Consider the value of the best network possible:

An inadequate computer network can lead to a long list of problems for an organization; for example, I have a friend who works in commissioned retail sales who recently left her employer to work for a competitor. Both companies are major national retailers with hundreds of locations in upscale shopping malls. She had multiple frustrations with her former employer’s operations; one was its computer network. The company has 430 retail outlets, but the only network servers are in the corporate headquarters. As a result, whenever the network gets hammered—such as during the Christmas rush—each store’s point-of-sale (POS) computer terminals get slower as the sales volume goes higher.

The stores sell moderately priced to high-ticket items and log each customer’s name, contact information and purchase history. The better the customer, the bigger his or her database. As a result, the best customers—presumably with the biggest databases—have to wait the longest for their purchase histories to appear on POS screens just to complete a routine (but potentially lucrative) sale.

This network is overworked and incapable of adequately serving the needs of its users. Although it would cost this retailer a sizable sum to perform a system-wide network upgrade, it will cost even more not to. If my bright, energetic and capable salesperson friend left the company, how many other quality employees and steady customers have already or will depart for the competition?

This begs a terribly important question for every business (or government agency or nonprofits such as schools and other educational facilities) that depends on its computer network: Is the network adequate for the demands placed upon it? Decision-makers must recognize networks have limits and opting not to upgrade has long-term consequences. Unfortunately for schools with tight funding and the bureaucracy of budgets, the ability to upgrade the network may not be an immediate possibility, but it’s certainly something to fight for.

A recent article by CommScope, Hickory, N.C., points out that a network’s failure to serve users as they expect causes damages on multiple fronts. The most obvious—with the most direct financial consequence—is the reduced ability to consistently make sales.

But there are other impacts of a struggling computer network besides loss of business. There are employees’ emotional consequences when a downed or struggling network cuts them off from the rest of the organization and the world, for that matter. Good workers get job satisfaction from being productive. Network failures, which inevitably result in work slowdowns or stoppages, frustrate and demotivate dedicated employees.

Everyone’s computer can and will crash at some time. But customers will only be understanding so many times before they decide that an organization needs to solve its computer problems before they will willingly (if ever) return with business.

How much is too much for an organization’s computer network? Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), which places computer and telephone transmissions on the same network, has become an industry standard; additional options include building management, access control, video surveillance and more. But any of these can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, ushering in network performance degradation and workplace disruption.

If a computer network is sufficiently robust, then it can handle additions such as described here, but planning and expertise is critical. In general, systems operating over the highest-grade Category 6 cabling or structured wiring may result in fewer errors than a comparable system with lower grade cabling. Minimum Cat 6 compliance standards require that a Cat 6 channel, consisting of cables, connecting hardware and patch cords, test to 250 MHz. Any Cat 6 channel offers multimedia capabilities, and higher grades of this cable and components can deliver performance up to 500 MHz.

How do these facts affect the purchasing decisions of an end-user? All organizations have finite resources and budget limits. For example, if a school must choose between lower-rated cable everywhere or higher grade to some places but no cable to others, then arguably it should opt to cable everywhere. But that decision should be an informed choice, with the knowledge of the limits placed on present and future system users. Perhaps the school should consider more closely how to provide funds for better cabling and network performance.

Every end-user has to make some tough decisions to determine how to afford to provide quality products and services that reliably serve and keep its customers—that may involve identifying what level of network it can’t afford to pass up. Thankfully, they have the electrical contractor to guide them on their way.          EC

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan., area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.