How small and medium-sized businesses can invest in self-service solutions to grow market share Featured

8:07pm EDT October 31, 2012
How small and medium-sized businesses can invest in self-service solutions to grow market share

In the face of a stifling economy, many companies have focused on cutting costs as a means to improve profits. Such measures, however, don’t stand the test of time. Inevitably, quality goes down, as do sales over the long haul.

In the technology realm, it is more important than ever for business leaders to invest in new platforms and cater to customers’ needs. According to Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P, the market has spoken and they are asking for small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) to provide self-service platforms.

“Our clients that truly have self-service platforms are seeing overwhelming results,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Carter about issues SMB leaders currently face, the importance of investing in self-service models and the rewards that can be reaped.

What main issues do SMB leaders face as it pertains to surviving in the marketplace?

First, I want to emphasize that the issues are not limited to small and medium-sized businesses. They face many of the same challenges that larger enterprises face — they need differentiating innovation such as a self-service platform. However, SMB leaders do have more difficulties adapting to the self-service platform. If they don’t embrace this new model and are unable to remain competitive from a cost and convenience standpoint, it will affect their ability to retain their company client base. Every decision that is made within a small business environment has an immediate and dramatic effect. Whereas with a large enterprise, although the results may be the same, the consequences show up in a longer time frame — it is not so immediate.

What should SMB leaders be investing in?

It is paramount to be market driven and keep pace with where your market needs are today. Today’s market — end users, clients, etc. — have changed dramatically. The demographics of the end user today are not in line with current service models. The service models of today, for the most part, don’t embrace self-service. Yet the behavior and desire of the end user is all about self-service. If you embrace innovative solutions and are able to provide a competent gateway to self-service you will reap the benefits.

What innovative solutions do you believe SMB players should take advantage of?

Many technology developments have been tailored to larger enterprise environments. A good example is something as straightforward as password management. About 30 percent to 35 percent of all IT service-related calls, whether it is in an enterprise environment or a small to medium-sized business environment, have to deal with this matter. Password management is becoming more of an issue today because, as security needs grow, the need for well-disciplined password management solutions becomes more pressing. While password management has been geared toward larger enterprises, this is an area ripe for small and medium-sized businesses as well.

How can this be funded?

The secret sauce is creating a formal strategy and approach for bringing innovation to the SMB, not just reacting. Over the past 15 years or so, a lot of businesses have been plagued with what I call ‘drop off the technology and run syndrome.’ The technology as a standalone looks good and accomplishes what it’s supposed to do. But unfortunately, that’s where a lot of companies have left it. They’ve made the investment in capital, but haven’t been able to realize the benefits because the solution really wasn’t a business solution, it was more of a technology solution.

In order to improve the existing platform, you should first look at the inefficiencies within your end-to-end platform. Examine the platform and change it to make it more efficient and more effective. I have not yet experienced an engagement where there wasn’t significant amount of monies being spent on ineffective end-to-end support solutions. In most cases, the money saved by optimizing the environment is more than enough to support the investment for self-service. There is no magic or big bucket of money sitting out there, but there is a methodology to determining how to begin investing in a self-service platform.

Where should the recovered excess money be spent?

You should invest those dollars in creating a platform that is going to be more market-driven. Then, you will be able to take the return on those monies and spend them on growing your business. It is important to invest in growing your business so you can become more competitive in the marketplace.

If this strategy is applied correctly, what are the outcomes to the SMB?

In today’s existing model, business is driven by using the platform less. In other words, providers are hoping that their end users, their B2B clients, etc, are using their existing model less because every time they use it, it costs the service provider. The paradigm shift is when you develop the self-service model; the more they use it, the cheaper it is. We’re talking about a complete re-engineering that will affect not only the behavior of the end user, but the provider as well. When you adopt the model that your end users prefer, you will benefit because the more they use it, the less it will cost you.

Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or scarter@ii2p.com.

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