To remain successful, businesses must stay at the forefront of technology and prepare now for the future of the Internet. As the Web advances, companies eagerly adopt new capabilities. At the same time, they must be vigilant about protecting themselves from threats, maintaining and enhancing the ease of conducting business, and making it easy for others to do business with them.

Two current hot tech topics are net neutrality and cloud computing, each of which brings its own set of challenges and opportunities. There are several easy steps businesses can implement to enhance data security, ensure that customers can easily access their website, and ensure that their employees can access their data and applications.

Remaining Neutral

Net neutrality refers to the concept of all Internet traffic being treated equally, where the only distinction is the connection speed selected by the user. It is currently a source of debate between the Federal Communications Commission, Congress and telecommunications providers.

In December, the FCC adopted new regulations that prohibit phone and cable companies from blocking or slowing down Internet traffic. Two providers quickly sued to challenge whether the FCC has the authority to regulate the Internet. A federal appeals court tossed the suits in April, saying they were premature since final rules have not yet been published.

There are three possible outcomes in this controversy. One is that neutrality will indeed be enforced through regulation. Or perhaps the controversy will die out and things will remain pretty much the way they are now. If we assume that technology can solve capacity issues and deliver a separate but effective mobile experience, we may maintain the status quo. Finally, the Internet may no longer be neutral, and telecom providers will be able to charge content providers more for access to the "fast lanes" of the information superhighway. Everyone who does not pay a premium will get pushed to the slower lanes and wait in traffic. Stay tuned to see which outcome prevails.

Cloud or Onsite?

Cloud computing is when a user accesses, via the Internet, either data stored offsite or applications provided in the form of software as a service (often referred to as SaaS). As more companies move their data storage and applications offsite to "the cloud," it becomes critical to ensure not only high-speed transmission but also top-notch protection in order to conduct business efficiently.

Businesses should be undertaking technology planning now to thrive in the online world of the future. Own and control your data. For any hosted service, keep an up-to-date backup in a secure place that is accessible if the hosted application becomes unavailable (for example, they go out of business) or highly degraded (they are hacked or destroyed). Examples of critical data include customer lists, key company documents, and proprietary information, designs and intellectual property.

Know where your data is stored. Using YouTube to serve video or a dropbox to store files may not be secure enough for critical information. What level and type of security are in place now, and how frequently is it updated?

Be familiar with your customers. Where are they located? What limitations do they have in terms of service? How are they reaching you? If your site is hosted at Company X data center and a customer is attempting to view it on a Company Y mobile phone, that customer may encounter access problems if Company X is degrading service from Company Y. Business may suffer because of such issues.

For all hosted services, create a backup plan that details what to do if a provider is no longer available. Laying out an alternative before disaster strikes can eliminate the mad scramble and business disruption that occur when the game plan is changed on the fly.

Lighten the load. Make hosted Web pages--especially the landing page--as quick and easy to load as possible. Move videos, Flash and other heavy-load content elements to deeper pages. Instead, put a still image of the video or Flash on the home page that can be clicked for downloading. By keeping the landing page light, it will load quickly without frustrating users.

Bright Future

While today's buzz is about net neutrality and cloud computing, the future will bring more technology and Internet advancements that will require companies to further adapt their business models. It's human nature to get excited about new capabilities and the increasing ease and speed of doing business, but there will also be new threats and different challenges to address.

All CEOs should incorporate a comprehensive technology blueprint into the business planning cycle to address these needs and ensure a safe and smooth transition to new technological developments. Such a plan requires an investment of time and money, but the price tag pales in comparison to the costs of lost productivity, lost data, lost connectivity, or worse, lost customers.

Anish Mistry is CEO of UnitedWare, a CIO-for-hire firm that has offices in Columbus and Cincinnati. He can be reached at (614) 388-9768 or amistry@unitedware.com.

Reprinted from the July 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.