided to grow my business. This will involve taking on premises and (initially) a couple of staff, and will inevitably mean big changes in the way I work.

I am interested in discussing ideas for setting up the new office network and software. I currently use OpenOffice for word processing and spreadsheets and Outlook 2003 for email, calendar, contacts and general to-do lists. Project management tends to consist of files kept in a number of sub-directories for each project, with to-do lists and issue recording in Writer or Calc. I use MySQL as the relational database and Ignition (of course :slight_smile: ).

I run all this on one PC in my home office, backed up every night to an external hard drive and every weekend to DVD-R which is stored off-site. I also duplicate all the information on my laptop for when I am working on-site. Both the PCs run on Windows XP.

One of the main drivers in all of this is to keep the configuration of the PCs as simple as possible. I don’t mind running a server, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of spending all my time making sure the office runs correctly whilst not completing any paying work.

I seem to have 2 choices here:

  1. Windows or Linux
  2. Locally installed software or Software as a Service (SaaS).

I hated Vista with a passion and downgraded both of my PCs back to XP. I have looked at Windows 7 but didn’t think it much of an improvement. Although I’ve used Microsoft software for years, I tend not to like its complexity or the ‘all or nothing’ approach nowadays – it doesn’t seem to mix well with others. I’ve played with Ubuntu for a couple of years and have been quite impressed with it. The normal Linux bugbear of finding software to do what you want doesn’t really apply, as all the software I use except Outlook will run on Linux.

I can see the need for shared calendars and to-do lists, and also a separate issue-tracking system. I had a look at Google Apps and was reasonably impressed by Gmail and Calendar, less so by Docs. However, I don’t initially see any value in being able to work simultaneously on documents when we are in the same office. I also had a look at a couple of web-based project management packages, Basecamp and Goplan. These look interesting but I am not sure about changing the way I work to fit another company’s product. I am also still a bit nervous about entrusting confidential data to another company over the web. Mind you, someone recently pointed out to me that your ISP has full access to all your email if they were so inclined.

Another option I have is to write the groupware I need with Ignition. I believe Inductive Automation do something similar?

Has anyone been through a similar process? Has anyone moved from Windows to Linux and hated it enough to move back? Can anyone recount their experience with moving to SaaS? I would be interested to hear.

I can comment on our own experiences. You’re right, we use Ignition to “power” much of our office’s needs, such as email, account management, quotes, invoicing, and various other activities. Ignition is good at these things (with perhaps an exception for email where we’re really stretching the limits) because of its tight integration with a SQL database. That said, while it was the right decision for us (it lets us eat our own dogfood), I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. It will take a lot of time to create when other products/services could satisfy your needs faster. The upside of course is the tailored fit and customization you get when you roll-your-own.

As far as OSes go, I think that your lean towards Linux is good as long as the brand of PLCs you use has Linux compatible programming software. I also think that Windows 7 is quite nice - I’d choose it over XP - you can’t stay in the past forever and no reason to because Win7 is very stable.

Now, for office software, I’d pretty strongly suggest something like Google Apps for email, docs, spreadsheets, etc. That way you have all the software you need already (web browser) and you don’t have to set up a file-server or VPNs for when your staff is out of the office.

Hope this helps - good luck on your new venture,

I agree with your intuition and with what Carl said. Keep it is simple as possible (workable). You'll have enough to do starting your new business without extra IT work. This will allow you to focus on the things that really matter (billable hours, getting your employees started, marketing, etc).

As I see it, the decision is whether to scale the way you currently operate to a few employees, or to "simplify" with web (Google) apps or other products.

If a web based (service) like Google Apps satisfies your needs I'd go with it. This just saves so much time in client side configuration, collaboration and remote access, backups, and more. It "just works". Leveraging workable technologies should go a long way toward making your new business profitable.

If you use Microsoft much (you mentioned Outlook), I would subscribe to the Microsoft Action Pack, which gets you 10 copies of Office Pro, client and server operating systems, and more for about $300/yr - your business will qualify. Provided that you trust your couple of employees, you'd get along fine with a peer to peer network - no server initially required - or a single server with a cookie cutter setup.

If you need more sophisticated software - because nothing else meets your requirements, I'd still first consider something packaged versus "rolling your own". It might be open source and free, or commercial. You don't want to get sucked into writing your own anything (at first) unless it's truly the core of your business such as an OEM application or providing a service. As you grow customization tends to make more and more sense, plus at some point IT support will be justified.

Wow, I love the creative use of Ignition ... would love to hear more about this!

Good luck Al!