Small Business Owners in HRM are Technology Savvy

If ever I had to put together an army, I’d recruit Costco shoppers for their sheer loyalty. My comments in last month’s column garnered more feedback than usual, most of it illuminating the privileges of membership which I so callously discounted in my remarks.

In my world, the privileges of membership usually relate to technology groups. One such group is the company I work for, and recently my business partner, Dave Nicholson, did a survey  to find out how small and medium-sized enterprises – SMEs – in the Halifax Regional Municipality make use of technology.

What he found was quite interesting.

For starters, SME owners are quite computer literate, with everybody using some form of computer technology and the majority of SMEs employing up to nine computers. Over half the respondents, however, reported not having a centralized server which means they probably don’t enjoy the benefits of such things as centralized data storage and backups, print services, and enterprise-wide collaboration tools.

The vast majority still use Windows XP in spite of Vista being out for over two years. A small percentage use Macintoshes, but most people use some flavour of a Microsoft operating system. It looks like Vista will never see the light of day in many SMEs as its replacement, Windows 7, is being released now.

As with desktop computers, servers are typically run by Microsoft operating systems, although only slightly more than half are running the latest release. It has been a perennial struggle for Microsoft to get companies to upgrade their software, even if these companies have paid for the licences and the CDs are in their possession. That’s because upgrading is seldom straightforward, and staff have to get used to new ways of doing their day-to-day tasks on their computers.

We also found the businesses in HRM to be quite sophisticated when it comes to data security. Most tell us they do regular backups and have a disaster recovery plan, as well as make use of programs to protect themselves against spyware and junk emails.

Also, the use of modern mobile devices seems to be quite prevalent. The ubiquitous BlackBerry was by far the device most often mentioned, followed by notebook computers. Wireless connectivity was used by a majority of respondents, and remotely accessing their office computers was also something done by many people. We truly are a connected society.

When it comes to free Internet programs, usage was less than what you might believe. Free web-based email programs such as Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail were very infrequently cited, with the have-to-purchase Outlook being a runaway number-one choice. I’m speculating that the reason for this is standardization and availability of support.

SMEs in Halifax also recognize the value of using technology in their sales and marketing efforts. Most respondents stated they had a business development strategy that included email campaigns, blogs, and web sites optimized for search engines. However, beyond these technologies, most reported not making use of electronic commerce nor having any formal electronic commerce strategy.

We found a small percentage that used custom software applications accessible by their customers over the web. I know for a fact that this is a growing trend because we at Nicom find that the majority of our work is getting to be in this area.

If any conclusions can be derived from this survey, it is that small and medium-sized enterprises in the Halifax Regional Municipality are by-and-large keeping up with technological trends. We are as computer savvy as business people in much larger centres. We tend to be conservative, sticking to proven versions of well-supported software, and are somewhat behind the curve when it comes to the use of electronic commerce.

I’d say we’re doing pretty good. Tap into if you’d like to see the complete report.

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