For owners of small to medium-size businesses, keeping pace with the latest and greatest technology can be a lot like chasing after Marion Jones while wearing clogs. It’s a frustrating, seemingly futile endeavor at times. But unlike a mythical race with an Olympic medal-winner, many high-tech tools rapidly are becoming a necessity for any company looking to conduct business in the 21st century.
“It’s as important as electricity and telephones to your company,” says David Perez, founder and president of Lumina Americas Inc., a New York City-based company that helps businesses build and grow their e-business components in the U.S. Hispanic and Latin American markets. “Technology is getting to be about as vital to business as the air we breathe.”
A recent Forrester Research survey paints a similar picture. Forrester, an emerging technology research firm headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, projects that in four years the Internet, and the technology to support it, will become a mainstream utility, like electricity or water.
“The Internet is a fundamental force that will truly transform the way people interact and behave at an individual, organizational, and social level,” says David Cooperstein, research director at Forrester. “The original promises of a networked society – like anytime, anywhere communication – will be fulfilled and surpassed as people tailor the ‘utility’ to suit their needs. Over the next four years, technology standards, user adoption, and a massive build-out will transform the Internet from the ‘new new thing’ to a truly ubiquitous information resource, creating new roles for businesses and government to address new end-user demands for emerging technologies and Internet-enabled lifestyles.”
By 2005, Forrester estimates, 67 percent of U.S. households will have Internet access, fundamentally changing the ways people communicate, shop, and research.
At the office, individuals will begin to rely on their personal digital assistants, cell phones, and digital cameras to become more productive and improve business operations, Mr. Cooperstein predicts. The information utility will also enable executives to access data critical to their business success and realize their career ambitions through online training programs.
Perhaps you’re convinced of technology’s importance to the success and ultimate survival of your emerging company but are unsure what to do first. What follows is a list of some top technology tools and some purchasing tips from high-tech experts and business owners. In some instances, specific products are mentioned, while in others it’s the technology itself that business owners are encouraged to explore.
For starters, Christopher Lindquist, technology editor of CIO magazine, says this is a good time to purchase. “If you’re looking to buy computers, hardware, software, or gadgets, everybody’s sales are down – Gateway, IBM, Compaq. Even if you’re a fairly small company, it’s not a bad time to basically pin these guys to a wall and say, ‘Look, I want another 5 percent off.’ They’ll probably go for it just because they need to move some units,” he says. “It is a very good time for a buyer to play hardball.”
-- Among business owners queried for this article, managing e-mail was a consistent complaint. But it’s a necessary evil, notes James Gutierrez, founder and chairman of MagicBeanStalk, a San Francisco-based college recruiting company. “It is my No. 1 form of communication right now,” he says. Mr. Gutierrez travels frequently and says he couldn’t live without his BlackBerry, which enables him to send and receive e-mail from his existing account while he’s away from the office. Either pager-sized or palm-sized, the wireless BlackBerry requires no modem or antenna. Says Mr. Gutierrez: “I can be on a plane or in a cab and still be doing business. I can carry it around 24-7 in my pocket. I live on my BlackBerry.” The unit costs between $350 and $500, depending on the model. The monthly service fee is $39.95 for unlimited use. For more information, go to www.blackberry.net.
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