7 Questions to Consider Before Using Free Software

Man and woman looking at monitor

Not sure how much of your business activity is conducted securely? Consider the types of applications and software you use. Many of us default to free options whenever we can—for email, word processing, productivity, payroll, and organization, among other things.

But if you’re conducting important business for your company, it’s important to understand what you’re getting from those free applications—and, more importantly, what you’re not getting.

Take your email account, for instance. Most organizations treat their inboxes as the central hub of business activity, saving receipts, important documents, necessary correspondence, and login details there. Chances are your inbox holds plenty of private—even secret—information. But free email applications like Gmail or Yahoo Mail offer only limited privacy and security, raising the risk of a phishing attack or ransomware infection.

The same goes for payroll, another critical business function. All good payroll programs include sensitive details such as addresses, birthdates, Social Security numbers, and bank account information. But most free or consumer payroll applications don’t come with true built-in cybersecurity. How would you respond if your employees had their private data leaked, hacked, or otherwise stolen?

Free software may seem like a great deal—and for many businesses, saving money is critical to day-to-day operations. But every company deserves true cybersecurity delivered with a basic level of professionalism. As many businesses grow, they need more advanced tools to scale up, as well. That’s why CMIT Solutions recommends that you think through these seven questions to make sure you have the right software solution working for you. Free software solutions often work fine for an individual. But try to share a file or invite colleagues to access something and you’ll quickly find incompatibilities or collaboration problems. If employees at your business work remotely in different time zones or on different devices, seamless collaboration and secure shareability are even more important.

Also, most free software uses proprietary document formats that force clients and partners to use converters and workarounds to access your deliverables. If you’re like most businesses, chances are you need software that manages calendars, hosts and creates online meetings, and securely transmits data to make teamwork a breeze. Think about it this way: do you want your clients to receive an email from you at info@yourcompany.com or yourcompany@gmail.com? This is the first step toward building a reputation as a professional organization conducting business smartly and safely. Beyond the appearance of unreliability that comes from using free email services, cybersecurity can suffer, too. Email inboxes are often the first place that hackers target when they’re trying to infiltrate a network or steal info from poorly protected systems. Look for strong, enterprise-grade solutions that allow you to customize your email domain, promote your brand, and protect your business.

If you work with other businesses in any kind of regulated industry—healthcare, finance, legal, etc.—chances are they’ll ask about your own company’s data security protocols before signing a deal. It’s critical to demonstrate that you protect your own information so that existing and potential clients know you’ll extend that same level of protection to them. For some businesses, this is as simple as secure credit card transactions; for others, it’s as elevated as your preferred format for transmitting files and your overall strategy for IT management. If there’s one lesson we’ve all learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that business data and personal information should be kept separate and secure whenever possible. For some employees, that’s difficult, as they might use their personal devices for work. But with proper sync and share services, sequestration is possible. Look for software solutions and trusted IT partners that allow you to seamlessly manage data policies on both company-owned and employee-owned devices, protecting files while also empowering employees to work remotely.

Speaking of working remotely, some of the best enterprise-grade applications—think Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, and QuickBooks—allow you to edit files from anywhere, whether you have an Internet connection or not. Those solutions should have cloud capabilities built-in so that any work you do on one version of one file on one device will automatically populate to other versions across all devices once an Internet connection is reestablished. Automatic software updates and security patches have become a critical first line of defense against new and evolving cyberthreats. Many strains of ransomware target out-of-date applications and recently established security vulnerabilities, giving hackers a fertile testing ground for their illicit activities. Today’s advanced applications use cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to keep important programs—think Microsoft Word, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint—up to date automatically.

Many free applications work fine…right up until the moment you need to save a worksheet, export a data set, or share a contract to be signed by a client. Then, those applications will prompt you to upgrade, install extra files, or pay another fee to have access to those advanced features. With enterprise-grade software, you won’t get left hanging or wondering what action to take next when managing finances, building presentations, or sharing information.

The Bottom Line:

Software designed for free consumer use probably won’t have the professional functionality your business requires.  Beyond that, it definitely won’t offer the same level of data security and information integrity that come standard with enterprise-grade solutions.

At CMIT Solutions, we help our clients understand the benefits of investing in proven products that help solve short-term problems while planning for long-term success. Then, we assist with deployment, rollout, and ongoing support as new solutions become standard parts of everyday workflows.

As a trusted business advisor to thousands of companies across North America, we have experience deploying a multitude of cloud-based solutions. From Microsoft 365 to Adobe Creative Cloud to QuickBooks and other applications, CMIT Solutions can help enhance productivity, empower employees, and increase flexibility for your business. Contact us today for more information.

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