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How Partners Working with SMBs Can Learn from Enterprise IT

Want to adapt enterprise best practices to run your small business? Here are five lessons for doing so.

Even partners serving small businesses that have just one part-time IT person can benefit from the best-practice techniques of enterprise IT departments that have already implemented key strategies.

Because large enterprises are often on the front line of developing best practices to be in synch with compliance or quality directives, partners who work with small and midsize businesses (SMBs) can easily take a page from enterprises' exacting standards and apply enterprise IT best practices to their smaller customers' network environments. With a little planning, you can help your customers develop a framework to create a network environment that will help you and your clients establish a competitive advantage.

If you're working with SMBs, here are five important points you should remember when developing a framework that will ensure that your clients get the most business value from their networks:

  • The Network Is the Business: Business-critical service availability is the mission of any successful IT team, and in many instances the application is the business. For your customers, buying the latest technology is no longer the focus but is simply the means to an end. It is imperative that SMBs use the technology that gets the job done at a sensible price.

  • Don't Be Afraid of Convergence—It Is Here to Stay: Convergence is more than data networking plus voice over IP. Today, the marketplace is looking to communicate with any device and any application. Mobility is driving this trend. However, before you push into an IP solution, ask your client these questions when considering a move to a converged network:

    • What do you have to do to get your network ready for convergence?
    • Do you want to save money on telecom maintenance costs?
    • Do you have an aging, soon-to-be-unsupported legacy PBX?
    • Are your employees asking for freedom of mobility?
    • Do you spend a lot on site-to-site calls between offices?
    • Would you like to provide audio, Web and video conferencing to your employees?

    If the customer answers yes to at least one of these questions, it's time to consider upgrading an aging network infrastructure.

  • Ease of Use Is Key to ROI: If it isn't easy to use, it won't get used-and if it doesn't get used, why spend the money? That's why ease of use needs to be a driving strategy. Are flexibility, scalability and the ability to monitor the converged network worth having? They are, as large companies have (sometimes painfully) discovered. Today your SMB customers can learn from the experiences-and failures-of the Fortune 1000.

  • Standards, Standards, Standards: Enterprise IT has disciplined the market because of its tough requirements for interoperable solutions. As more vendors-including enterprise-class solution vendors-target the growing SMB market, SMBs have the opportunity to migrate away from homegrown and open-source solutions. Because of the new interest in the SMB market, SMBs can migrate to affordable standards-based solutions that will reap them the same benefits as their enterprise counterparts.

  • Play Nicely with Others: Tools and vendors shouldn't drive network monitoring choices. Instead, it's important to sell the tools that do the job, rather than buying a brand. In the future, emerging standards will drive multi-vendor point solutions to interoperate.

Regardless of a company's size, the approach that works best for your clients is the approach that best meshes with their corporate culture. If an SMB eagerly latches on to new ideas and new processes, it'll be more willing to reach out and try new approaches or seek best-practice IT techniques. At the other extreme are SMBs that want the technology proven before making a move.

By applying the five lessons from enterprise IT noted above, you can work within the parameters of your customers' businesses and tailor a technology adoption approach to their specific needs and cultures.

About the Author

Ennio Carboni is the director of product management for Ipswitch Inc., a Lexington, Mass.-based Registered Member and maker of network-monitoring, file-transfer and collaboration software.