Ride the 3 waves of IT adoption

Small and medium-size businesses typically go through three phases of IT adoption.

The level of IT adoption varies from one business to another, and it depends on the firm's specific business needs.

According to IT research and consulting firm AMI-Partners, small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) typically go through three phases of IT adoption.

In the first wave, an SMB looks to build its basic IT infrastructure. This covers PCs, printers, desktop software applications, Internet access and operating systems.

Once the infrastructure is in place, the SMB is ready to ride the second wave: communications and networking.
Once the infrastructure is in place, the SMB is ready to ride the second wave, which is to deploy communications and networking technologies. At this stage, the SMB’s interest will be in setting up a basic Web site, subscribe to broadband and even wireless communications, and explore networks like P2P (peer-to-peer) and server LANs (local area networks).

As the business expands, the SMB will need to leverage the Web and more of what IT can offer. In this third wave, SMB owners adopt technologies and services like virtual private networks which enable secure communications through a dedicated server to a corporate network over the Internet, or business applications, such as CRM (customer relationship management), SFA (sales force automation), SCM (supply chain management), and ERP (enterprises resource planning).

Adapting to change
Most SMBs would agree that the right thing to do is not to adopt technology for technology's sake, but to pick the right IT tools that allow them to adapt and innovate for survival and growth.

Here are four key areas that SMBs can adopt in 2005 to enhance their business competitiveness:

1. Connectivity and security infrastructure
Phrases like "always on", "24x7" and "work anywhere, anytime" are all about connectivity. In an increasingly connected trading environment, SMBs cannot do without broadband and e-mail to communicate securely with customers, suppliers, partners and employees who may be geographically dispersed. The importance of data availability and continuous access to business applications are also important, and it means having the appropriate servers, storage and backup strategy.

2. Mobility infrastructure
SMBs can also turn to mobile solutions, including portable handhelds, Wi-Fi and IP telephony. The salesforce of Sin Hwa Dee Food Industries, a leading sauce-maker in Singapore, use HP’s iPAQ Pocket PCs for improved productivity. These devices help staff reduce mistakes in order taking and inventory stocking, and provide them with real-time access to reports, trend and other business information for quick decision-making.

3. Business process management/automation
As SMBs grow and their business processes become more complex, they may require solutions such as ERP and CRM. New Zealand’s leading importer and distributor of materials for the sign and display industry, Signwriters Supplies, outgrew its accounting and stock management systems and implemented SAP's Business One software running on HP servers.

4. Services
Installation, maintenance and monitoring of IT systems, financing and IT consulting are becoming more relevant as SMBs realize the importance of focusing on their core competencies. LT Sdn Bhd, a property managing agent in Malaysia, implemented a document workflow solution that comprised the HP OfficeJet 9130 which provides fast, high-quality digitalized hard copies that can be easily edited, manipulated and archived, and a HP JetCAPS Megaform server software which replaces pre-printed forms with fast, high-quality laser printed alternative.

However, the difference is that the solution was a per-per-use service that also provided LT with 24x7 support, regular reports on consumption, and automatic replenishment without incurring upfront purchase cost.

SMBs can compete with the larger, or even global, competitors by using IT to drive innovation, enhance understanding of customers, and pursue new markets afforded by technology.

Dennis Mark is the vice president and general manager of HP Asia-Pacific's Commercial Accounts and SMB Customer Solutions Organization. He is also a member of the CNETAsia SMB Advisory Board.

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