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Technology a key enabler to business growth, says study

Microsoft-sponsored research says IT can help small businesses cross the mid-sized business threshold

Technology vendors always insist technology is a key enabler of business productivity and growth, and now they have some research to back those claims up.

A study of Canadian business and IT executives released Monday, conducted by the London, Ont.-based InfoTech Research Group and sponsored by Microsoft Canada, focused on the attitudes of mid-sized Canadian companies towards IT.

It found technology was the key enabler for these companies when it came to strategies for improving staff efficiency and productivity. There was a disconnect however between mid-sized companies and larger enterprises when it comes to priority areas for technology investment.

Executives at mid-sized companies were more focused on improving access to business data, followed by upgraded desktop software, intranet and portal software. On the enterprise side, new communications tools, improved cross-organization integration and better access to business data were the priorities.

Jill Schoolenberg, director, small and medium business for Microsoft Canada, told a media roundtable the survey indicated that while a well thought-out business plan is key to the success or failure of a small business, and their ability to become mid-sized, a willingness to invest in technology is a close second.

“What they told us was the number one growth enabler was technology to deliver increased worked productivity,” said Schoolenberg. “It’s not just about the technology though. It’s about changing people and changing behaviour and changing process.”

She added she was surprised by the level of optimism expressed by survey respondents. While there has been talk in the media of a recession, 80 per cent of respondents described business conditions as good or ideal, and two-thirds planned to expand their operations over the next 12 months. Much of that growth will come from existing business.

“This reinforces the message about increasing efficiency and getting more out of existing assets,” said Schoolenberg.

And as companies grow they’ll need more complex solutions, said Schoolenberg. A mid-sized company may be looking for things like collaboration and portal software, whereas a smaller company may be looking more for basic networking infrastructure and desktops. That means more solution partner opportunity, she said.

“As companies grow their technology needs change, and they become more dependant on partners to help them grow,” said Schoolenberg.

Helping companies make the leap from small to mid-sized is important to Canada’s future economic competitiveness said John Reid, president of CATAAlliance, an Ottawa-based industry association.

Most of Canada’s revenue growth comes from SMBs but only half of those businesses make it past three years, said Reid. This reinforces the need for a good business plan, but also for strategic use of technology to help businesses be agile and responsive. He added partners will be important in ensuring technology is utilized effectively.

“If you look at talent availability in Canada, we’re hard-pressed to attract and keep the tech expertise we need. That underlines the importance of partner relationships,” said Reid. “You may not have that expertise internally, but you can leverage it and bring it in through your partner relationships.”

Toronto-area condominium vendor Tridel has used technology to differentiate itself in a crowded market and create the agility needed to quickly adjust to changing business needs said CIO Ted Maulucci.

They began their technology push in the mid-1990s by standardizing their desktops on the Microsoft platform, ensuring everyone was using the same spreadsheets. They followed that with custom software development to integrate their core business and break down silos, achieving impressive efficiency gains. More recently, Maulucci said Tidel has turned to its external partners, bringing the law firm that handles its property closings into its network with an electronic information management system and document server, eliminating the need to ship boxes of paper documents.

The well executed use of technology results in you being able to grow and do more with less, said Maulucci. It has also opened up new avenues and ways of doing business for Tridel. Investing in technology is still a leap of faith though, he said.

“A lot of times you’re making an investment based on a leap of faith,” said Maulucci. “I think it’s critical that you take a chance once and awhile.”

It may be a leap of faith, but Maulucci said doing your research before placing your bets is still critical, as is developing the relationships and trust within the organization needed to bring the business side on board.

“It’s not simple…it’s painful some times. Sales is an important part of what we do, getting buy-in,” said Maulucci. “It’s not just about getting people to use a piece of software anymore; it’s about business process change.”