Twenty years ago, buying and installing an HR or marketing system was a multi-million-dollar, multi-year endeavor resulting in questionable ROI and annual maintenance fees amounting to ransom. Most small and mid-sized businesses (SMB) had to accept that technology’s benefits were only for the big guys and the fortunate few.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the “old-days” IT shackles are gone. Cloud computing, open source, and SaaS have freed technology’s benefits from their big business confines and made them available to companies of any size in any industry in any part of the world.
Entrepreneurs can stitch together a full-service DIY IT system for one-100th of the cost and time it took to implement the same functionality in the 1990s: NetSuite for ERP, Amazon Web Services for the cloud, Google or Microsoft for productivity, TriNet for HR, Zuora for subscription management and others as needed for specific functionality.
This DIY deployment could be up and running in a week. While the technology’s performance would be extremely high, the cost to deploy it would be extremely low. Commitments could be modified depending on success: Bottomless capacity if the business takes off; reduced volume if progress snags. And no vendor shackles hold back these fast-growth ventures: Contract cancellation could take place at any time.
The democratization of access to business technology presents entrepreneurs with what I call “The 21st Century IT Imperative:” Adopt or be left behind. SMB execs now have the potential to automate, grow, scale and serve a global customer base just like any big company. But this “playing-field leveling” means that companies that don’t take advantage of these IT opportunities risk losing out to upstarts that do.
What hasn’t changed from the days of mainframe and client/server computing – or the invention of the steam engine, for that matter? The most efficient, innovative and savvy users of technology are the ones that make history. The next generation of SMBs has the potential to do just that.