5 essential technologies for small businesses

5 essential technologies for small businesses

Summary: From media tablets to business intelligence, 2012 is likely to be a transformational year in technology optimized for small businesses.

TOPICS: SMBs, Browser

The Year in Review, the Year Ahead

When I started this blog just a few short months ago, I pledged to cover technology with the small business in mind from two distinct angles: applications and products that help small and midsize businesses (SMBs) improve operational efficiency, and software and services that can help SMBs drive new revenue (ala e-commerce and social media tools). With that in mind, I grabbed a glass of virgin eggnog and came up with this list of technology solutions that I believe will be essential for small businesses to evaluate or at least consider during 2012.

  1. Tablet computers. Of course, I'm not talking the tablet computer as in the concept that Microsoft has been shopping for more than a decade. I am talking about media tablets, with their sleek displays, touch screens and built-in digital video cameras. I am a firm believer that the real innovation in mobile computing solutions continues to be driven by small businesses, because they don't have to wait for all sorts of "approvals" to bring in new technologies. Skype is a prime example; it was an invaluable tool for small-business owners longer before Microsoft noticed it. But I digress. Suffice to say, I believe that solutions using Apple iPad devices and the various Android tablets will prove compelling in 2012. One area I plan to watch closely is their use as tools for store clerks to use while interacting with customers.
  2. Business intelligence applications. You have probably noticed the term "big data" being used more frequently in discussions about ways that managers can make more informed business decisions or strategy shifts. Big data isn't just for big companies. I think big data will come into play big-time for small businesses over the next 12 months. I noticed that SMB Technology Group recently published some research along these lines. Its research suggests that 16 percent of small businesses and 29 percent of midsize businesses have already bought a business intelligence solution in the past two years. Another 16 percent of small businesses and 28 percent of midsize businesses plan to make investments over the next 12 months. You will see tools from both the enterprise guys (ala IBM and Oracle) as well as applications optimized for small businesses and offered by start-ups.
  3. Social media marketing tools. This is actually somewhat related to the big data topic, because the reason that interactions in social networks are so interesting to so many businesses is because the services that run them enable managers to pull some very specific profile metrics about who, what, when and why. I know that many small businesses remain leery of social networks and social media like Twitter for two reasons: 1) They haven't really done that much marketing in the past and 2) It seems like a time suck. But for those companies that have already exploited email marketing as much as they can, social media is a logical progression.
  4. Cloud-driven storage and disaster recovery services. Cloud this, cloud that. I'll bet you are as sick of "the cloud" as I am. Yet, cloud-delivered services that offer capabilities that just weren't previously available to SMBs are pretty compelling. The most obvious example is Salesforce.com, which opened up a whole new world in salesforce automation. Another very relevant cloud category for small businesses surrounds storage, back-up and disaster recovery solutions, which previously were pretty "dear" for smaller companies. Cloud-based disaster recovery makes sense for one big reason: what's the point of backing up to a server that is located in the same site as the one being protected? Or to tapes stored in a basement across town?
  5. Video-enabled collaboration applications. Video chats and video-enabled IP telephony are creating new expectations for the way that people collaborate in the workplace. As telecommuting becomes more routine, video offers a way to stay better better connected through the next best thing to face-to-face contact. The fact is, conference calls without video are getting kind of tired, not to mention the fact that you might be missing out on visual cues that tell more of the "story" about what someone is saying.

What technology am I missing? What would like to see covered more in 2012?

Topics: SMBs, Browser

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  • RE: 5 essential technologies for small businesses

    Glad to see that cloud backup and disaster recovery made your list, Heather. For most SMBs, data is growing by 50 percent annually and it is pushing SMBs to their limit to successfully meet backup windows and manage data protection on a daily basis putting critical recovery and business continuity at risk. Picking the right approach (software, cloud, appliance) can be confusing for any SMB ??? especially those with limited IT staff. I work for Symantec and we???ve found that cloud-based backup and disaster recovery is well-suited for (1.) smaller companies where there is no on-site IT staff, (2.) smaller data sets ??? network bandwidth is a consideration when data sets are large, (3.) limited applications and databases on local servers ??? a limited number of local applications or databases generally means you have less data or applications to recover, (4.) no hardware for backup ??? businesses that have no plans to invest in, own and manage hardware, and (5.) remote offices ??? online backup helps relieve remote offices of backup duties so they can focus on business operation.

    Chris Halcon
    Chris Halcon
  • RE: 5 essential technologies for small businesses

    I would add a couple to these lists that can really help SMBs in todays climate. Most important for many SMBs is that they have a Social Enterprise Strategy. Internally. How they want to work with employees onsite or remote. Other areas.

    Social Recruiting - Companies like TheResumator, JobVite(for midsize orgs) to help you find the best staff quickly.
    Social Collaboration - Yammer, Socialcast etc,
    Document Collaboration - Box.net, Glasscubes etc.
    Social Goals - Collaborative approaches to connecting employees to performance. The latest Salesforce.com move last week and WorkSimple have built a platform that SMB employees love to use instead of performance reviews.
    Community Software to help customers give feedback and submit support tickets - Getsatisfaction, uservoice, zendesk
  • Tablets?

    As a small business owner, I can't justify the expense of tablets in their current state. For business productivity concerns, tablets are fairly limited to reading emails and pdf.

    I'm very interested in a Windows 8 tablet.
    • RE: 5 essential technologies for small businesses

      @retnep I was thinking the same thing. Tablets are just toys in their current forms and at their current price. Yes, they are useful in performing some tasks and as such will be feasible to only a portion of small businesses, not a majority.
  • RE: 5 essential technologies for small businesses

    if you are smaller company like us (singhinfotech) then you must try the awebdesk's email marketing software . It will really help you to make your business spread all over world. We get 68% business just bcozz of this product. you may find details to their homw page- http://awebdesk.com
  • All well and good...but

    Your suggestions are fine...but you need more than just the pieces. You need a system. Especially if your small business is more than a hand full of people. IT stuff starts to get complicated and you really need to find a system to manage systems end-to-end. Cloud services like SOLV (solvco.com) help SMBs get the IT of big businesses for low costs and very little management.