SOURCE: IBM

April 22, 2008 16:15 ET

IBM Predicts Technology Will Accelerate Global Expansion of Small U.S. Businesses

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - April 22, 2008) - Many more American small businesses will "go global" using collaboration technology to transform themselves from local businesses into global trading partners, predicted IBM (NYSE: IBM) executive Sean Poulley at the U.S. Small Business Administration's National Small Business Week conference here today.

Sean Poulley, vice president of IBM online collaboration services, outlined the challenges and opportunities for growth facing small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). He addressed the top small businesses in the U.S. as part of the trade forum, "Going Global: Accessing New Markets" with Ambassador Susan Schwab, U.S. Trade representative. IBM also received the SBA's Dwight D. Eisenhower Award for Excellence, recognizing large prime contractors who have excelled in their utilization of small businesses as suppliers and subcontractors.

"Small businesses drive our economy, creating jobs and opportunities for Americans in every community across the country," said SBA Administrator Steve Preston. "The SBA is very proud of the vital role it plays in enabling America's entrepreneurs, and we are excited to be able to recognize a few of these great success stories during the week."

To become global trading partners, IBM's Poulley said many SMBs need to overcome obstacles such as a lack of technical skills and access to information technology (IT) that can help them work with others outside their physical locations; coordinate across geographical boundaries; and locate the right people with the right skills at the right time.

Poulley described how the evolution of technologies such as Web conferencing, instant messaging, software appliances, portals offered as software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications will increasingly allow local businesses to transform into global trading partners.

Keys to SMBs Going Global

In a recent IBM study of more than 1,200 companies, more than 60 percent of mid-sized businesses indicated that collaboration tools were vital to their business success and growth.

"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," said Poulley.

Due to current technology advances, Poulley predicted three keys that will propel US businesses into global markets in the next decade.

  1) Small businesses will gain real-time access to work with all their
     employees, regardless of location, as if they were in the same room.

  2) SMBs will use technology to collaborate more easily beyond their four
     walls and firewalls with outside partners, suppliers and customers.
     Extended communities will be built on the Web for small businesses
     that will allow them to function as "secure virtual enterprises" or
     large companies.

  3) Simplified, self-sustaining Web 2.0 technologies will free SMBs' time
     and money currently spent 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.

While the cost of professional-grade software may have hindered SMB investment in technology previously, more SaaS collaboration tools are breaking down that barrier. There is no software or hardware to buy, install, maintain or upgrade. By running programs from subscription-based Websites, SMBs can focus on their core competencies without incurring the IT maintenance costs.

For example, by using Web conferencing to conduct meetings online, companies save thousands of dollars in operating costs by eliminating hotels and travel fees associated with training and sales operations. Using portals, which are customized Web dashboards with built-in messaging, businesses can help geographically dispersed workgroups share documents and vital information regardless of time or geographical boundaries. The Hillman Group, for instance, has reported saving more than $70,000 a year in travel and hotel costs by conducting training and sales meetings online via Web conferencing.

"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.

Real Results for SMBs

--  Nutra-Flo Proteins and Biotech Products,a family-run business out of
    Sioux City, Iowa, has developed worldwide product distribution with a
    manufacturing partnership in Korea. Nutra-Flo needed a better way to stay
    in touch with its manufacturing plants and customers, who are located all
    over the world. They now use Web-based software to centralize documents and
    facilitate easier management of international product registration and
    shipping processes, while freeing information trapped in e-mail boxes.
    Nutra-Flo employees and partners can download and upload files on demand,
    rather than waiting for an employee or business partner to e-mail the
    files. This saves the company time while providing a secure method for
    retrieving documents. As its global trade grew, so did challenges with time
    zones. To bridge that gap, Nutra-Flo uses instant messaging and Web
    conferencing software to stay in contact with Korean partners without the
    time delay issues of e-mail and can communicate more effectively between
    face-to-face meetings. With Web conferencing, Nutra-Flo can save travel
    costs to Asia by having real-time Web meetings with partners around the
    world.
    
--  Celina Insurance Group, a mutual insurance carrier with 175 employees
    in Ohio, had an ongoing challenge to win and sustain agent loyalty. To
    compete against larger insurance carriers, Celina integrated independent
    agents into business processes and differentiated itself by providing
    superior services and support to these agents. Celina built a portal, a
    website with built-in instant messaging, to foster collaboration and speed
    end-to-end business processes, allowing agents to instantly connect with
    their Celina underwriter -- or anyone else in the company -- at the click
    of a button. With this new collaboration technology, policy turnaround
    times reduced from weeks to days.
    

For more information about IBM SMB software offerings, visit www.lotus.com/smb.

IBM and Lotus are trademarks of IBM Corporation in the United States, other countries, or both.

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