To paraphrase Roy Batty from Blade Runner: "Time to buy."2008 is the year your small business should consider purchasing one of the new generation of office automation software packages now flooding the market. Microsoft ( MSFT) is shilling its new Business Contact Manager as part of Microsoft Office 2007. Apple ( AAPL) is in play with Microsoft Office for Mac 2008, which is expected to be a big part of the upcoming MacWorld show. Web-based business software outfits such as
1. Get comfy working away from the desktop. The single most important change coming is that your core business processes are moving from the computer sitting on your desk to a computer out on the Internet. Everything is getting done online. If you have not done so already, get yourself a Google ( GOOG)
Apps account and get your feet wet posting your files on the Web, collaborating on documents in real time and using new search tools to change the way you handle email. You'll quickly see that certain functions can only be done on your local computer, but the goal here is to get a sense of which parts of your shop can go on the Web. 2. Visualize, visualize, visualize. Right behind the Web-ification of your small business are the advanced modeling techniques formerly used only by big business. If you have not done so already, download one of Microsoft's excellent templates for Excel, or go to one of the new generation of concept-graphing tools . Again, there are many ways to skin, er ... model a cat. What you want is a visualization system that makes sense for your particular business. Bottom line: If by this time next year you are still gleaning financial, sales and other information from numeric tabular forms, you're making a serious mistake.
3. Free ain't free. In utmost irony, the software industry has managed to disguise this single biggest change in business computing as a "free upgrade." Every software company in the market offers a free or steeply discounted version of its business software, so there's rarely a clear purchase point. Buyer beware: These new tools seek to get you to register enough critical information -- contacts or financial -- to make it too complicated to move to another product. Remember how long it took to kill off that America Online email account? It's just like that, except for your entire business.