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Practical software, services and solutions for the small business
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An introduction to

practical computing and data processing in the small business and for the individual computer user
 

The following item is about the introduction of PCs, practical computing tasks and the use of information Technology (IT) in the small / medium sized business - but also for the individual PC user.

Please click and download our comprehensive info pack ( in Word 97 format )
 



 

About the author of this item:

Qualified Systems Analyst with more than thirty years experience in the field of systems analysis, computing, software development and business management working for leading companies world wide  (banking, credit cards, leasing, retail, industrial manufacturing, military and logistics).
 



 
 
DATA  and  INFORMATION

as a "factor of production" for small / medium sized businesses, home businesses
and individual computer users
 


Around    5 %   of all businesses are  LARGE  enterprises (or belong at least into the medium sized category).

These types of larger businesses dominate the global economic scene worldwide. Their information technology (IT) requirements should be well served at all levels by the computer industry. These businesses also have the financial resources to invest into new emerging technologies and often employ the necessary highly qualified staff needed to manage their systems.

Further information regarding this subject is also available at  the web site of   PAUL STRASSMANN ( http://www.strassmann.com ).  He is regarded as one of the most competent IT personalities in the world.
 
[ There is however the disturbing trend in many of these larger global businesses to reduce the factor "labour" whenever possible for cost reasons, competitive advantages etc.

Among the measures  applied are: the merger of enterprises, the sharing of resources of all kind, the introduction of  e-commerce etc. Even from a commercial point of view all this often does not make much sense at  all. These trends are also in contrast to the real needs of any society because the world population is increasing rapidly (at the moment not many political and business leaders pay attention to this problem - stupid as we are: we are continuing to pollute the earth, get rid of the workforce whenever possible etc. - instead of doing it just the other way around. ]

Further information is available at the following web sites :

 Six Billion people on Earth ( http://www.pbs.org/sixbillion )
 TBSC Consult ( http://tbsc_consult.tripod.com ) - our own support for third world countries
 [ there is an underscore _ between tbsc and consult ]

[ We often find the situation that small businesses have been set up by people who have been made redundant by companies when those were introducing new advanced computer systems and other technologies replacing "labour" - the human factor involved. ]


95 %  of all businesses fall into the "small business" category (often with less than 5 employees).

They are the "back bone" of most economies in the world !

How can they take part in this brave new world as far as the internet, e-commerce etc. are concerned ?

How can they keep themselves "up-to-date" with the developments in IT ?

How can they utilize "data and information" contributing to the success of their businesses ?

... Going to a bookshop to catch up with the computer "mystery"  ...   ?
... Trying to find some good "introductions" to PC computing  ...   ?
... Reading "computer periodicals" or buy some computer magazines ...   ?

You have probably seen the huge selection available at your book shop - but did you really find something that satisfies the burning interest of a (very small) business owner who wants to know how to manage his business better with the help of a computer ?

You are certainly studying the brochures / information available about your holiday destination - don't you?  What about the manuals for your car? Hey - there are none - you have a fully functional piece of equipment which brings you wherever you want to go. If you would spend the same time for your holiday preparations to get the car in order ("update" and "upgrade" it!) before you leave - compared with the time you "fiddle" around every day with you computer - you would never be able to leave home for the well-deserved holiday. Welcome to the world of computing !

It might take a while - probably some decades - until we have finally some kind of sophisticated computer equipment available to serve our purposes in a similar satisfying manner as a car does at this stage. But this is quite normal - nothing to worry about - it has taken the car industry around a century to develop to the level where it is now (and it is still not perfect because of the environmental implications etc.) You and I will probably not experience it in our lifetime that we have the perfect piece of computer equipment (nothing is and nothing will ever be perfect; but there is always progress - and we all have to go through
the slow developments over decades).

Going to a computer shop and ask for the right computer plus software for your (small) business  ....  just forget it ! [ However if you are a butcher and have to transport frozen meat - we bet you will find the right van within half a day. ]

A real crunch we have with the "hype" surrounding all the nonsense. Our experience shows us the REALITY our target group is in because we are dealing everyday with all those people who are buying their first computer, install the first software in their business etc. and often cannot comprehend the nonsense they are  submitted to with the never ending "upgrade" and "update" race.


In this item we try to give some answers, share our experience and hopefully give some practical help.

Please click and download our comprehensive info pack ( in Word 97 format )



 

As far as Information Technology ( IT )  is concerned we have monitored over the last ten, fifteen years the situation many small businesses are in (from buying the first PC - often for the kids -, setting up an accounting package, using the PC mostly as a word processor to type the office correspondence and other simple tasks).

Small businesses with their flat structure allow for the easy combination of the factors of production (resources, capital, labour - and recently recognized "information") - depending on their availability.

The factor "capital" is often the most critical one 

But there is also the TIME factor  (or better:  the lack of time for most of them)  ....

There is the "day-to-day" business to run and the factor INFORMATION is often not considered as important (because it is an emerging factor of production). Running a dairy, a butcher shop, a bakery or a takeaway hasn't  much to do with computing either. The same is valid for craftsmen with a more technical orientation (panel beaters, painters, electricians etc.).

Architects, engineering bureaus, accountants, lawyers, doctors etc. are usually more familiar with these emerging technologies because their profession itself requires the use of modern computer technology to stay competitive.
 
So - how do the small businesses (and the very small ones) fare against the big guys in utilizing computer technology for the benefit of their businesses (and not only in monetary terms).

Our impression is:  "not too good" in general !

Apart from using a cash book or an accounting package with some advanced functions (like stock control) the PC is mostly used for the ubiquitous typing tasks (word processing) in small businesses.

Often the PC is shared with the kids which leads to other risks (apart from the virus danger).

Yes - there are small businesses well organized but this is not the rule according to our experience.

Some of the (small business) cases we have seen  ....
 
-  Dairies (and other convenient shops)

They usually don't use PCs and/or retail specific software to run the business. Cash registers are most common - some with stock control features. We had one case where the kids were playing with the most sophisticated machine in the back office of a small supermarket - but in the shop there was only an old XT (a barcode scanner was connected). From time to time the price fields were updated to allow for correct scanning of the prices - but there was NO stock control whatsoever and of course NO control how the business was actually doing.

Esp. for dairies - they are the backbone for the supply of necessary goods we all need daily (milk, bread, newspaper) - we will have some extensive coverage regarding marketing. Despite the competition from the big super market chains we strongly belief in the need and the future for the local dairy.

Utilizing a simple spreadsheet (provided FREE of charge by us) it is possible for this type of business to control their overall performance (see our FREEWARE section on this web site).
 

-  Liquor Stores

These are sometimes remarkable exemptions (esp. when they belong to a liquor chain); it seems to us that the high value of the goods has led to an early adoption of computer technology to control esp. the stock levels.

However - even in this field of activities - we are often astounded about the total lack of awareness about the possibilities todays software is offering.

On the other hand: some liquor chains have implemented e-commerce facilities etc. where customers can order the "booze" over the net; that's all nice and fine - but let's be honest: to implement all this costs a lot of money and this money has to be earned and comes from the customer. Most of us appreciate to enjoy liquor in modesty - so we all pay for it.
 

-  Butcher shops, bakeries, delis and similar businesses

They usually don't use PCs - there is also not much specific software available having a positive effect on these types of business.
 

-  Takeaways and similar outlets

Cash registers are mostly used.
 

-  Craftsmen of all kind (painters, electricians, panel beaters,  tyre services etc.)

Not much use of PCs to control the business (often only isolated applications);
 
 
Conclusion:

Apart from Liquor Stores most small businesses don't make much use of PCs and don't know what todays software can offer to control a business and  how it can contribute to an overall better result.

[ Further below we will deal more in detail why there is this situation in many small businesses and also give some tips how to make a PC really work for you. ]
 


There is a lot of FREE software available on the Internet - also for those with high professional needs.

One FREE offer - esp. suited for our target group - is listed here:

POS - Point of Sale for all kinds of retail stores (we have practical experience in implementing it)

We recommend POSITIVE for Windows which is also available in a FREEWARE version Excellent - and if your needs increase or if you want a web store - this is the way to go.

We are working together with many small retailers in our target group and see what they are using at the moment - also important: what use they make of their existing software. POSITIVE for Windows beats ALL other POS Software available for our target group - even in the FREE version !

To learn more go to : http://www.gopositive.com

If you are setting up a new business, have existing systems in place - even if you are very happy with what you have at the moment: do yourself a favour and check this one out ! You will probably discover a whole new world.
 
Some other cases we have seen :
 
A Lawyers Office (with three solicitors and one receptionist)

There were several PCs (not networked) and everyone stored his/her documents on the computer next to him where he/she considered it useful ( How convenient ! ). Documents were mostly stored in something like c:\MyDocuments. There were also NO document naming conventions in place. As long as it was possible to remember on which machine a certain document was stored it worked obviously fine for the solicitor concerned (but only for a while of course).

Some people tended to store their documents on floppy disks to take them home, save them sometimes here and sometimes there. Generally "backup" was considered a time waster. In addition: everyone was using the word processing software he/she found most suitable for their purposes (often pirated and illegally installed on the office computers).

The task to network the devices was not difficult from a technical point of view - what has made it nearly impossible was the task to get some order into it and to build a file system which worked for everyone. This should then have led to a kind of document management facility over time  ... regrettably the practice was forced to close down before this task could begin (for other reasons which had however nothing to do with computing or administrative matters !).
 
A clothes wholesaler / dealer

Always equipped with the latest gadgets (be it Palmtop, notebook, high-powered desktop PC); the latest software packages (esp. office suites) are readily available. Most of the time is spend with the tasks to update the software, test new stuff etc. and playing on the net. Benefits for the business were NIL !

A small furniture maker

Had the latest PC technology + software - but was not able to build a sound internal structure to
control - also manually - his business.
 



From our point of view many small businesses are closing down because they have not the instruments in place to control their business. This has not be a highly sophisticated computer spreadsheet - it can be done manually. Here we can help based on our experience !

Please have also a look at our FREE Spreadsheets for downloading  ...
 
http://bluesoftware.tripod.com/spreadsheets.zip

It is not only the high rent and unforeseen circumstances which are killing so many small businesses already after some weeks / months - there are other underlying reasons we have to mention:
 
The basic (professional) foundations

Esp. in this part of the world (South Pacific) the lack of proper apprenticeships for the younger generation is to blame. In many European countries there are for nearly all professions standardized apprenticeships available which allow a young person to go through all departments of a business over a period of around three years time.

A future electrician or mechanic not only learns about the professional tasks he has to perform in his chosen field, but also about the administrative side of such a business. This is combined with at least one day vocational school per week.

Looking back at the developments in Europe (esp. after World War II) - we can truly see the positive and long term benefits of the apprenticeship systems in these successful countries.

Learning the basics - from scratch if you want so - is also part of any military training. Everyone has started at the bottom - there are no people coming from outside and jump into the higher ranks.

[ The author of this item has undergone such an apprenticeship and still benefits thirty years later from it every day. He is also a former Army Officer who was deployed in the area of military logistics. ]

Fundamental wrong - and this has to change in this part of the world - is the belief that a business is there only to make as much profit as possible for the owners/shareholders (and forget about the rest).

True entrepreneurs see their role in society quite different nowadays - and there are already some positive developments in this part of the world (we are catching up and come to a stage of awareness about our society which was in most European countries already accepted decades
ago).

The whole system of apprenticeships is managed in many European countries by the local / regional Chambers of Commerce.

The lack of proper apprenticeships in the first place is from our point of view one of the major
reasons why so many small businesses fail (because the foundations have not been laid at an early age).



 
What we want to bring you closer in this item is to use the PC for the benefit of your business in a PRACTICAL manner (and we have some nice - often FREE - tools to help you) - see our website at:

http://bluesoftware.tripod.com

and there the "Download / Freeware" areas.

Please click and download our comprehensive info pack ( in Word 97 format )
 



 

Some advice related to  ...
 

( 1 )   Marketing hype and computer jargon
 

Please - make yourself free from all the marketing "hype" and computer "jargon" you are confronted with when thinking about purchasing computer hard- and software.

Believe us: if you have a small butcher business it will survive even if you don't sell "beef" and "lamb" over the Internet. As a butcher (with one or two suburban branches) you don't need a "server" in your back office (and if you don't know what a "server" is: it doesn't matter at all - you are not  missing anything).

Think about buying a new or used car in comparison. Depending on your knowledge of the market you have certainly a good idea what you want to buy and how to deal with the sales people before you go to the car yard.

You count the cash or you check out the finance options available to you BEFORE you are going into it. You think about YOUR expectations about the car you want to buy:  a new or a used one,  a family car, a sports car, a van, the brand, colour, engine ...  and here we see some parallels regarding the purchasing preparations for a car and for a PC.

A high-powered PORSCHE or FERRARI engine is fairly useless when you are always driving around the city in traffic jams or to pick up the newspaper from the local dairy. The same is valid for a PC ! You don't need a GigaHertz processor.

The problem is for most people: often they don't know about their true needs as far as computers are concerned (about a car anyone can talk and has its opinion). There are also many ways to accomplish the goals in a business. What makes it more difficult is also to combine these (business) needs with the private requirements (internet, games etc.).

Esp. as far as the small business is concerned: there is actually not much help in reading computer magazines or to buy computer books to make these decisions easier. Going for years through the magazines (locally or imported from overseas) we have not found much - if anything -  dealing with the computer needs in a small business environment.

Please:  Do yourself a favour and talk to someone you can trust before you jump into it ! It is the only way. And if you have found someone  ...

Don't think that you just buy a PC, a printer and a piece of software - let's say for US $ 1000.-- - and that you are done (this is different to buying a car).

BE  AWARE  that the implementation (the introduction of a computer system into your business) costs money (esp. if you can't do it yourself). Even someone you can trust - a qualified consultant you know, an experienced neighbour - sooner or later you will have to compensate them for their efforts.

PC, printer plus some software for between US $ 1000.-- and US $ 2000.-- (you will get some good hardware for this money) is not all. If your consultant tells you that you have to spend at least a further US $ 500.-- to US $ 1000.-- to make it work - then belief us:

It is true !

It is our own experience that people are often surprised that things don't work the easy way - they never do ! They come to us with an older Pentium or the latest toy and want to make it work for their business with a POS system, an accounting package etc. and we tell them that they have to fork out between US $ 300.-- and US $ 500.-- to set things up. We spend endless hours (often in our spare time to please the customer) to do a good job. Disappointing for us is often that the customer doesn't appreciate it (because of his lack of knowledge he cannot imagine the time and efforts we are putting in).

If you have someone you think you can trust and he/she tells you that you have to fork out the same amount as you have spend for the computer equipment (hardware and software) - he is probably right.

Go for it !
 
Another piece of advice for those who intend to implement a computer solution in a small business environment:

We always tell our customers that we calculate our charges PER HOUR for the time actually spent. This is more honest - and the customer is in control; if he/she doesn't like our work he can ditch us (we have to live with this even if we have done our best).

Charging a flat price (or fixed over a certain period of time) might not be the best solution for both parties.

The customer is not in control and depends totally on the consultant after the payment is made (we have seen such cases in small businesses and the dissatisfaction it has caused). Often after receiving the large lump sum payment the consultant loses all interest, can't be reached by phone, is always busy, postpones appointments etc.

The customer has put up a large amount of money front up without knowing what he will receive in services.

On the other hand:

The consultant - even with best intentions - can lose control (because he has to spend more time than anticipated). It is mostly not his fault because the underlying technology is changing so rapidly these days. He has then to lower the standard of service to make it well-worth for him (or to make ends meet). In the end he can lose money if his costs are not covered.

If you are an organisation advising people / businesses and are just reading this item:

PLEASE - do your members a favour and tell them about what we are saying here.
 
Please click and download our comprehensive info pack ( in Word 97 format )


Whatever is dished up in software nowadays is mostly based on the same foundations. It appears over and over again just in another disguise. The marketing hype makes us believe that we need always newer and better tools. Let's get real : if you are not very well organized and miss one appointment after another than a diary can't help you nor can its electronic form (organiser on a PC for a example).
 



 
Please read also the following page:

A general introduction to our approach, methods and supporting applications ...
 
Please click and download our comprehensive info pack ( in Word 97 format )
 



 
TBSC  -   The Blue Software Company
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Practical software, services and solutions for the small business
and the individual computer user - world wide !