CEOs, CFOs and information technology executives and personnel in large companies have, or are adopting business intelligence, customer relationship management and enterprise performance management tools to produce insight into the business factors affecting performance and to better comply with evolving regulatory requirements.
However, these tools are no longer exclusive to large, publicly held companies. Small and midsized businesses face many of the same challenges as large enterprises, albeit on a smaller scale. Therefore they also need IT solutions that will enable them to thrive in this challenging business environment by cutting costs, adding capabilities and reducing risks.
The good news is that these IT services are available from various vendors including Cisco, Google, HP, IBM, Oracle etc., the 800-pound guerillas who are now paying attention to small and midsized businesses. Services that were formerly exclusive to large companies are now designed and priced specifically for small and midsized companies. With the help of IT professionals, these solutions and services can help businesses improve enterprise productivity and efficiency, manage their data, assets and resources more effectively and transform technology investments into business value. Solutions and services on offer to small and midsized businesses include, but are not limited to the following:
- Business intelligence (BI)
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
Small businesses now have the opportunity to use technology in a manner that allows them to automate routine tasks and empower their people to deal with the exceptions. When you configure your systems, don’t try to have the system do everything now that it might be required to do at some future date. Not only can this be expensive, but it can also be complicated. Consequently, you should focus on solutions for the here and now.
A hot technology trend that is predicted to give businesses the biggest bang for their IT buck is cloud computing, aka software-as-a-service, where online services replace traditional desktop or server-resident software.
Vendors, for example Microsoft, are offering online services that include enterprise-grade email communications, web videoconferencing, customer relation management and collaboration solutions to as few as five employees via a monthly contract that is cheaper than an average cell phone bill.
The big advantage of cloud computing is that it allows businesses to rent hardware and desired software on a pay-as-you-go basis. This provides a fast, affordable solution for growing companies with limited IT resources. Opting for an online service vs. on-site software can help small businesses’ cash flow. Since it’s a subscription, you can buy annual services and pay as appropriate e.g. quarterly, annually instead of the usual IT solutions where you pay in advance.
The disadvantage though is that you will lose your access to these resources if your Internet connection fails.
Business owners should set expectations before moving to an online service as there is much hype surrounding the cloud. For example, if flexibility is your goal then that’s great, but if cost-savings is the objective, it’s not a given with an online service.
If you’re moving to an online provider, start with a function that isn’t mission-critical e.g. email. This is a service that most online providers have nailed down. Another logical choice is backup/disaster recovery, as moving this to an online provider makes it affordable for more small businesses, because they don’t have to duplicate all of their hardware. Services such as CRM also let you remove the server-management aspect of software too.
Technology deployment efforts will only result in a truly agile business if they are driven by business goals, effectively deployed, adopted and managed such that they produce meaningful, measurable and credible results. Today’s economy now requires collaboration, and real-time response. SMBs must be able to do this because they have to, otherwise the economic situation will force them to do it. And this is good. Small and midsized need to be ready as this is the emerging 21st Century business model and agility will be key to continued success. Moreover, agility requires astute use of information, communications and technology.
Gregg Anderson, MBA, CMC
MD, VisionQuest Management Services Ltd
T: (345) 916-6777
E: [email protected]