How to get big business tools on small business budget

Innovative, which provides wealth management and financial services to investors throughout Canada, needed to improve communication and collaboration among its network of brokers and financial planners. But, like many small businesses, it had no IT staff and a limited budget for technology.

"Our systems were outdated and hadn't been updated in who knows how long – I couldn't even tell you," said Kyle Hansen, vice-president of sales and marketing with Innovative Financial Solutions. "Last spring we started trying to figure out how to pull ourselves out of this technology mess." So Innovative turned to Microsoft Small Business Specialist and Gold Certified Partner Bulletproof Infotech, a go-to expert on all things Microsoft in Calgary.

Innovative has six full-time employees, as well as a network of brokers and financial planners. Previously, they were using various versions of Microsoft Office with different programs installed at different times. "It's like trying to build a car with parts from 1970, 1980 and 1990," said Hansen. "It didn't quite work."

Bulletproof suggested a hosted Microsoft Exchange solution, since Innovative didn't have the resources required to bring Microsoft Exchange onsite – nor did it need to. Microsoft Exchange provides access to shared information, calendars and contacts across multiple platforms.

"They took a good look at what we had, what our resources were and what we needed right now," said Hansen. "Rather than push a package, which we don't really need right now, they recommended more of a scaleable growth plan."

Bulletproof also brought Innovative up to speed with Microsoft Office 2007, which provides familiar tools to enhance productivity, enrich communications and create a professional image. For Innovative, it helps the team exchange information, documents and spreadsheets, but also allows them to reach clients through mobile and Web applications.

Sharing calendars and contacts has made inter-office communication seamless compared to the previous disjointed system of phoning to see about a meeting or e-mailing for contact information of a client. "Brokers who don't work in the office come in and use the boardroom for meetings," said Hansen. "Before we had shared calendars, I would organize a meeting and then find out the boardroom was already booked, so I'd have clients waiting in no man's land. With shared calendars and contacts, that's no longer an issue, and it makes our organization look more professional."

The interface is also easier to use, especially for editing PowerPoint presentations and Word documents – meaning there's less micro-management of files. "While there's no direct measure, it's increasing productivity because we have extra time during the day to go out and make more sales," said Hansen.

While Innovative currently has six users, this could increase to 15 or 20 in a few years as the business expands its mortgage brokerage and adds more agents to the mix. "They're a small business that has large enterprise needs, and our hosted offering allows them to have the same tools a big company would have, but on a small business budget," said Stuart Crawford, vice-president of business development with Bulletproof Infotech. "That means they can play in the same sandbox."

Dropping $15,000 to $20,000 on new server technology would be a significant hit to their bottom line. With Bulletproof, they pay $87 a month for a hosted solution, which for Hansen was a no-brainer. They automatically get the latest software updates and can easily add new users, so they have a solution in place that will scale with the business.

It also means they have a single company to call for IT support. "We have the resources to support their infrastructure, but also to sit down and strategize with them, to design a solution that works with the way they work," said Crawford. "They don't have to worry about having full-time IT staff. As their needs change, we can offer different levels of support."

For a limited time, small businesses can purchase Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007 and get a free upgrade to Microsoft Office 2010 at launch at a 20 per cent discount. Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007 includes licenses for Microsoft Office Access 2007, Microsoft Office Excel 2007, Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007, Microsoft Office Publisher 2007 and Microsoft Office Word 2007.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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