Small Biz Goes High Tech

The tools are readily available, but a technology plan is crucial for success in today's business environment

For Jeanette Sanderson Patterson, integrating technology into her business was not a choice, but a necessity. Patterson, owner of Sanderson Design, an interior design firm based in Oakland, California, was prodded by a customer to upgrade the technology in her firm. “One of my clients told me point-blank, ‘you’ve got to get rid of the dotmatrix printer,’” she says with a laugh. But it was no laughing matter. Patterson, who had just opened her business in 1993, realized if her materials didn’t look as professional as those of larger, more experienced firms, she couldn’t compete with them. Facing the grim reality of losing customers or failing to attract new clients, Patterson invested in more than just technology: she invested in a new way of doing business. She realized that finding the right software was even more critical than the hardware.

Patterson’s story is not unique. Small and large businesses are realizing the benefits of integrating technology into their operations. While the initial capital outlay may make some business owners chafe, the return on investment will save you money in the process. From accounting applications that help manage your finances to presentation software, technology can help make your business more efficient and more profitable. It is imperative that you prepare your firm to do business in the digital age, especially those businesses that supply government agencies. State and federal agencies are rapidly moving toward electronic bids and contracts to reduce overhead and lead time.

WHERE DO YOU START?
Research is very important in deciding which technologies fit your business plan, your budget and your staff while making your organization more effective and efficient.

“There are three key areas that business owners should look to integrate technology into their organizations: communications, data storage, and retrieval and accounting,” says Noland Joiner, a partner at Business Systems Engineering Inc. (BSE), a Chicagobased information technology firm. But before you implement any hardware or software solution, you must understand where technology fits into your business and which processes are best served by automation.

He suggests the following three steps for small businesses before they buy any technology: Review your business plan and determine your goals for tile next three to five years from an operational, marketing and human resources standpoint. Interview your staff to understand what they’re trying to achieve and which tools will help them work better. It’s important to make sure you assess the level of computer skills in the organization before you make any purchases. “You can have the best software package in the world, and it won’t do you a bit of good if your staff can’t use it,” says Nathan Paige, CEO and managing partner at BSE.

CORE OFFICE FUNCTIONS
The first place to begin integrating technology is your core office functions such as word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheets and presentation software. Creating customer databases and internal and external correspondence via phone, fax and e-mail is also important. Unless your business is highly specialized, an office suite such as Microsoft Office 97, Lotus Suite or Corel Office

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