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Convergence boosts small business efficiency, productivity

Small businesses are investing in new technology that makes make them more efficient and increasingly versatile.

“People are definitely keeping up with the times,” says Mike Freeman, network administrator for Owens Business Machines in Hattiesburg. “Upgrading technology gives versatility to access e-mail remotely, and makes sharing and disseminating of information much faster and more reliable.”

As far as software, Microsoft products are the big sellers. Freeman says small businesses under 75 employees are using Small Business Server 2003, an operating system that gives them the ability to have their own mail server and their own name in e-mail addresses.

“Small Business Server 2003 provides a central repository for storing all data files, and for inner office and Internet e-mail functions,” Freeman said. “You can also have an integrated backup system that you can restore in case of fire or natural disaster. Data recovery backup is very high on the list of priorities for small businesses. Especially since Katrina, a lot of folks are really paying attention to that, which is a good thing.”

Freeman says the other main trend they are seeing is the integration of printers, scanners and copy machines. You can have one device on the network you print to. You can fax from the desktop without printing anything.

“What you used to do with your filing cabinet you can do digitally,” he says. “It makes getting to your documents much easier. It is a big step towards the paperless office. That has been a big trend in the past few years, especially for the legal and medical office environments.”

‘One big basket’

Ray Lenow, president of Infoware in Madison, says the overall convergence of technology is a hot trend in business today.

“Technology is moving into one big basket where things begin to work together,” Lenow says. “Tools come together as one tool to do multiple kinds of jobs. That is where things are moving. You find this in a number of different areas. I refer to the general management of business falling into three C’s: communications, computers and copiers. These are tools people use to fulfill productivity. Years ago, I used to segment those activities into three different product sets. Today, with the convergence of technology, things are changing drastically.”

Instead of separate printers, copiers and fax machines cluttering the desktop, all requiring different types of cartridges plus power outlets, today there are multi-function products that fulfill all three of those functions as well as providing the capability of scanning electronic copies.

“If it is a printer that is tied to the network, you can go to the printer, scan a document and e-mail it out to the Internet,” Lenow said. “The printer is no longer just a printer, but a means of communication. You can scan a document, create a PDF file and store that image or document right on the computer hard drive. You save it, give it a name and are able to retrieve it. You can attach the file, add a note and send it to as many people as needed. They have it within minutes as opposed to printing it out, putting it in an envelope, putting a stamp on it and mailing it. Productivity has increased drastically by utilization of the technologies today and the convergence of these technologies. “

Efficient communication

Efficient communication tends to be one of the most important issues for small businesses regarding technology. In addition to e-mail, there have been major changes in telephone systems.

“Telephone systems are another area of automation that is working well,” Lenow says. “Telephone equipment is no longer the same type of equipment it used to be. It used to be that businesses would outgrow their PBX phone system. With the phone systems of today, we have voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) systems that utilize the new technology of the Local Area Network (LAN) for connecting phones. So when you put a voice-over-Internet protocol, you don’t run it over the same phone lines, but over computer lines.”

Sources said other aspects of technology upgrades important to small business include investing in storage capacity for computers. Adequate security and spam filters are other increasingly important issue for businesses. There is a lot of wireless deployment happening, as well.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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