Technology is the great equalizer in business. It provides a level playing field where small business owners can compete with large enterprises—across the country or around the globe. The software and hardware options currently available to small business entrepreneurs are far more varied, powerful, and affordable than they were just a few years ago.
Cloud-based technology platforms, many designed with small businesses in mind, include features and functionality once available only to large firms. This democratization of technology blurs the line between tools intended for enterprise and those built for small businesses, and smart small business entrepreneurs are taking advantage of everything the technology marketplace has to offer.
Small Business Meets Enterprise Technology
John Lee, co-founder and CEO of ProsperWorks, a cloud-based, cross-platform CRM solution, says part of the reason lines are blurring between small business technology and big business solutions is the increased accessibility and consumerization of software.
"Software used to be installed at the company's premises," he explains. That resource-intensive undertaking usually required help from a third-party technology vendor or a team of internal IT specialists. Today's cloud-based software is both more accessible and more intuitive.
"Software now is designed to look, feel, and act like consumer software," Lee says. Cloud computing replaces once-difficult deployments with more user-friendly launches, making it easier for small businesses to install, use, and maintain their IT systems without—or with less—outside help.
Another factor drives the blurring between enterprise and small business technology platforms: money.
"Delivering software and applications through the cloud dramatically lowers the cost of entry for small business," says Chris Sullens, president and CEO of WorkWave, a cloud-based field-service and fleet-management platform. Not only can entrepreneurs deploy a particular technology for less money up front, they can also minimize their expenses over time; they don't need to spend as much on hardware and in-house expertise to maintain those systems.
Mobile devices also help small businesses reduce their tech investment requirements while improving their productivity in the field. "Relatively low-cost smartphones put massive power, functionality, features and applications at their fingertips. Mobile technology lets small business owners track what's going on in the field and improve the overall customer experience," says Sullens. And mobile apps let entrepreneurs take the power of traditional desktop software wherever they go.
Customer Expectations Drive Technology Innovation
Technology has set customer expectation at a very high level—an expectation that now applies to every business of every size. Customers demand more of small businesses than ever before.
"Here's the reality; no matter what size business you own, you have to provide a minimum level of service," says Sullens. "Customers want their interactions to be fast, easy, and satisfying, regardless of the business's size." And what's more, they expect big-company capabilities combined with small-company service.
But small businesses have an advantage that their larger competition does not: they're agile, and they can adapt to change quickly. "Every small business has the ability to be nimble and to change on a dime," says Lee.
Democratized technology in the form of cloud computing and affordably priced, enterprise-grade tools gives business owners new ways to deliver a world-class experience without sacrificing the one-on-one service that really connects them with customers.
App Stores: Small Businesses Reap Benefits
An expanding marketplace for software apps offers small business owners a way to easily discover a broad array of technology solutions. Google Play and Apple's App Store are just two outlets in a growing field where entrepreneurs can find new software.
Integrating apps so that they play well with existing software has also improved significantly. "These applications plug right into your existing tools," Lee says. With multiple places to find and download new apps, the time between discovering a new software platform and efficient use can be just minutes in many cases.
Better integration across the latest crop of technology tools pays off in other ways, too. Sullens says small businesses can tap into multiple benefits at the same time, such as route optimization along with field access to backend programs such as CRM systems and invoicing platforms.
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These combined technologies provide dual benefits, says Sullens; they "can increase employee productivity and it can reduce costs." Route optimization, for example, makes drive times more efficient for field workers. You can give customers tighter time windows for service visits, and the technician can send an invoice directly from the jobsite. "The service improves along with the productivity," says Sullens.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from food service to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractormagazine.
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