IBM Tells SMBs to Go Global

By Lauren Simonds | Posted April 23, 2008

The "small" in small business is rapidly becoming moot, thanks to the power and scope of technology. Today, many small businesses reach well beyond their local communities to the world at large, and many more SMBs will soon follow to become global trading partners.

That's the prediction Sean Poulley, vice president of IBM's online collaboration services, made at the "Going Global: Accessing New Markets" trade forum held recently in Washington, D.C.

The two primary obstacles to going global that small business owners need to conquer are poor technical skills and no access to information technology. Overcoming these two factors, Poulley noted, helps SMBs work with people across geographical locations and gives them access to people with the skills they need to grow their business – no matter where those skilled workers are located.

Taking advantage of collaboration technologies such as Web conferencing, instant messaging, and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) can help small businesses grow beyond the borders of their town, their state and their country.

In a written statement, Poulley said that "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."

Over the next ten years, Poulley believes that more U.S. small businesses will enter the global market, primarily because of three key factors.

  1. Small businesses will gain real-time access to work with all their employees, regardless of their geographic location.
  2. SMBs will use technology to collaborate more easily with partners, suppliers and customers located beyond their four walls. Extended communities will be built on the Web for small businesses that will let them function as "secure virtual enterprises" or large companies.
  3. Simplified Web 2.0 technologies will free up the time and money that SMBs currently spend on 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.

IBM noted that in the past, the cost of enterprise-quality software has made it difficult, if not impossible, for some SMBs to make the investment. But Poulley said he believes that subscription-based SaaS collaboration tools, which don't require any investment in software, hardware or ongoing maintenance, will let small business owners focus on what they do best – conduct their business.

"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."

Finding a Global Exchange Rate

Other major corporations are also recognizing the presence of SMBs on the global stage. Wells Fargo recently made its Foreign Exchange Online service available through Wells Fargo Business Online Banking, the company's Web site serving small- to medium-sized businesses.

This 24/7 service lets Wells Fargo's SMB customers use an Internet connection to send and receive foreign currency wires in more than 90 currencies.

"Wells Fargo’s Foreign Exchange Online service combines the advantages of Wells Fargo's competitive foreign exchange rates with the convenience of sending payments throughout the world from an Internet browser," said Adam Vancini, senior vice president of the company's Internet services group, in a written statement. "Customers can execute real-time foreign exchange transactions at their desk, eliminating phone calls or trips to the bank.”

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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