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IBM Predicts Technology Will Accelerate Global Expansion of Small U.S. Businesses


WASHINGTON, DC .- Many more American small businesses will “go global” using collaboration technology to transform themselves from local businesses into global trading partners, predicted IBM (NYSE: IBM) executive Sean Poulley at the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Small Business Week conference here today.

Sean Poulley, vice president of IBM online collaboration services, outlined the challenges and opportunities for growth facing small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). He addressed the top small businesses in the U.S. as part of the trade forum, “Going Global: Accessing New Markets” with Ambassador Susan Schwab, U.S. Trade representative. IBM also received the SBA’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Award for Excellence, recognizing large prime contractors who have excelled in their utilization of small businesses as suppliers and subcontractors.

“Small businesses drive our economy, creating jobs and opportunities for Americans in every community across the country,” said SBA Administrator Steve Preston. “The SBA is very proud of the vital role it plays in enabling America’s entrepreneurs, and we are excited to be able to recognize a few of these great success stories during the week.”

To become global trading partners, IBM’s Poulley said many SMBs need to overcome obstacles such as a lack of technical skills and access to information technology (IT) that can help them work with others outside their physical locations; coordinate across geographical boundaries; and locate the right people with the right skills at the right time.

Poulley described how the evolution of technologies such as Web conferencing, instant messaging, software appliances, portals offered as software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications will increasingly allow local businesses to transform into global trading partners.

Keys to SMBs Going Global
In a recent IBM study of more than 1,200 companies, more than 60 percent of mid-sized businesses indicated that collaboration tools were vital to their business success and growth.

“SMB owners should ask themselves: ’can I access my teams in real-time and work with them as if we were in the same room?’ If the answer is ’no,’ then it’s almost certain your employees are not as productive as they could be,” said Poulley.

Due to current technology advances, Poulley predicted three keys that will propel US businesses into global markets in the next decade.

1. Small businesses will gain real-time access to work with all their employees, regardless of location, as if they were in the same room.
2. SMBs will use technology to collaborate more easily beyond their four walls and firewalls with outside partners, suppliers and customers. Extended communities will be built on the Web for small businesses that will allow them to function as “secure virtual enterprises” or large companies.
3. Simplified, self-sustaining Web 2.0 technologies will free SMBs’ time and money currently spent using and maintaining IT. New tools will put the power and control of IT in the hands of the business owner without the need for specialized skills.

While the cost of professional-grade software may have hindered SMB investment in technology previously, more SaaS collaboration tools are breaking down that barrier. There is no software or hardware to buy, install, maintain or upgrade. By running programs from subscription-based Websites, SMBs can focus on their core competencies without incurring the IT maintenance costs.

For example, by using Web conferencing to conduct meetings online, companies save thousands of dollars in operating costs by eliminating hotels and travel fees associated with training and sales operations. Using portals, which are customized Web dashboards with built-in messaging, businesses can help geographically dispersed workgroups share documents and vital information regardless of time or geographical boundaries. The Hillman Group, for instance, has reported saving more than $70,000 a year in travel and hotel costs by conducting training and sales meetings online via Web conferencing.

“We believe collaborative technology is critical to any global trade strategy,” said Poulley, "because it delivers the ability to grow, while tightly managing the operational cost increases associated with expansion.

Real Results for SMBs

* Nutra-Flo Proteins and Biotech Products,a family-run business out of Sioux City, Iowa, has developed worldwide product distribution with a manufacturing partnership in Korea. Nutra-Flo needed a better way to stay in touch with its manufacturing plants and customers, who are located all over the world. They now use Web-based software to centralize documents and facilitate easier management of international product registration and shipping processes, while freeing information trapped in e-mail boxes. Nutra-Flo employees and partners can download and upload files on demand, rather than waiting for an employee or business partner to e-mail the files. This saves the company time while providing a secure method for retrieving documents. As its global trade grew, so did challenges with time zones. To bridge that gap, Nutra-Flo uses instant messaging and Web conferencing software to stay in contact with Korean partners without the time delay issues of e-mail and can communicate more effectively between face-to-face meetings. With Web conferencing, Nutra-Flo can save travel costs to Asia by having real-time Web meetings with partners around the world.

* Celina Insurance Group, a mutual insurance carrier with 175 employees in Ohio, had an ongoing challenge to win and sustain agent loyalty. To compete against larger insurance carriers, Celina integrated independent agents into business processes and differentiated itself by providing superior services and support to these agents. Celina built a portal, a website with built-in instant messaging, to foster collaboration and speed end-to-end business processes, allowing agents to instantly connect with their Celina underwriter -- or anyone else in the company -- at the click of a button. With this new collaboration technology, policy turnaround times reduced from weeks to days.


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