Let us consider the needs of an SME.
First, Communications. An SME needs connectivity to the Internet – reliable, cost-effective, and reasonably high-speed. Most SMEs still use dial-up to connect to the Net. In the future, DSL can emerge as a viable alternative. In addition, SMEs need email at their own domain name. There are two options: there can be a locally installed mail server (which would download the emails and make it available on the LAN) or POP/IMAP accounts on the Internet, which make email accessible from anywhere but need appropriate bandwidth. In the future, it is also possible that there will be IP phones plugging into the local Ethernet, perhaps a wireless LAN.
Second, Software. SMEs need software to handle internal functions (finance, taxation, HR, admin, project management, timesheets), collaboration tools (calendar, instant messaging, shared telephone directory, bulletin board), customer functions (database, relationship management, marketing, trouble ticketing, one-click history of all interactions) and the website (with shopping cart, content management and hosting). This needs to be made available to SMEs in “Lego-like” building block modules, and should be customisable by the SME based on its processes.
Third, Services. SMEs need external assistance in various areas, starting with IT support. It is especially hard for SMEs to attract and retain technical talent. Hence, the ability to simplify internal technology needs and have outsourced its management becomes important. Then, there are back-office services like accounting, taxation, escrow, legal and strategy. These are areas where India is well-positioned to leverage – the area of IT-enabled services.
Fourth, Marketplace. SMEs need to buy and sell. A marketplace which can help them reach wider markets can be very useful. SMEs also buy various non-core items like travel services, stationery, etc. Being able to offer a portal which can combine offerings of various SMEs on the sell-side and offer an aggregate of sellers to SMEs can help create a marketplace which can help SMEs some of the benefits which bigger businesses have managed to get. What needs to be leveraged is the combined buyer power of the SMEs.
What needs to be done is that all of the above services need to be aggregated and presented as a solution to SMEs. E-Business is as much for the small businesses as it is for the large ones. Small does not mean simple. If anything, the challenges for creating an SME e-Business solution are even greater. One such challenge is in marketing to SMEs.