In an effort to make inroads into the small and medium-sized business market, Cisco Systems Inc. Monday launched a planning tool designed to simplify Internet strategy implementation for SMBs.

The Internet Business Roadmap Web site has been set up to help businesses develop and deploy a customized Internet strategy over a three-to-36-month time frame.

“We feel that an effective Internet business strategy will allow small and medium-sized businesses to survive, and to thrive,” said Cisco vice-president of worldwide commercial marketing Ron Willis, during a Webcast to introduce the IBR.

Willis and Cisco senior director of strategic marketing Robyn Aber stressed the IBR’s attention to individualization, noting that participating SMBs complete Myers Briggs-like business and technical assessment questionnaires that allow them to locate the solutions to maximize their competitiveness and efficiency.

“Not every company that’s 150 people will be adopting the Internet in the same way,” Aber said.

That each SMB is unique was the driving theme behind the launch of the IBR as well as a complimentary e-business study conducted with International Data Corp., whose results were made public during the Webcast.

“There’s no one path to becoming an integrated e-business,” said IDC research director John Gantz in summing up the 15,000-company study, entitled “The Many Roads to E-Business.”

For example, Gantz said, of the small and medium-sized companies surveyed, 93 per cent were employing a Web site to convey product information, though only 14 per cent were delivering customer support through their sites and only 14 per cent have Web-functional back-end integration.

Gantz said the next necessary step for SMBs is integrating the Internet into their core business systems.

“We believe integrating e-business with core business systems will be crucial to getting the most out of their investments,” Gantz said. “In general, companies with a high level of integration have better financial performance than their non-integrated peers.”

Moe Somani, president of the Vancouver-based Small Office Home Office Business Group said companies in Canada are moving beyond having just a Web presence and developing Web strategies.

“I think a lot more businesses are making it a priority than in the past. They’re seeing the opportunity,” he said.

All this bodes well for companies like Cisco, who are working to convert a growing number of small and medium-sized businesses as spending from the enterprise sector slows.

Cisco designed its IBR to be an extensive planning tool, including network blueprints and product information and technology white papers. SMBs using the IBR can employ the program freely on a self-service model or they can work with resellers and consultants accessible through the IBR. SMBs that have gone through the IBR strategy design and deployment process can also use the IBR to adjust their strategies in the future.

“Even after a company has gone through the process, it is set up that they can revisit and re-prioritize as market conditions, business needs or competition factors force a business change,” Willis said, adding that comprehensive offerings are necessary to meet the needs of SMBs today.

“They (SMBs) are requiring a complete solution. No longer is a product enough to meet their needs.”

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