Stuart R. Crawford (Calgary, AB - Business Development Manager of IT Matters)
2008 will be here before you know it - are you ready with what the market will throw at you in a couple of months? With 2008 just around the corner, now is a good time to start the discussion of what needs to be the focus areas in 2008 for the small business IT professional and small business specialist.
In 2007 we experienced a tremendous amount of innovation in the small business technology world. Innovation included releases of a new desktop operating system, new productivity suites of applications and enhanced methods to share information and communicate with each other. 2008 will be no different! The excitement around new versions of the Windows Server operating system that will scale from the smallest of business requirements right through to the largest of enterprises offerings. Plus we will see new innovation with how business manage, share and secure corporate data and how applications are written that deliver solutions to today’s global economy.
However, I personally do not feel that our focus be totally on the ones and zeros around all of this new technology. Small business owners, managers and users today do not care about what the technology specifications are, they have business needs that must be addressed and they need to be running all the time. Downtime, breakdowns and complicated solutions are not an option in today’s one world market.
Where will today’s IT professional or small business specialist be focusing their efforts for the upcoming year in order to grow their business sustainably in 2008? Here are some ideas to kick start the planning processes for 2008:
- Focus on people – Small Business does business with those who they trust and can establish a relationship with. It is not about the speeds and feeds any longer, small business owners don’t care about how fast something runs or how much memory is in a laptop. Meeting business needs is no longer expectable by throwing technology at a problem, it is now about exceed expectations and having their technology investments work. The systems or software most of the time is transparent to the end user.
- The importance of data – Having their data accessible and secured is very important to small business. Data has to be managed and controlled and combined with ease of access. Complicated file shares and network systems are no longer acceptable to the end users. Data must be accessible to enhance collaboration and sharing throughout any organization. Small Business IT firms that understand and promote the importance of data, who can offer their clients services like the SharePoint Starter Site and Exchange mail services through their mail clients, mobile telephones and web access will win in the end.
- Securing Small Business – As the world shrinks in size when it comes to business, emerging threats continue to show their ugly face and threaten commerce. Securing small business will continue a challenge for the small business specialist. It must be a main focus for many of us in the IT community. Luckily, we haven’t seen a major virus outbreak for a while; however, the threats are still out there. Educating small business against the threats from social engineering, corporate espionage and also the “threat from within” must be a major focal point in 2008. As social networking gains momentum, small business needs to understand the importance of ensuring information flow is secure without jeopardizing productivity. Small Business IT Professionals that offer their clients a managed firewall service that controls SPAM, virus, spyware and other threats will have a competitive advantage of those who offer transactional firewalling solutions.
- Business Process – How small business does business will be an important trend for the small business IT professional to understand in 2008. If a small business consulting firm can master how small business does business and how information flows within their clients will end up ahead in 2008. Business Intelligence services that once purely an enterprise play will start to move into the small business space. Those who master this will come out of 2008 with a definite advantage.
- IT as a Service – Managed Services is all the buzz in the SMB community it has been for a number of years, however, in 2008 the focus on “as a service” will grow, firms that can offer software or hardware as a service will have a competitive advantage over those who do not, and those that can bundle their complete IT solutions as a service will win in the end. It will no longer matter how it is structured from a billing perspective, (annual, monthly, weekly or hourly) the service component is the important key and this is what small business is after.
- The Complete Solution – SMB consultants that can deliver the complete solution will win in 2008. This is nothing new, small business wants a solutions partner that can offer the complete end to end offering. From systems, software, solutions and service, today’s small business client needs to be "under" one umbrella. Partnering will continue to be an advantage in the marketplace. Partnering to extend geographic service, specialty services and complete services must be on the top of your list to achieve in the early part of 2008. Those firms that can extend their service offering to other partners will have a strong advantage over those who just stick to their own small silo.
- Marketing – The small business consulting firm that can market all of this effectively will hold the trump card over those that do not see the importance of marketing. There has been a lack of focus on the importance of marketing with small business partners over the past few years, while those that continued to actively market have grown faster and have separated themselves from the masses. Small Business partners must have a resource dedicated to marketing in 2008. This can be outsourced or hired in-house. One word of advice to the owners of small business firms, you are responsible for the strategic marketing direction, never outsource that component. If you are not comfortable with marketing, seek the advice of someone who can help you. There are a number of great marketing coaches and consultants that can assist you.
- Strength in Peers – Teaming up with peers will continue its strong momentum in 2008. Once again, no IT firm can know everything nor do everything. This is where having a strong peer group relationship is vital to the success of your business. Information and idea sharing, technical specialties, and relationships are keys to success in the IT business. TechSelect and Heartland Technology Groups offer peer group services to firms that specialize in small business and are open to sharing information, best practices and resources with each other. Our involvement in the Heartland Peer Groups has been a key to the success of my business and offers us a competitive advantage over firms that have not engaged in this business practice.
“I think the marketing continues to present great opportunities for partners who execute, deliver great service, and provide true solutions to clients...and that's where we're focusing for 2008,” states Erik Thorsell, President of Minneapolis’ Success Computer Consulting. “Managed services support for network infrastructure is important, but that doesn't get our business owner-clients excited...solutions do! If we can provide technology that solves business problems, makes work better, faster or cheaper, then we all win!”
2008 will be an exciting year in the small business space across the globe, boundaries will continue to disappear in our global economy, peer relations will strengthen, and collaboration will continue to become more and more important to small business, however, it needs to happen in a secure fashion so that small business can maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace that they service.