Progressive technologies for small businesses

There was a time when the workplace offered employees everyday access to the latest technologies and the fastest computers and/or Internet connections. However, that’s changed today.

In many cases, employees now have faster Internet connections and better computers at home than are often available to them in their place of business. In fact, employees are potentially using more technology in a home setting than at work, and they are placing more technology demands on your company because of this!

In this day and age, retaining valuable employees is big deal.

So, how can technology be leveraged to help retain employees, while at the same time helping grow business?

Well, in most cases, this can simply be done by empowering employees and providing them with access to technologies that allow for greater efficiency in their everyday activities.

Here are some technologies that the small and midsize businesses can leverage today to make their technology savvy employees more productive:

Smart phones/

PDA phones and Google Maps

If you use a smart phone or a PDA phone at work (or home, for that matter), you potentially have a “killer application” at your disposal. You should already be using email and calendaring from these phones, but Google Maps (with GPS support) really takes phone functionality to another level. (Another similar application is Microsoft Live Search for mobile.) Dynamic maps, real time traffic and location-specific searches are all at your fingertips and mean there is less chance of a “fashionably late” arrival. If you have a GPS-enabled phone, you can even see your current location. You can then search for the local Starbucks or the location of your next big client meeting and get turn by turn directions to help get you there.

Advancing the technology even further, Windows Live Search just added a “speak” feature that allows you to say your search phrase into the phone. For example, saying “office supplies Brookfield Wisconsin” brings up a listing of office supply stores in or near Brookfield. Now, how useful is that?

Both Google Maps and Windows Live Search are free applications.

Social networking

services

Social networking has revolutionized the way people communicate and share information with one another in today’s society. Today, many people associate the term social network to online communities like Facebook and MySpace. However, social network was coined back in 1954 to explain the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend connections that cut across traditional boundaries. These pathways have historically helped people find jobs, apartments, spouses, etc. So, even though Facebook and MySpace have brought social networking mainstream, the concept has been around for a long time and can be critical to the way business gets done.

A good example of a social networking application designed for business purposes is LinkedIn.com. It has become one of the most powerful and widely used professional networking sites, with more than 20 million registered users from 150 different industries.

Progressive companies are using social networking technologies to be more competitive in the marketplace, and to attract and retain employees. They use LinkedIn for recruiting purposes, and Facebook or MySpace (and even Twitter) for direct sales. Because many current and prospective employees and clients are already plugged into these social networking sites, companies will create a social online presence to connect directly with them. It also helps the company portray a “hip” image to both internal and external audiences.

So how should a business get started with social networking sites? Well, they all offer free access (though LinkedIn does offer upgraded features for a fee), so just sign up and get started. Once online, just start building your network. It really can be that easy.

Enterprise search employees can find almost any information they want by typing a few words into an Internet browser. Why then can’t they find our corporate information such as proposal templates or past emails that easily? Imagine the productivity gains businesses could all experience if employees could simply “Google” internal corporate information!

For years, larger companies have been able to purchase and deploy “enterprise wide” searching to their employees. But this was typically an expensive proposition. Smaller companies now have the ability to cost effectively search all the documents on their network and/or desktop, just like a routine Google search. Google and Microsoft both have search software available at potentially little or no cost. This can help minimize the time spent searching for information and allow employees to spend more time doing real work. In addition, Microsoft just released a free version of its enterprise search server (called Search Server 2008 Express).

As always, technology is gaining more momentum than ever as people embrace it in their homes and as a part of their everyday lives. It’s important for progressive business leaders and entrepreneurs to understand that many of these same “home” technologies can be leveraged in the workplace to improve and even grow business.

 

Edward Chaltry is a partner and the chief technology officer at Centare Group Ltd., a Brookfield-based information technology and software development company.

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