I was reading some forecast reports by IBM about Small and Medium Business (SMB) trends for 2012, and it’s reassuring to finally see an agreeable roadmap. In fact, here at TOAST.net we’ve been saying a lot of the same things as IBM for a few years now. SMB’s have under-invested in technology over the last 3-4 years, and in doing so have lost a lot of the edge needed to compete. Technology generates efficiency, which in turn lowers costs. Things that were preventing SMBs from expanding their technology base have been expense and the economy — understandable factors. However, 4 years ago nobody could have predicted the huge drop in tech costs due to cloud technology. It’s an exciting time for SMB owners because new advancements are allowing them to outmaneuver larger corporations and bring a competitive edge back to the marketplace. Here’s the top 5 areas SMBs should be focusing on for 2012 to stay ahead of the game:
The idea of running a server in-house these days will get you the same looks as asking the guy in Wal-Mart’s music aisle if they have Grand Funk Railroad on 8-track tape. On site servers are very impractical for the SMB — they’re expensive to run, expensive to maintain, present risk of theft, can be damaged, tend to be power hungry…there’s a long list of reasons they’re being shunned. As a shining example, I must speak to a half-dozen small companies a week having problems with their in-house Microsoft Exchange server. These people had their servers set up by a consultant ten years ago and have no idea how to adjust settings, correct problems, and in some cases they don’t even know who to contact for support. Hosting services such a mail, web sites, applications, and databases with a cloud service removes all of those problems. A web browser is used to log into all of your hosted services, giving you full administration without having to worry about the back-end support. The cost savings and efficiency of this move is astounding, so it’s no surprise so many business owners are making it part of their 2012 strategy.
This point goes hand in hand with the Cloud Computing trend. Smartphone and tablet usage is skyrocketing. A recent study reported that 28% of smartphone owners use them as their primary form of Internet access. Mobile devices inherently have limited storage and are designed to use web-based apps, so a mobile strategy is important. Designing your business to go mobile allows productivity outside the walls of an office. Data and email can be accessed anywhere, therefore extending contact with clients. Some business platforms, such as Google Apps, cater to this strategy by integrating email, office documents, scheduling, and task management into one web-based product that is equally accessible from any PC, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. Employees aren’t tied to a desktop computer in a cubicle anymore, so their strengths now have a wider area of influence.
Offsite web storage is a huge focus on today’s SMB. Since nobody wants to keep an on-site server anymore, a centralized and secure location to store company data must be employed. Web storage allows company records and backups to be accessed from any location, as well as providing off-site backup and disaster recovery options.
With the influx of all of these services and devices, training and customer engagement are high on the list for 2012. With any web-based service, you’ll want to make sure the proper resources are available to facilitate integration. I speak with customers all the time that need help because their transfer to a new mail system hit a snag and are not able to contact their host for help. Integration support makes moving to a new platform smooth and painless, and is a required resource when modernizing an infrastructure.