A week ago, I was struggling with what, exactly, to write for the first post in this new ZDNet log. My post-hurricane teleworking experience in Northern New Jersey provided the perfect inspiration. That is because it reminded me of the creativity that drives the way small and midsize businesses (SMBs) consume technology. They use what makes sense to them. And this is why every tech company is falling all over itself to break into the SMB market.
No power at your office? Take your notebook computer and make your way to the local coffee shop or library to juice up. No clear answer on when your Internet or land-line phone service will be back? Turn your smartphone into a Wi-Fi hot spot for an extra $15 per month on your wireless data plan.
Mind you, I know I was very lucky to find these resources in post-Irene New Jersey, and things don't always work work out so smoothly for small businesses. But I also know that thinking out-of-the-box in order to get the job done from virtually anywhere is something that entrepreneurial SMBs do every day. They simply will not be defined by some big company's view of what a work environment should look like.
For SMBs, technology is turning out to be the ultimate leveler and enabler. That's why the most innovative applications and technology developments are showing up first for the SMB market and then later for the enterprise. Google Apps. Skype. The list goes on. Small-business creativity is also why technologies that were previously categorized as being for "consumers" have found a fervent following in the workplace. The most vivid example: media tablet computers.
I have covered business technology for more than two decades, writing for publications including Entrepreneur magazine and The New York Times. For almost that long, the big high-tech companies have been trying to concoct the perfect magic formula for the SMB market. Newsflash: Until you think like an entrepreneur, you can't reach the entrepreneur.
In my mind, there are two clear turning points in the SMB technology movement.
- The proliferation of internet broadband, in both wired and wireless forms
- The rise of mobile computing, including notebooks, smartphones and tablet computers
Microsoft's bid to get its hands on Skype is testament to just how much influence SMBs now have on technology design and development. Without really trying, Skype built huge cachet with small businesses, which quickly grasped how much money could be saved by using the internet calling service and flocked to it in droves without anyone telling them to do so. This success story has become the competitive envy of everyone from IBM to Cisco to Google, which have coveted the SMB customer for years.
This rather untraditional ZDNet blog, Small Business Matters, is dedicated to highlighting the applications, services, technologies and trends that could have as much influence on SMB work habits and operations as Skype proved to have on SMB communications. Here are the sorts of thing you'll see covered, although there really are no limits:
- E-commerce software and platforms, including ongoing coverage of options from Amazon and eBay
- Technologies that make SMB Web sites better, such as customer service applications and widgets
- The best social media and social marketing tools for SMBs
- Accounting software and operational efficiency tools and services, including Intuit and NetSuite
- Cloud-based SMB productivity options such as Zoho and Google Apps
- Unified communications applications, SMB networking and IP telephony
- SMB data center and cloud computing options
- SMB hardware including desktop computers, notebooks, printers and storage devices
- SMB support and service offerings, including how to find an IT services company you can trust