Who are you calling a small business?

Canada may be a nation of small and medium businesses, but the IT problems they face are often enterprise-sized.

This week (Oct. 14 to 20) is small business week: an event designed to raise public awareness around SMB issues as well as keep them on the public sector radar.

“It is a great opportunity for people to learn about the contributions that small business makes to the Canadian economy and also to learn about some of the issues that a small business has to go through,” said Doug Bruce, director of research for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “It’s not easy being an entrepreneur. Many business owners go through many different types of ventures before they find business success.”

But when they do find success, they may discover that they are facing exactly the same problems as larger corporations.

To some degree, the distinction between an SMB and an enterprise is artificial, said Peter Chau, infrastructure architect for North Vancouver-based North Shore Credit Union. The larger you get, the less it matters.

“I think there’s zero difference,” said Chau. His company employs approximately 300 people, including 14 full time IT personnel. “The only difference I see is that small business requires solutions that are more efficient and require less administration, (but) only because we lack the resources to look after the products.

“Anything the big guys use, we like to use and use it better.”

Chau is in the enviable position of belonging to a company that is on the cusp of becoming an enterprise. He anticipates that North Shore will soon grow to 500 employees (the minimum to be considered an enterprise in Canada) either through acquisition of organic growth.

But it can be difficult to find the support needed from technology vendors when you occupy the twilight zone between SMB and enterprise, said Chau.

For example, North Shore doesn’t officially qualify for some of the value-added service Microsoft offers to enterprises because it doesn’t buy enough software licences. However, the software company was able to overlook the rule of law and adhere to the spirit. It offered enterprise-level support to North Shore because it recognized that it had a growing customer to take care of, said Chau.

It’s  prudent to start those relationships now because vendors and partners will reap the rewards in the long term, said Chau. “Our small business title could easily go to enterprise really quick.”

Vendors are eager to tap that middle market, agreed Michael McAvoy, director of SMB and commercial marketing for HP, but that hasn’t always been the case.

“I think technology companies in the past have been guilty of trying to take enterprise solutions and dumb them down to try to them into the small business realm. Small businesses don’t want technology for technology’s sake; they want technology to enable them to get something done,” he said.

“As the business grows, so does the awareness of what the technology needs are.”

The real small businesses are those that haven’t achieved that awareness yet, said Ipsos-Reid research manager Sean Simpson.

According to a recent Ipsos poll of 900 Canadian SMBs, 71 per cent said that enhanced data security is a priority for them. Those are the businesses that have achieved a level of understanding about technology and what it can and can’t do for them, he said.

“I’m not so sure I see much of a difference between a medium business with 400 employees and an enterprise.”

If your business employs 50 people or less, chances are “you’re worrying about getting good help instead of securing your data. I’m sure they would love data storage to be a priority, but they just can’t. There’s other things that they have to worry about,” said Simpson.

CFIB’s Bruce said that events like small business week bring issues like this into focus. It’s important to re-examine the definition of what it means to be a small business, he said, but not get too caught up in the labelling process.

“The most important thing out there is the growth potential: how do we turn small businesses into mid-sized businesses and get that revenue stream going up?” he said.

“Small business week comes around once a year, but (at the CFIB) every week is small business week.”

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