Small businesses use internet technologies to bulk up

Being connected, and being connected smartly, are key to small business success

New Zealand’s economy is underpinned by small enterprises, businesses that are becoming increasingly technology-savvy in order to box above their weight in competitive markets. For the finalists in this year’s small business category of the Computerworld Excellence Awards, the internet and internet-related technology features heavily.

When, in 2005, IT solutions and training company Canning and Associates decided to build a fast internet connection so owner Bridget Canning could train customers from home while incapacitated, the project was written off as expensive madness by detractors.

However, Canning and Associates devised a broadband solution reaching the small settlement of Tinui, about an hour from Masterton. ISP service, satellite and DSL were not available, so the company turned to wireless transmission technology, with Trango microwave units.

Canning and Associates ended up having to build the network from the ground up. The company even had to design, engineer and build the radio masts between Masterton and Tinui , as there was nothing ready-made available to it, says Bridget Canning.

The network components had to be small and light for deployment via quad-bike, and remotely managed to save on travel time and cost. As the budget was small, innovative thinking had to be applied in parts, by for example using an old freezer as the insulated battery and radio equipment container, to keep temperatures within the fine limits of the gear.

Over the next two years, the network grew and now boasts 160 users, a figure that is expected to reach 200. It offers high bandwidth that in turn lets Canning and Associates offer its services and support to rural customers — from home.

Queenstown and Arrowtown property and business law firm HM Associates wanted to capture its core business processes and put them into a defined workflow to reduce routine work and target areas that benefited the most from the partners’ legal expertise. Being a small two-person partnership, HM Associates has grown accustomed to using technology in order to maintain its competitive advantage.

However, the technology was fragmented into several disparate units that needed stitching together. HM Associates turned to ActionStep Software and its CRM; this runs atop a PostgreSQL database, and is written in PHP and Javascript, making it very internet-enabled.

The entire package was developed in Queenstown, by Ted Jordan, so HM Associates enjoyed close local support during the implementation.

The ActionStep software promised to take care of HM Associates’ file and document management requirements, as well its CRM and trust accounting needs, according to partner Michael Holloway. Developer Jordan worked with the firm to streamline and substantially amend the workflow of matters, and the firm says it now has a truly reliable and centralised client database with up-to-date information.

Vadacom CEO Igor Portugal and manager Scott Keon are two well-known figures on the New Zealand internet telephony scene, and great believers in open source solutions. Portugal co-founded Asterisk, New Zealand’s first Linux specialist solutions provider, which was sold to Gen-i in 2003.

The project entered for the Awards is the Sweet VadaXchange that combines phone and customer relationship management (CRM) systems into a single package. Vadacom’s own VadaXchange lets staffers make and receive phone calls anywhere without the company incurring extra costs, thanks to the phone system’s mobile and remote IP extensions.

An open source package, SugarCRM, maintains sales data and provides sales support for staff members. Nokia E61 mobile phones are used by all staff, to allow them to work from home and be more productive.

Portugal says productive engineering and sales staff are the two major success factors the Sweet VadaXchange implementation brought to the company. Satisfied customers, an increased number of closed sales and achieved revenue targets were others, according to Portugal.

Challenges for Vadacom when implementing Sweet VadaXchange included finding time out of the company’s already busy schedule to put the project in place, and to define conventions in which the software is to be used, in order to maximise the benefits. Training staff was another issue to overcome, as well as avoiding high mobile usage costs and working around New Zealand’s poor internet situation, says Portugal.

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