Talking tech and business with James Caan and Symantec

We chat with former Dragon's Den presenter James Caan and Symantec's small business expert Ross Walker about technology, business and security.

James Caan

The new series of Dragon's Den started last night. Sadly for IT Pro, our favourite Dragon had retired before the start of the ninth series.

James Caan decided to leave the show for unconfirmed reasons but has continued handing out advice on how to run a business, whilst running private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw.

Just last month, Caan hooked up with Symantec to talk about risk and security in SMBs, answering questions over Twitter. We wanted more than just 140 characters from the former Dragon though, so we interviewed him alongside Symantec's small business expert Ross Walker to talk about technology, business and security.

Has technology made it easier than ever for a start-up to get going?

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James Caan: Due to advancing technology and the growth of the online industry - which creates an estimated 100 billion in turnover each year - it is now even easier to set up your own business.

Tools such as Companies House' online portal, virtual offices with a rented address, mobile technology such as iPads, apps and cloud computing have all contributed to making it easier and more efficient to start a company and access information faster.

Ross Walker: Yes, with the falling cost of computing along with the increased availability of cloud based applications, there has never been a more cost effective time to start a business, from a technology point of view.

My private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw uses cloud computing and I'm still amazed how efficient the system is.

However, when taking advantage of these money-saving technologies, entrepreneurs must remember the key fundamentals of data management. They need to protect their data, keep track of who in the company has access to it as well as what machines, devices, mobiles or tablets it resides on and consider whether it can be recovered in the event of an outage, loss or theft.

Has cloud computing changed the business landscape by making things that much cheaper?

James: It has changed the landscape quite significantly. Companies no longer need to have large bulky archives with all their databases written on papers. Cloud computing enables all this information to be stored online in a digital format, with little limitations on size.

What's also very important is that cloud computing enables information and data access anywhere in the world, as long as there is an internet connection. My private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw uses cloud computing and I'm still amazed how efficient the system is.

I was recently abroad and I wanted to show my colleague some fairly large documents. I was able to access the files and information within minutes. Of course there is a risk with cloud computing, but security is high on the agenda for cloud computing companies. They are continuously updating their processes for user security.

Ross: Many onsite premise license vendors, whether they are applications, services or physical machines, are starting to offer a cloud/utility based model. This will, in time, deliver cost predictability to start-ups by providing the flexibility and elasticity to meet their demands and benefit their cash flows, based on usage.

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In your experience, do start-ups consider security enough of an issue when starting out? How much of a priority should it be?

James: I think all companies, not just start-ups, aren't doing enough for their business information security. In the case of small businesses this may be down to the perception that they aren't in a high risk position.

As a business owner you wouldn't leave the front door of your office open at night so why would you put your information assets at risk? Business owners are typically so swamped with everyday tasks and issues they tend to push their business security to the bottom of their priority list. However, I believe that a company's information is one of their most valuable assets and should be at the top of every entrepreneur's agenda.

I think all companies, not just start-ups, aren't doing enough for their business information security.

Ross: Every start-up comes into being as a result of an idea, an idea often based on some form of intellectual property. That intellectual property is what makes that start-up unique.

That means that his idea should be kept as secure as the physical attributes they have in their office locations. In our last SMB Information Protection Survey we found that although small businesses recognise the risks of data lost, some security gaps still remain; with only 28 per cent protecting their smartphones with passwords.

Alarm systems, controlled entry and CCTV are all controls that small businesses implement to prevent and identify intruders and prompt corrective action. It is essential that the same level of protection be applied when it comes to their digital assets and intellectual property.

Is now a good time to get a start-up going, given the climate we're in? If 80 per cent of start-ups fail, what do you need to succeed?

James: I believe now is as good a time as any to start a business, but you need to equip yourself with the necessary information, be passionate about your industry and be motivated to make it a success.

It's important to focus on the positive facts about the current economic climate. The number of the unemployed has increased over the years, which means there's a larger pool of highly qualified candidates looking for jobs.

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With regards to achieving success in business it's important to educate yourself about the business activities. I meet budding entrepreneurs and many times I'm frustrated to hear what basic mistakes they are making, causing them to fail. The problem is that most entrepreneurs are so focused on the daily tasks that they forget to sit back and examine their business as a whole.

Ross: There are many different elements that determine whether a new business is successful, but having confidence in information and knowing that IP is protected is key.

In today's world, so much of business is done via connected devices, it is important that the information held on these devices is controlled, managed and able to be recovered. That way critical data is kept safe and this will help business to stay up and running, no matter what happens.

What kinds of start-ups do you think will do well in the coming years? Any industries you see as a potential success story?

James: The key to any success story is keeping up with the latest innovations, spotting opportunities and planning ahead for the future. Internet businesses definitely present the greatest potential for success.

What's great about the internet is that it provides a low-cost platform to build a start-up and is powerful tool for reaching new markets and customers. Companies that generate online sales may also enjoy high transaction rates and higher growth rates than traditional businesses. Some of the sectors I would be monitoring include online security solutions, internet moderation, online retail, mobile apps, social media, social media optimisation and location based marketing.

Ross: With recent research highlighting that small businesses may hold the key to boosting the UK economy, there's real potential for this to be the year of the small business no matter what industry they operate in.

However, all entrepreneurs need to remember the importance of technology when setting up a business or they risk being caught out customer and business critical information must be kept secure and backed up; wherever it is and whoever has access.

Internet businesses definitely present the greatest potential for success.

A company would never dream of not protecting their physical assets with contents insurance; in the same way a business should always protect their most critical asset, their intellectual property, using the best technology available.

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How should the Government be helping to support start-ups, particularly in the technology sector? Is the Government doing enough?

James: I think the Government is taking the right steps towards supporting and nurturing entrepreneurship. Their role is not to impede their development through policies and there have been initiatives put in place, but more could still be done.

Ross: It has been great to see the Government supporting so many start-up initiatives in recent months. External advice can be really beneficial when it comes to running a business, and a fresh pair of eyes can often identify untapped opportunities.

Small businesses in particular need a constant supply of support and advice if they are going to come out on top in an economic landscape that is still bumpy in places.

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