In sync Featured

7:00pm EDT December 7, 2009

With the right technology, even a small business owner can begin to operate like a senior executive at a large corporation.

“Business owners don’t need more e-mail,” says Rich Cannon, industry development marketing manager for Microsoft. “What they do need is a better way to process it. The problem is, a business owner gets 200 e-mails a day, and there are three in there that will kill the business if they’re not processed. Then there are another 197 that if they get to, great, and if they don’t, it’s still OK.”

Smart Business spoke with Cannon about how the right technology can save you both time and money.

Why should a company have all of its technology streamlined?

E-mail is really the primary way that business owners deal with their customers and their vendors. And you can choose from among all kinds of free e-mail providers, but how are you going to process that e-mail?

You have all this information coming at you, but there are tools that every business can leverage to make it more productive and make its employees more productive. If someone asks you if you can do an appointment, the information is there, you have a task list that you can put it on, and all of that synchronizes with your mobile device.

Now if other people in your office are trying to book an appointment, they don’t have to call you. They can see your schedule and book a time that’s convenient for you, which reduces the number of e-mails and voice mails you’re going to get.

How can business owners get started coordinating their company’s technology?

Most businesses have e-mail of some sort, but one person may have one free service, while another has e-mail through his or her broadband server. So putting everyone on a common system is the place to start.

With the right provider, you’ll get help going through the conversion from whatever each individual was using before onto a system whereby everyone can see one another’s appointments. Once everyone is on a common system, the provider can also help you get your mobile device activated and connected into that system so that you can get everything that is on your desktop on your phone.

What are some mistakes business owners make when moving to a more centralized system?

First, they assume that not everyone in the company needs to be on it because not every job is computer-oriented. The fact is, everyone has to book appointments with someone else, and everyone has to send and receive messages. Everyone has tasks that he or she is doing, and everyone has a schedule. So the first mistake is setting it up for some employees but not for others.

The second mistake is thinking that it’s going to be a huge expense. Business owners think they’re getting a better deal by sticking with their free e-mail account, but that doesn’t offer the tools to process e-mail. Also, a lot of people buy an e-mail software program, and they pay as much for that copy as they would pay for a monthly service for a year. As a result, they don’t get the latest updates on the software, which really improve your productivity.

Finally, they continue to maintain a server in the office. With the hardware and the upgrades and the software licenses, that server is costing the average company $1,000 per year per user, versus a far lower cost for an e-mail service. If you’re using an outside service, that company is taking care of the management of the service, the backup and turning mailboxes on and off. People in your office maintain control over the system, but you don’t have the expense of owning the infrastructure. It really is a better way.

How can using a centralized service save a business owner both time and money?

There are a few examples. Imagine that someone tells you his or her phone number has changed. You put it in your cell phone, but it doesn’t sync back to your e-mail or to your way of processing e-mail. The next time you switch phones, you lose the person’s phone number.

The second timesaver is all the calls you don’t have to take or make. If your assistant needs to set an appointment for you, if all your appointments are in a book somewhere or are in your head, that person wouldn’t be able to do his or her job. With a system in place, your assistant can view your schedule, put something on it, and it shows up on your phone, complete with the attachments you might need for the meeting. As a result, it reduces the number of phone calls and helps you keep everything in sync.

There are a lot of those little things that people have to think to do if a system isn’t doing it for them. And when you take all of that into account, it saves you about 20 percent of the time that you’re in front of your computer or using your mobile device in a week. If you have desk workers at your company, that could save them a day a week.

Rich Cannon is an industry development marketing manager for Microsoft. Reach him at rcannon@microsoft.com. For more information, visit www.business.comcast.com. Microsoft Communication Services offered by Comcast featuring Microsoft Outlook 2007.