Small Means Efficient -- maybe that's what the term SME really stands for.
At least, that's the impression you get after hearing about some of this fall's new technology arrivals.
Perhaps the most intriguing is the premiere of the HP Integrated Work Centre, a special platform that combines a sleek HP d530 ultra-slim desktop PC with a slender 15- or 17-inch flat-panel monitor that swivels.
All together, it's an ergonomic, eye-pleasing computing powerhouse designed with small and medium-sized enterprises in mind.
"It's definitely going to be a conversation piece," predicts Tim Prime, a product-marketing manager for commercial desktops at Hewlett Packard (Canada) Ltd. "Instead of having a separate desktop and separate monitor on your desk, you can integrate the two together.
"The desktop fits behind the monitor," Prime explains. "It really is a unique space-saving design -- and helps make for a more efficient environment in your workspace."
Interestingly, the HP Integrated Work Centre includes a handle, so you can tote it around like a suitcase. HP didn't include that so you can treat it like a giant laptop, mind you.
It's just an easier way to move the unit around, one your back will probably thank you for. Once you put it down and turn the power on, chances are your eyes will enjoy the look of the combined unit.
"The monitor itself can swivel easily," Prime says. "You can actually take the monitor and turn it into a horizontal position. You can also move the monitor up and down to adjust to whatever eye level you are comfortable with."
The HP Integrated Work Centre, with HP's ultra-slim d530 business desktop and HP L1530 flat-panel display, retails for about $2,025. Add another $200 for the HP L1730 display. You can buy each piece separately, if you prefer. For more information, see http://www.hp.ca.
If you're not in the market for a snazzy new PC, perhaps you'd rather update your office-productivity software, so your small business can communicate more effectively.
Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 goes on sale tomorrow with five updated and improved programs specifically tailored for small-business users: Word 2003, Excel 2003, Publisher 2003 and Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager.
The fifth program is PowerPoint 2003, which Microsoft Corp. returned to its Office bundle for small business after customers asked for it back.
All together, the new software package offers small-business users improvements in four key areas: information management and control, business processes, communication and collaboration, and personal productivity.
"It's really about helping small businesses manage their customers and opportunities in a more effective way," says Scott Jackson, Microsoft Canada Co.'s product manager for Microsoft Office.
"Creating documents and sharing data to make a better decision -- getting the information to the right people at the right time."
Small businesses, Jackson argues, have the same needs for organizing their information just as large business do, and are just as prone to "information fatigue."
"When there's too much information flying at you at once, how do you get to what's important and decipher what you need to take action on -- versus what you might not even need to read?"
To help sort what's crucial, what can wait and what should be in the waste basket, Microsoft has dramatically redesigned its popular Outlook e-mail program, making it easier to read and organize messages.
Outlook 2003 has a much larger viewing area so you can see more of your e-mail at once, eliminating some of that annoying scrolling. It also lets you organize messages by the criteria you choose and compress threads of e-mail "conversations" by subject.
You can also manage, track and touch base with your business contacts, always a crucial aspect of running a small business.
All five programs in Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 also let you tap into the power of XML or "extensible markup language." It makes it much easier to create, read and exchange all kinds of information -- such as a spreadsheet or draft proposal -- electronically.
"XML is the industry standard. It allows you to restrict and/or reuse information with flexibility," Jackson explains.
Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 will retail for $659. If you have an older version of Office, you can upgrade it for $419.
The improved software package also comes with more programs in a professional version or you can get a basic lineup in Microsoft Office 2003 Standard Edition. For more information, check http://www.microsoft.ca.
No matter what e-mail program you use, chances are you've got those annoying messages that clog up your inbox, promising bigger body parts and greater wealth, and offering questionable foreign transactions.
Yes, spam is every e-mail user's nightmare --- and every small business's efficiency killer.
"For a business of 10 employees, the cost of deleting spam is more than $2,000 a year -- and that's a conservative number," says Tristan Goguen, president of Internet Light and Power (ILAP), a Toronto-based Web hosting and services company.
"It also takes [that business] up to 72 hours a year to delete spam," Goguen adds. "That's a lot of lost time."
And that's all because of a huge increase in spam. Depending on whom you ask, it now ranges from 60 to 90 per cent of the world's e-mail.
Goguen points to his company's innovative anti-spam system, called iPermitMail, as one way to protect your small business from the menace of unwanted e-mail.
"We're finding that a lot of small and medium-sized businesses are being inundated by viruses," Goguen explains. "Their time is being wasted by junk mail and, most importantly, they also complain about deleting legitimate mail they mistook for spam.
"Our objective is to put recipients in complete control of their own mailbox."
iPermitMail uses "white-list technology" and patent-pending Adaptive Inheritance Technology to make sure your important contacts won't be blocked, while protecting your inbox from damaging worms and viruses.
The engine behind it may sound complex, but iPermitMail is easy to use. It requires no software downloads, yet lets you receive messages from only specific senders that you authorize.
"If someone is not in your address book, then you will not receive mail from them," Goguen says, "At the same time, senders get added comfort because you are using iPermitMail. They know that you will attend to their messages quickly and not delete them."
iPermitMail costs $2.50 to $4.50 a month per user, depending upon how many e-mail users an organization has. For more information and to take advantage of a free 60-day trial, visit http://www.impermitmail.com.
© The Globe and Mail
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