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To Serve Small Business
Seven Problems For Small Businesses
December 1, 2005
You probably don't remember the Twilight Zone episode where aliens arrive from outer space apparently only bringing friendship and help. They offer new technology and solutions to all Mankind's problems. In return, they only ask for us to trust them.
Their leader leaves behind a book written in the alien's native tongue. Right away, the best cryptographers set to work decoding the strange language. Experts conclude after multiple tests that the aliens are indeed telling the truth.
The UN agrees to welcome more aliens to Earth and hundreds of humans prepare to go with them to their planet. By now, only the title of the book has been deciphered: To Serve Man. Tensions are eased as the motives of the aliens are discovered to be completely altruistic.
As the episode draws to a close, we see the main character about to board the spaceship. His assistant, who has news from the team working on the translation of the book, rushes to meet him and screams: "Don't get on the ship! The book, To Serve Man, IT'S A COOKBOOK!"
IT service companies have been telling small businesses 'trust us' for a long time. And from our perspective, we've been doing the best we can given the tools we had. When new versions of OS software were released, we wanted our customers to have the best so we upgraded them. (Even when the new versions included superfluous features the customers didn't need; who can afford to use a product that has been end-of-lifed?) When flaws were found we patched them. When reliability issues were discovered, we spared no expense (at their expense) to resolve them. Break-fix revenue became recurring revenue. Restrictive license agreements were just part of the landscape.
With nowhere else to turn, our customers trusted us to deliver reliable and economical IT solutions. Was their trust misplaced? Happy with the status quo, failing to investigate or innovate alternatives, have we simply been feeding off our customers?
John Terpstra extensively documented the size and needs of small business customers in his recent LinuxPlanet series: "The Yin and Yang of Open Source Commerce." Terpstra's thesis is that the Open Source community has largely ignored the much larger opportunity in the SMB/SME market by concentrating its efforts on the enterprise.
The potential for Open Source solutions in this space is huge--our value proposition is attractive to millions of businesses. Small businesses are looking for alternatives to what they perceive are products that are no longer developed for them. Rather, the perception is that their needs are being ignored and their loyalty taken for granted.
Here are seven problems I believe IT professionals in general, and the OSS community in particular, must solve to better serve our small business customers.
I have a hard time explaining to my small business customers how this sorry state of affairs has evolved. With the brightest minds and richest companies in the world seemingly dedicated to the needs of small businesses, how can we not be any closer to a solution we can all be proud of? Would any of us agree that the most popular servers sold today are as reliable and worry free as they should be? Can we afford to let our customers suffer any longer?
At the end of Terpstra's article he asks: "Do you have what it takes to match the needs of the moment?" I believe the OSS community has what it takes. My company, for one, is ready to answer the call. Together, we can deliver what small business customers everywhere really need: technology solutions that help them be more productive, focused on their needs, free of threatening licenses and with expectation-shattering performance and reliability.
Kim J. Brand is the Founder and Managing Partner of Server Partners, LLC, in Indianapolis, Indiana, which features the FileEngine file server product line and other IT services.