SMB: The next generation

Far from drawing battle lines in the shop floor, boomers and Generation Y SMB business owners find healthy coexistence despite differing attitudes towards technology.

“Technology knows no age limits when it comes to improving business efficiency-the value is there regardless of the user’s age,” says Vu Ngo, SMB segment manager for Microsoft Canada Co.

A survey conducted by Ipsos Reid on behalf of Microsoft Canada, however, did come up with some key differences between business owners aged 18 to 34 and those 35 and older. The Canada-wide survey asked more than 1,200 SMB owners from various industries about their attitudes towards technology and how they apply it in their businesses.

Fifty-nine per cent of “experienced” owners (those 55 years and older) indicated they “can’t live without” security technology to protect company data. About 57 per cent of this age group were also more likely to resort to a back up tool for safe storage and retrieval of business records.

More than 47 per cent of older entrepreneurs also relied on “contacts and address book in my e-mail application” to keep track of business records and client contact information.

By contrast, younger SMB owners place more emphasis on technology that can help their business grow, according to Ngo.

Roughly 53 per cent of entrepreneurs aged 18 to 34 indicated they “can’t live without a Web site” to help market their business offerings locally and globally. About 50 per cent said mobile devices were indispensable because they help employees “stay connected.”

About 38 per cent of this age group also forego traditional paper-based address books, go beyond simple e-mail applications and use customer relationship management (CRM) software products to keep track of client information.

The disparity may be traced to “different but not necessarily conflicting” views about business, according to Ngo.

“The older owners place great importance in protecting company data and client records because they realize their business is built upon these valuable assets that took years to compile.”

Young entrepreneurs are more likely to be in the building stage and growing their business is more important, he said.

Nearly two thirds or 63 per cent of Canadian SMBs have multiple generations of employees within the business. Ngo, however, said representatives of each age group appear to recognize the particular value that each generation brings.

About 57 of respondents believe older employees “have more business savvy while younger employees have more technology experience.” More than 46 per cent agree that “younger employees are generally more enthusiastic about technology.”

The alliance of old and new is illustrated in the initial establishment and recent expansion of a Hamilton, Ont.-based swimming pool business.

Bob Simpson launched The Pool Shoppe some 27 years ago and built it into a thriving business largely by establishing long lasting business relationships with clients founded on service and trust.

Like most SMB entrepreneurs his age, Simpson kept much of his business records and client information in paper-based ledgers and old-style Rolodexes.

When he handed over the reins of business to his daughter Dana, the younger Simpson automated record keeping by employing Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2003 and SMB grade CRM tools.

The move reduced paper work and made data more readily available to employees but Dana made sure her dad “continued to cultivate strong customer relationship the way he did over the years.”

Lawrence Barns CEO of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise (CAFÉ), says the key for SMB is to find the “right mix of technology that will enable knowledge transfer” from old and young workers.

“Business owners definitely need to avoid adopting technology for technology’s sake,” according to the head of nationwide SMB support organization.

He said the survey results reinforce anecdotal reports he receives from numerous businesses that show entrepreneurs from various age groups are ready to adopt technology by usually do so at a different pace.

For companies with multi-generation employees and owners, Barns suggest that the move to change should be tempered with the “respect for the company DNA and framework on which the business was built on.”

If a technology is really good for the businesses, people pushing for it should present a convincing businesses case or else it is sure to hit resistance.

“The only person who enjoys change is a wet baby. But even a 79-year-old entrepreneur can appreciate a healthy bottom line,” Barnes said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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