While companies across the board need to pay more attention to the business value of IT, such a focus is especially crucial for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), says a Canadian analyst.
SMBs “need to choose applications that will deliver the strongest business value,” says Michael Hyjek, research director for customer segments at Toronto-based analyst firm IDC Canada Ltd.
He says implementing new software can be a challenge for such firms given that they often have little or no IT infrastructure, and operate on limited resources.
With these businesses, he says, a small IT support group – if there’s one at all – usually bears the brunt of any rollout, and that includes training users on the new software.
According to Hyjek, SMBs need to be selective about which tools they implement and how they go about it.
Statistics indicate SMBs would do well to heed this caution.
An IDC survey of 300 Canadian SMB owners, conducted last year, indicates that end-user training and support, along with escalating operating costs, are some of the biggest hurdles SMBs face in running their business.
Some software vendors, who cater to this market segment, are attempting to address these needs in their new product offerings.
For instance, Edmonton-based Intuit Canada Inc. says its latest lineup of accounting software provides an antidote to the resource challenges SMBs frequently face.
The company says its QuickBooks 2007 line of accounting software makes it easy for small business owners to perform fairly complex accounting tasks without actually being accountants.
The various versions of QuickBooks allow easy integration into SMB IT environments, data sharing between applications, and support and training services, says Barbara Anderson, group marketing manager for small business at Intuit Canada.
“These products and services help small business owners spend less time on accounting and more on business.”
The various versions of QuickBook 2007 target specific groups and tasks. For instance, QuickBooks EasyStart is designed for new and home-based businesses, while QuickBooks Pro caters to businesses that need to track inventory, do payroll and run reports.
This concept of user-friendly technology that directly supports the business also underlies the range of services that complement the QuickBook products, the company says.
These include the QuickBooks Online community – a forum for SMB users and industry experts to share software tips and general small business ideas.
Through another service offering — dubbed the ProAdvisor program – members are provided the software, support, training, and resources to become QuickBook experts and provide support to their QuickBooks clients.
Members can potentially grow their practice by becoming Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisors. The program reportedly has a membership of 5,400 certified accountants and consultants.
Intuit says the cross-integration between several software applications in the lineup also helps users meet diverse business needs.
For instance, it says QuickTax Business integrates with the QuickBooks accounting software so data can be shared when it comes to tax filing season.
“To offer a successful package, there needs to be an integration and file sharing capability,” says Brad Card, product manager for QuickBooks at Intuit Canada. “It’s what saves a lot of time and decreases errors in trying to transpose data manually.”
Card says in addition to integration among themselves, the QuickBook products operate with commonly used software.
The lineup integrates with Microsoft Outlook, Excel and Word to allow users to export and format reports in familiar environments.
The company is in the midst of testing compatibility with Office 2007, says Card.
QuickBooks products, he says, are interoperable with native client management software.
Such compatibility with native environments is important for SMBs that may garner greater user acceptance with a familiar interface, according to Hyjek.
There’s also value in industry- and workflow-specific functionality, the analyst says.
He cites the example of the QuickBooks’ software developer kits that enable third-party developers to build customized applications – such as tailored invoicing or time tracker tools – that integrate with QuickBooks.
QuickBooks Premier also offers eight industry-specific editions including contractor, not-for-profit, and manufacturing.
To be valuable to an SMB, the software offering’s features would need to suit the vertical in which the business operates, says Hyjek. “A firm in the construction industry, for instance, would use different verbiage, and have different ways of doing business than, say, a manufacturer or lawyer.”
While Intuit Canada’s business focus, thus far, has predominantly been the SMB market, Anderson doesn’t foresee the company venturing into the enterprise space anytime soon. “Until we have a good solution we can resource well, we’re not going to move up. We want to focus on what we do well.”