TECH TALK: The Coming Age of ASPs: SMEEM Needs
Let us begin by identifying the various needs of the SMEs in Emerging Markets (SMEEMs). We had classified the two primary drivers as business growth and automation or to put it more succinctly, automation for business growth.
The fundamental question that SMEEMs need to ask themselves is: How would we do our business differently if everyone had a computer on their desktop? While this pre-supposes that IT is good for them, this is not an incorrect assumption. IT brings down transaction costs and eases the flow of information. If only a fraction of employees who need to process information have access to a computer, the flow will be more paper-driven or verbal, rather than electronic. Consider email for example. If only half the organisation has email access, then its use is severely limited. Starting with the basis that everyone who needs a computer can and should have access to one creates the foundation for building an efficient enterprise.
For business growth, SMEEMs need to ensure that they use the Internet well for their communications and marketing, to complement offline activities. While many SMEEMs have websites, they dont necessarily have the latest information because updates are hard. Using blog-like content management systems can simplify the website management process. An RSS feed can ensure that customers can be alerted whenever new products and services are launched. (Email newsletters were effective until recently increasingly, the use of spam filters ensures that they may not reach their targeted audience.) While much of this is very easy to do for an individual writing a blog, this is still quite difficult to do for an enterprise and this is of the first areas than service providers should target.
The second key need centres around the marketing, sales and support processes. These are activities which are critical to ensure that prospects are converted to customers efficiently, and customers are well-supported. This is where the likes of Salesforce.com have made a strong impact in the US. CRM and SFA functions can be handled by ASPs and companies are more likely to want these activated quickly because it helps them grow.
The third area relates to internal interactions and smoothening the flow of information internally. Email has its limitations and collaborative business processes can be done via the Web. From activities like group calendaring and scheduling to contacts management, from sharing information across teams to internal workflow-driven processes, ASPs can offer a process portal to allow enterprises to pick and choose the ones that they want to use. We can think of these as business services for employees.
Beyond these three, there are other processes which can be made available via ASPs. For example, SMEEMs can be offered an online e-business suite which extends the customer management processes to accounting, inventory management, and supply chain management. In addition, on the security front, ASPs can take care of ensuring that all emails received are free from viruses and spam. Taken together, these processes will help the SMEEMs automate their businesses faster.
Tomorrow: Technology Building Blocks