Let’s all stop for a moment to remember why we use computers and other electronic devices. A key is to unpack IT. All too often we forget that IT means Information Technology.
IT is about managing information more efficiently using technology. From our very sophisticated phones to our very powerful laptops and PCs and the phenomenon that is the internet, information is now flowing faster and in greater volumes than ever before.
In the past two years a few technologies have progressed from bleeding or leading edge to mainstream. It is vital that the IT departments of SME companies are taking full advantage of these technologies to drive new markets, productivity and survival.
So if I had to pick the six biggest enablers for the SME environment (not the enterprise level as they have different needs) to have emerged in the past two years, I would focus on the following:
1. Social media
Here is a twist, in that it is as much about marketing as information management, but one of the biggest tools we have been handed is social media, which lets us do amazing things we could not do a few years ago.
From recruitment of new staff without using recruiters, to market research, to making connections with influential people we previously could not gain access to. LinkedIn, Facebook, even Seek, offer us new ways to gain input from complete strangers. This tied to pay-per-click advertising and measurement of return on investment for marketing effort is a huge breakthrough for relatively small businesses.
2. Cloud solutions that put corporate tools into our hands
Here, I am talking about the hosted or Software as a Service (SaaS) tools that have made it easier for the average person to start a business. Microsoft’s Office 365, Salesforce.com or Google Apps each give us an application we can use on our PC, tablet or mobile phone that gives us top quality tools to use so our business is not disadvantaged when compared to our corporate cousins. With Coles purchasing 100,000 Office 365 licences, the cloud has definitely gone mainstream.
Making good use of SaaS tools removes the need for large start-up expenditure allowing nimble businesses to spring up and use technology to communicate globally from day one.
There are also advantages in geographic expansion for the growing firm where SaaS solutions have made opening a new office a non-event from an IT perspective.
3. Mobile devices that let us work from anywhere
How many of us already take remote access to office applications for granted because they just work from wherever we are?
Generating invoices on site from your central computer system, for example. Connecting that with GPS-related data to track the location or a host of other solutions for asset management that were not practical a year ago.
Yet there are still many businesses out there struggling to take advantage of the mobility factor. We have heard the corporate concerns about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and left it in the too hard basket. For SMEs, BYOD is mostly just not an issue as the servers and security systems in SMEs are flexible enough to work with whatever device staff bring along.
Certainly, if you have not yet looked at where your business can gain by getting mobilised it is time to consider it.
4. Virtualisation of server infrastructure
This is driving infrastructure efficiencies and also data and system recovery capabilities that once belonged only to the national and multinational companies. Instant fail-over from one server to another is now possible on a sub-$100K investment, allowing many medium firms to remove the threat of downtime. Site to site replication of these systems is also possible, making automated off-site backup an affordable reality.
5. Online shopping
Over the past couple of years, shoppers have really got the hang of spending money online and this is changing where new business opportunities lie for just about every business. Bricks and mortar stores still have their place but combining old with new or simply taking on the potential of millions of shoppers for your product or service is producing a new generation of ultra-wealthy entrepreneurs.
6. Availability of broadband
As NBN rolls out across Australia there will be potential for new activity and new types of business that did not exist before. This may be worth factoring into your business plans too.
While we are in a tough economic period, it is hard to get out from under all the problems to think innovation or adoption of new technology. It is possible the people who have been giving you advice over the past 12 years since the days of the dreaded “Y2K bug” are not the ones to take you on your journey into the ‘teen’ years.
Change is happening faster than ever and your agents for change need to be well-rounded and well-connected with what is happening in your industry and in the technology space. If you are not aware of how technology has changed recently in your industry it is probably worth looking around.
David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.