This was the consensus of panelists who spoke at a recent roundtable organized by the Direct Engagement Show.
Deeley’s virtualization coup
Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada’s use of storage virtualization exemplifies how this technology can lead to significant cost savings and better resource utilization, according to Kevin Peesker, vice-president and general manager, SMB, Dell Canada.
After several years of phenomenal business growth, the Canadian distributor of the well-known motorcycles realized it was spending far too much maintaining single-application servers.
Ever increasing data volumes were quickly eating up storage resources, said Peesker.
The firm turned to Dell to virtualize its storage-area network. It ran Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization software on Dell PowerEdge M610 blade servers in a Dell PowerEdge M1000e enclosure.
Virtualization also enabled the motorcycle distribution firm establish a rapid recovery plan.
“It helps them recover from a server failure in 15 minutes as opposed to the eight to 12 hours it previously took,” Peesker said.
Deeley can now also deploy new services or modify existing ones within a couple of days, instead of the 10 to 15 days it used to take in the past, he said.
And other firms in every sector are experiencing similar benefits from adopting a virtualization strategy.
The technology has helped pushed down data storage and management costs by as much as 80 per cent over the past five years, Peesker said.
Ace up your RightSleeve
As far as cost savings go, Canadian firms have also benefitted big time from use of open source technology.
Toronto-based RightSleeve can testify to this.
The firm designs and distributes corporate promo products such as baseball caps, coffee mugs and golf shirts.
RightSleeve uses open source software, mobile devices and social media to make its presence known among the big players, according to company president, Mark Graham.
The company started out with an HTML-based Web site in 2000, but soon outgrew the “static” system.
It began shopping for an online CRM tool to help it manage inventory, delivery, accounting, and customer transaction operations.
For example, the original site was just a collection of images, which did not allow employees to accurately check inventory, track deliveries, or handle transactions.
If a product was discontinued, someone had to access the system’s backend and delete it.
RightSleeve found the antidote in open source coding software.
“We built our CRM system in-house on MySQL” said Graham.
As MySQL is open source software, any company can use the code for free, and customize it to meet their needs.
The MySQL-based tool interoperates with RightSleeve’s suppliers’ systems.
This further streamlines business processes and eliminates manual errors, Graham noted.
He said some suppliers have given RightSleeve special discounts. “The 10 per cent cut in cost enables us to increase gross margins by 25 to 42 per cent.”
Mobile devices, such as smart phones and laptops, also enable RightSleeve employees and agents to check on inventory and assist clients, even when they are away from their desks.
“The nature of our work often requires employees to access company data in the field,” said Graham. “Laptops and smart phones allow our mobile agents to function as though they have their desktops with them.”
Peesker says Dell’s small and mid-sized customers are pushing for development of better mobile devices that allow users to take head office capability with them on the road.
The proper mobile tools, he said, can help workers cut down on the need to travel back to the head office to access data. They enable employees to work from any location.
“We still can’t say what dominant form factor will emerge, but users definitely want mobility and this is one trend where SMBs can realize savings.”
Casting a wide social net
Social networking sites enable SMBs to gain global reach on a very small marketing budget, said Graham.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Slideshare, the Toronto-based promotional company has got it covered.
He said clients can receive instant updates on new products, sales and offers through the company’s RSS feeds and they can interact with RightSleeve agents via blogs and Facebook pages.
“Social media is a great differentiator for us,” the RightSleeve president said. “It great for building our identity, creating a supportive community and it’s all for free.”
He said many of RightSleeve’s big name competitors haven’t ventured into social networking.
Graham encourages owners of smaller firms to try using social media to promote their brand and to enhance customer touch points.
One drawback of social media though, according to Rick Spence, columnist for the Financial Post newspaper and Profit Magazine, is that they could be intimidating for the uninitiated.
Business owners who aren’t social media savvy could find it difficult to navigate the links and features of many social sites, he said.
“You might read about how Facebook and Twitter can improve your business. But when you go to the site, there’s very little by way of instruction on how to get started.”
Graham, of RightSleeve agrees. However, he said neophytes need not be afraid to make mistakes.
“Social media is a very forgiving technology. If you make a mistake, you can simply start over again.”
A big blunder would be to adopt a stance that your company is infallible, he said.
“You shouldn’t be like Nestle which resorted to editing and deleting unfavourable comments on its Facebook page. It’s better to admit you made a mistake and promise to correct it. That, I think endears your company to the public.”
Ontario’s small biz push
For smaller firms, easy and quick accessibility to needed information is crucial, noted Harinder Takhar, Ontario Minister of Government Services, who hosted the roundtable.
He said many small business operators have neither the time nor the manpower to research regulations and statutes that could affect their operations.
The reality, he said, is business owners often need to consult several government offices or Web sites to determine which government policies and regulations have a bearing on their plans.
“Each hour they dedicate to scouring information is an hour taken away from operating the business.”
He said firms are also listed under different registration numbers in different government offices within the province, making data access cumbersome.
To address this challenge, Takhar said, the Ontario government has launched a program to consolidate information small and mid-sized firms might need from various government offices.
When completed, the project will also provide a single registration number for each business, which could be used for dealing with the 12 ministries in the province.
Takhar estimates these moves steps will collectively save smaller Ontario firms as much as $120 million.