Dont tell Michael Barrera that small businesses are a marginal part of the U.S. economy.
Barrera, national ombudsman for the U.S. Small Business Administration, in Washington, will be happy to give you chapter and verse on the effect small businesses have and the huge role they play in keeping the country running.
"Small business is not small: About 97 percent of all businesses are small businesses. They employ over 51 percent of everyone employed, and 66 percent of all new Net jobs are created by small businesses," Barrera said during his keynote address last month at Ziff Davis Media Inc.s online technology trade show for SMBs (small and midsize businesses).
The two-day event featured several expert panels advising SMBs on some of the most pressing technology decisions they face, including strategies for enterprise applications, printing and document management, and security.
"The number of options is truly overwhelming," said panelist Ann Westerheim, president of Ekaru LLC, a technology services SMB in Westford, Mass. "The applications emerging now are within reach of SMBs and cover all business functions."
Increasingly, SMBs are considering hosted application service providers, such as Salesforce.com Inc. and Intacct Corp., because they allow businesses to access applications through a Web browser, eliminating the costs of buying and managing in-house servers, Westerheim said. However, Westerheim also cautioned that hosted solutions still present obstacles.
"Many customers arent comfortable with having their data far away," she said. Furthermore, hosted applications depend on Internet reliability, Westerheim said.
Microsoft Corp. is changing the enterprise application landscape for SMBs, panelists said. The Redmond, Wash., companys CRM (customer relationship management) applications offer familiarity and integration with existing Microsoft desktop software, Westerheim said. However, she acknowledged, Microsoft relies on partners to provide support, and the quality of VARs varies.
As with enterprise applications, there is an increasing supply of printers targeted at and priced for the SMB market. But panelists urged SMBs to look beyond hardware prices when calculating the total cost of ownership.
For example, when deciding whether to buy wide-format printers or to outsource such printing jobs, small businesses should evaluate whether they have the in-house skills to operate these printers or the desire and time to learn, said Tom Reid, president of Coated Solutions Inc., a consultancy in Half Moon Bay, Calif. "These are not plug-and-play devices," Reid said.
When calculating the overall costs of in-house printing, SMBs should consider such factors as software, consumables, maintenance and media costs, Reid said. Other factors to consider include the quality and type of prints required, frequency of printing, and monthly output.