Early in 2003, Intel IT and its Solution Market Development Group introduced a program designed to showcase how advanced technology can make small- and medium-sized businesses more efficient and productive. Intel created the technology makeover program in an effort to generate case studies on how small businesses use new technologies.
As part of the program, Intel equipped three small businesses with nearly $250,000 worth of high-tech gear to prove its point. Since Intel IT is located in Folsom, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento, the pilot program focused on three very different small businesses in the area.
Bob Welch, Intel director of strategy investments for the technology group, said the pilot program was an investment in learning how to bring new technologies to the small business market.
“We allocated a small amount of money to underwrite purchasing the capital equipment, then assisted the small businesses in engineering and implementing the systems,” Welch said. ” We thought we could maybe learn something in the process.”
The technology makeovers were tailor-made for each company to meet their specific needs. One of the projects involved the Sacramento River Cats, a Triple-A professional baseball team in Northern California. The organization wanted to explore the notion of creating a wireless experience in the stadium. Not just for baseball games, but for other events held at the arena, too.
“It was certainly an interesting proposition,” Welch said. “They provided a proof of concept on their own to explore the value of deploying wireless system for managing the facility. A lot of operating costs are tied up in labor running around turning on lights and opening up the stands. The found a big ‘a-hah’ value in allowing tech staff to use PDAs to manage the facility. This kind of set the stage for other value propositions.”
Engineers at Raley Field now have a system in place that allows them to use Wi-Fi equipped hand-held computers to control all stadium lighting functions, as well as more than 50 heating and air-conditioning units. With a couple of quick commands on a handheld computer, engineers can flick on 32 different sets of lights or black out the field for a fireworks show.
Right now about half of the ballpark has wireless coverage, courtesy of Intel. This includes luxury suites and the Solon Club along the first-base line of Raley Field. The River Cats are exploring the value proposition of developing a system to ordering concession items from box seats using wireless keypads.
The stadium will have complete Wi-Fi coverage by the beginning of next season. Offering something as mundane as Internet access to fans at the field could be a new way to sell merchandise and tickets to a captive audience.
Another company Intel worked with was Package One, an industrial packaging distributor of in Rancho Cordova. Welch said the small business was transformed by going wireless in the warehouse, which required that the company’s computer system be completely retooled.
“We did quite a bit of infrastructure analysis and engineering to provide a secure wireless environment for Pack One’s warehouse,” Welch said. “They’re a growing company, by way of acquisition, so they needed to be able to a replicate and integrate different systems.”
Intel provided Package One with six new servers, six wireless laptops, three wireless access points, software and the engineering expertise to make it all work together. On the open market, it would have cost Pack One about $200,000 to do what Intel did for them for free.
Welch said Package One experienced a paradigm shift in productivity thanks to the infusion of new technology into the company.
“Package One realized a tremendous sense of value almost immediately — sales force productivity increased, cash flow improved, inventory management improved — the wireless system impacted every aspect of there business process. It was a huge enabler for them.”
Now, warehouse workers use the wireless laptops, with Intel’s Centrino chipset, to check orders and pull materials for shipping to customers. With a new Web site up and running, more and more orders for Package One are being placed online. A bottom-dollar analysis of how Intel’s technology makeover impacted Package One should be available after year-end. In the meantime, Package One just keeps growing.
The third small business Intel honored with a high-tech makeover is actually a micro-business. The Learning Exchange consists of five people who run a small training center in Sacramento. The Learning Exchange offers more than 2,000 classes a year covering everything from art to yoga.
Welch said The Learning Exchange’s old office equipment wasn’t the solution. It was the problem.
“They were spending so much time keeping things running &151; not that the equipment was faulty &151; it was just disconnected,” Welch said. “Their applications weren’t upgradable anymore and they were really stuck just trying to make things keep working.”
Welsh said Intel did a complete technology makeover and cleaned house.
“We deployed a nice integrated platform that made a tremendous difference in their productivity almost immediately,” Welsh said. “They wanted to expand to other cities, only they couldn’t duplicate their operations. Now The Learning Exchange can scale out their infrastructure to operate virtually and expand to other communities.”
With seven new laptops — including four Toshiba Centrino laptops — two servers, two Wi-Fi access points and two new desktop computers complete with flat-panel monitors, technical snafus are now uncommon at The Learning Exchange. Things just run more efficiently when the equipment isn’t constantly breaking down.
Welch said that there are several common threads woven through each Intel technology makeover. He’s convinced that there is a compelling value for new technology in the small-business arena.
“The common theme that we came away with as a result of the small business makeovers is the universal recognition that new technology it is not an option for them anymore,” Welch said. “The value propositions are so pervasive, even if small businesses don’t understand the technology, they have to go for it. It’s the only way they can stay competitive and grow. New technology is not an option anymore.”
Welch said it’s like a wild, wild west show out there for small business seeking IT guidance.
“By the nature of their business — usually proprietary with little or no IT staff running around — small businesses have to rely on third party service providers, sometimes many of them,” Welch said. “They end up with a chewing gum and bailing wire system that evolves into an unmanageable working environment. Small business have an opportunity to take advantage of advances in technology, and we’re working to make sure these new technologies are stable and secure.”
Intel has always been directly connected to the enterprise, but it relies on value-added resellers and channel partners to reach small businesses. Welsh said the small business technology makeovers showed Intel that it’s not doing enough in terms of advocacy in that space.
“From our perspective, Intel is very cogent of corporate needs, we are well connected to the enterprise,” Welch said. “We also have terrific distribution in the form of value-added resellers that bring our technology to the small business market. But we realize now there’s a lot more we could do to really provide more business solutions. In the end, small businesses don’t need GHz; they need real business solutions.”
In a series of follow-up interviews, Intel will try to determine what kind of impact its technology makeovers had on all three small businesses. “We’re not asking them to disclose anything private,” Welch said. “But we want to see if this has helped them grow their customer base or increase revenues or market reach.”
Intel has invested heavily in developing Wi-Fi technologies; the company is spending more than $300 million this year marketing its Centrino laptop computer chips that have built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. If Intel stays true to its mission, seeking out ways to develop small business solutions with its business partners, the payoff for Intel will be selling more chips. The payoff for small businesses has yet to be fully determined. We’ll revisit these three small businesses out in Sacramento when the final results are in.
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