Technology for Small Businesses – 3 Questions Owners Should Ask

Entering the mind of a small business owner you will find a tactical and strategic thinker. This is a person who has chosen to put their livelihood in their own hands and accepts complete responsibility for pleasing enough customers and clients every month to pay the bills and put food on the table. Perhaps small business people understand best what a technology solution costs as any significant investment may come directly from their pocket.


Three Questions Small Business Owners Need To Ask -


  • Why is it important for a small business to leverage technology?

Empowerment is the catch word of the technology industry.  In a sales organization, the time it takes to process an order for example competes directly with the time someone spends getting the next order or talking with the client. In a construction business, having the right information at your disposal allows you to inform your crew of the plans for the day, required equipment and materials which in turn will decrease down time. Having the right information at the right time can reduce mistakes, decrease the need to clarify and streamline your daily tasks.


Although every business is different suffice it to say that small businesses are loaded with information and how that business uses or communicates information can bring strategic advantage. Some tasks take longer while others are short and repetitive. All businesses handle information in one way or another. Technology Empowerment is all about maximizing the ability to handle information in a way that adds efficiency to your business.


As much as some small business people may think this does not apply to their business, there are no exceptions. Once you as the business owner or business influencer realize that technology is about efficiency and professionalism you will have realized why you need to make strategic investments in technology.


  • What does it mean to make strategic investments in technology?

“So a guy shows up at the door one day and he has got a hot technology solution for my business, industry references and a Return on Investment (ROI) model that shows I am going to pay for the entire thing in six months with all the efficiencies I am going to gain. Everything looked good but six months have come and gone and the investment hasn’t panned out yet. In the mean time we have had to invest in additional technology and the costs are out of control. What happened?”


Unfortunately some technology can be great for your business but your business is not yet a perfect match for the technology. Buying technology because you are introduced to it by a sales representative is often not the best course of action.


Businesses need an independent look at where they stand and where they want to go. Using a technology consultant will insert expertise helping you understand what is available and what you should look to accomplish. Businesses need to plan strategically taking into consideration their budget, the technologies needed to support other technologies and evaluating which technologies will maximize their competitive advantage.


Like the foundation of a house supports the house itself, technology needs to be laid down in layers with each layer supporting the next. Unlike housing there is no building code for technology solutions so the small business owner takes on the responsibility of ensuring that they are making the right choices for their “Technology House”. These are big decisions with big potential returns and like lawyers and accountants have their place in their fields; technology consultants are a valuable new resource for small businesses.


  • Why does a small business need to look at technology as an investment?

“I have $10,000. Do I put it in the bank, hire a new person, buy another truck or buy that software?”


The question above identifies four forms of investment. Each one will have a business benefit and our job is to try to determine a way to evaluate them equally. As a business owner you should ask yourself the question related to a business problem like “We are too busy and I have $10,000 what should I do?” Write your answer down because it is important to understand what your tendency is going to be.


Each can be broken down into cost, maintenance costs and increased productivity which generates more revenue. If you work through the exercise with each, often you will find that Software and another truck (or other tool) provides the best return on investment because they increase productivity and have low on going maintenance costs. Software generally wins since its productivity increases affect the greatest number of people.


When technology projects get started in a small business it is important that the return be calculated so that the right projects are implemented and IT dollars are maximized.


 


Small Business Server 2003 Premium Establishes A Technology Baseline.


Microsoft has bundled the technology baseline for small businesses into one package. With core functionality that covers Databases, Collaboration, Security, Remote Worker Access, Communications and many more features, SBS is the ideal package for small businesses. And it is extensible, meaning that more software vendors produce software that is designed to work with the technologies included in SBS than any other package out there.


When considering technology investments appropriate for your business ask you technology consultant about Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 Premium.


Jeff Loucks
Available Technology
www.availabletechnology.com


 

Government Funding for Research and Innovation in Small Businesses.

When it comes to government investment in research and development different countries have different implementations of their incentives to research and development. In the USA, a competitive structure of grants empowers businesses by direct cash infusions. In Canada a system of tax refunds/credits are non competitive incentives to invest in R&D for small businesses.


On the one hand, the US system encourages new ventures who do not have a track record or established business to invest in completely new innovations. Although this is not always the case, the competitive system limits funding based on a specific budget per year.


In Canada, the system is more about innovation within existing business which is perhaps a lower risk approach since businesses have already overcome the hurdles of establishing a business model. The Canadian model also does not limit the amount of money available to small businesses as the criteria are non-competitive and focus on set criteria for funding.


Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) - USA


The SBIR is a US funding program aimed at promoting research and development in the “Small Business” sector. Aimed at encouraging innovation in high risk sectors, the SBIR makes funds available for companies looking to invest in new research campaigns.


SBIR targets the entrepreneurial sector because that is where most innovation and innovators thrive. However, the risk and expense of conducting serious R&D efforts are often beyond the means of many small businesses. By reserving a specific percentage of federal R&D funds for small business, SBIR protects the small business and enables it to compete on the same level as larger businesses. SBIR funds the critical startup and development stages and it encourages the commercialization of the technology, product, or service, which, in turn, stimulates the U.S. economy.


For more information: http://www.sba.gov/sbir/indexsbir-sttr.html

Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR) - USA

STTR is an important new small business program that expands funding opportunities in the federal innovation research and development arena. Central to the program is expansion of the public/private sector partnership to include the joint venture opportunities for small business and the nation’s premier nonprofit research institutions. STTR’s most important role is to foster the innovation necessary to meet the nation’s scientific and technological challenges in the 21st century.

STTR is a highly competitive program that reserves a specific percentage of federal R&D funding for award to small business and nonprofit research institution partners. Small business has long been where innovation and innovators thrive. But the risk and expense of conducting serious R&D efforts can be beyond the means of many small businesses.

Conversely, nonprofit research laboratories are instrumental in developing high-tech innovations. But frequently, innovation is confined to the theoretical, not the practical. STTR combines the strengths of both entities by introducing entrepreneurial skills to high-tech research efforts. The technologies and products are transferred from the laboratory to the marketplace. The small business profits from the commercialization, which, in turn, stimulates the U.S. economy.

For more information: http://www.sba.gov/sbir/indexsbir-sttr.html

Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) - Canada

The SR&ED Program is an incentive program designed to encourage R&D in Canada. The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) administers the program.

Each year, the CCRA receives over 11,000 claims from companies participating in the program. Of these, about 75% are small companies whose claims for R&D expenditures generally range from $20,000 to $2,000,000. Qualifying companies get money back as an income tax refund, an investment tax credit, or a combination of refund and credit.

“E.QU.I.P. International is a young company that has grown very rapidly since its beginnings in Chicoutimi, Quebec in 1988.The development costs at E.QU.I.P. have been substantial and there is no doubt that the support that the company has received from the SR&ED Program has been of tremendous assistance in achieving the status currently enjoyed.”

David Aston,Technical Director,
E.QU.I.P. International Inc.

For more information: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/taxcredit/sred/publications/rc4290-e.html

Technology Investment for Information Worker based businesses

Information workers see major gains in productivity by using the collaboration systems included in Small Business Server 2003. The collaboration technologies and mobility features allow users the flexibility to form virtual teams and create synergies that traditional technologies did not offer.

Sharepoint Services allow sharing of project data, documents, meeting information, research results, and more through internal websites helping to centralize information while protecting access through advanced security.

Remote Access with Remote Web Workplace, a technology that allow a user to securely log on to his/her workstation from anywhere in the world, allow unprecedented flexibility to continue working from remote locations during seminars, conferences and other business related activities.

Independent researcher have noted Small Business Server 2003 greatly reduces overhead IT costs while empowering Information Workers resulting in extremely fast Returns on Investment. Any company looking improve their bottom line should consider investing in technology that reduces costs and improves operational efficiencies.

Jeff Loucks
Available Technology
www.availabletechnology.com