Microsoft offers online resource for small business owners

Microsoft Canada Co. says a free online resource officially launched in Canada and seven other countries will give small businesses access to technical support, technology training, business training and market research.

Microsoft Small Business +, now available on the company’s Canadian Web site at www.microsoft.ca/sbplus, includes a series of primers on technology – topics such as “Essential Hardware and Software” and “Making the Internet Work for Your Business.” There are also online training courses, largely focused on Microsoft products but some addressing general business topics such as managing cash flow.

Small Business + includes a technical support centre with information about updates and patches and access to the Microsoft Knowledge Base of technical information about the company’s products.

Microsoft is co-operating with technology research firm International Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) to provide market research and other information of interest to small business. Though Small Business + also launched this week in the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia, this feature is unique to the Canadian site, said Vu Ngo, Web and loyalty manager at Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont. 

“We know that’s something our small-business customers in Canada are looking for,” Ngo said.

Last Thursday, a seven-page 2006 IT Forecast from IDC Canada, an IDC report on security, and the CFIB’s three most recent Quarterly Barometer Reports were available on Small Business +. Catherine Swift, president and chief executive of CFIB, said more material will be added.

Beth Stefaniuk, vice-president of administration for group client services at Blevins Insurance Group in Barrie, Ont., had access to Small Business + for a couple of weeks before launch. “It seems to be a very broad information source,” she said. Stefaniuk particularly likes news groups that allow users to share information and answer each other’s questions. 

She also praised a tool that allows small businesses to enter data on their own information technology expenditures and see comparisons with industry averages.

As a member of the CFIB, she said, Blevins gets some of the material posted on the site already. But she looks forward to making some of its training features available to her staff.

Richard Morochove, a Toronto-based computer consultant with experience working with small businesses, said many small-business owners and employees simply won’t find the time to use the site. “I think certainly some small businesses will find it useful,” he said. But “essentially I see it as kind of a soft sell for Microsoft.”

Information gathered through the registration process could be a valuable resource for Microsoft, Morochove said. The Small Business + registration screen asks for information about the registrant’s company, including number of employees and technology used, though not all of this is required.

Swift said an earlier joint project, a technology guide published last year in co-operation with Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd., has been very popular. “We certainly find resources like this are very useful,” she said of Small Business +, “and this is free, which is great.”

Coment: info@itbusiness.ca

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