Sunday, April 27, 2008

Technology and Small Business

I was recently on a panel called Technology and Small Business sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at its annual Small Business Summit. Other participants included Ronald Monford, President and CEO, Mind Over Machines, Inc.; Kevin Hourigan, CEO, Bayshore Solutions and a finalist for the Small Business of the Year Award; Eric Reed, Vice President, Verizon Communications. It was one of the most engaging panels I have participated in. Below is the reporting of my introductory comments. Full coverage of the lively panel discussion written by Ricardo Haven can be found at the Chamber's main blog site.

Bob Mathew went first, and introduced his company, Catalyst Web Services, as one "founded by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs". They offer a web-based suite of core IT applications that cover small business needs such as email, electronic documents and collaboration.

In this area of "Software as a Service" (SaaS), Bob notes that it's been small business that's driving the technology forward, and that for most, it's a great fit.

He goes on to answer his rhetorical question of how this fits in with trends in the global economy with three answers:

1. Geographic dispersion of people. People work from different places, in virtual teams, and partner with other businesses. This trend isn't just international, but local as well with people living in different suburbs.

2. Green. Rising fuel costs are really forcing consideration of alternatives to physical proximity, and while options like telecommuting aren't necessarily for every business (or for every day), new technologies are improving on the limitations of old ones like VPN.

3. Global. Markets are increasingly global, and being web-based means being accessible anywhere, at anytime. For example, they noticed a large increase in business from places like Australia when their system became Mac compatible - not something they really considered would happen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Changing Face of Small Business

In two days, I will have the privilege of being on a panel sponsored by the United States Chamber of Commerce. I will be on the Small Business Technology panel at America's Small Business Summit sponsored by the Chamber. Some of the questions that we as panelists were asked include: How are small businesses using new technology to improve the way they do business? How will the rising costs of fuel and transportation impact small and medium sized businesses?

Answers to these questions depend on what small businesses will look like in the future. I see two trends emerging. First, small businesses are becoming virtual; they are increasingly teaming up with other small businesses on specific projects for specific clients. This allows them to be nimble and to partner with the very best. Second, more and more small businesses are allowing their employees to work from home. It used to be that only large businesses would allow telecommuting. While telecommuting is not for every business, it can make sense for a variety of small businesses like consulting and graphic design. And even if doesn't make sense to allow telecommuting five days a week, it may make sense to allow it one day a week.

This brings me back to technology. Both trends I describe above are growing hand-in-hand with Web-based technology solutions. Like on-demand software and Web-based email and document management. Technology cannot be separated from the processes and ultimately the people who use them. As small businesses evolve in the future, so will technology. As small businesses become more virtual, Web-based applications are being adopted in greater numbers. There is no sign that this trend will recede in the future.