NSBW Panel: Technology As A Competitive Edge - InformationWeek

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NSBW Panel: Technology As A Competitive Edge

For any "dumb" question you might have about technology, the SBA's newly appointed general counsel, Sarah Lipscomb, says she has one that's even dumber.

For any "dumb" question you might have about technology, the SBA's newly appointed general counsel, Sarah Lipscomb, says she has one that's even dumber.Nothing like lightening the mood about a subject that makes some small-business owners' eyes glaze over. The razor-sharp Lipscomb moderated a session at National Small Business Week about how small businesses can use technology for a competitive edge. Lipscomb joked that she has probably brought down at least 20 IT people during her career, which includes serving as a legal consultant to midmarket corporations and private equity firms fostering best practices in the legal, regulatory, and risk management arenas.

Poor IT guys aside, Lipscomb asked the panel about up-and-coming technologies that will impact small businesses most (i.e., listen up). The No. 1 answer was what we here at bMighty have been talking about for well more than a year: cloud computing. "Cloud services and software-as-a-service is more than just a trend at the point," said Stacey Wueste, vice president, worldwide SMB segment and environmental strategy, of HP's Imaging and Printing Group (which on Monday unveiled two new Officejet printers aimed at SMBs).

(l. to r.) Southwest Wind Power's Andy Kruse, Ford's Nancy Gioia, and HP's Stacy Wueste. (Not pictured: Trend Micro's Steve Quane)

Wueste pointed to two examples of HP's cloud activity. The first is a new cloud printing initiative with RIM, which lets smartphone users print straight from their BlackBerrys. The second, MagCloud, is a semi-recent service The New York Times referred to as "vanity publishing's equivalent of YouTube." MagCloud lets you print brochures, books, newsletters, etc., as needed, on demand. In other words, books will no longer be sitting on the shelf collecting dust while waiting to be bought," Wueste told me in an earlier one-on-conversation, during which she spoke about HP's push for "printing responsibly." (That means enabling more double-sided printing, increased energy efficiency, and "SmartWeb" printing, which lets you consolidate all the bits and pieces you need to print from multiple sources onto one page.)

"The days of buying and assembling are over," agreed Steve Quane, executive general manager of Trend Micro's SMB Business Unit, who's a firm believer in "going where the knowledge is" -- even if that means outsourcing jobs overseas. "I know that's not a U.S.-friendly answer," said Quane, who in the past five years has lived in Germany and Asia. "The entrepreneurial spirit in the U.S. is multitudes above other countries I've lived in, but the U.S. doing development might not be the right approach. We should be the smartest at finding knowledge and driving business strategy."

Naturally, what's a discussion about technology and small business without mentioning social networking as a means for marketing? Wueste plugged HP's Small Business Marketing Guide, while earlier that day Matt Friedman, VP of strategy and marketing for IBM Smart Business, talked up his company's online SMB community -- read my Q&A with him here -- and Verio announced its launch of Websites.com, also aimed at helping small businesses grow their online presence.

"We're facing an explosion of nontraditional marketing options," said Nancy Gioia, Ford Motor's director of sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid vehicle programs, citing the massive Twitter-fest that ensued during this month's Ford Fusion 1,000 Mile Challenge. "But it's also a double-edged sword because in the past we had control over what's said about our products. This has brought terror to the heart of our marketing organization, but now we're engaging our community in ways we have never done before."

See more bMighty coverage of National Small Business Week

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