As Machines Get Smarter, How Will the Way We Live and Work Change? Part 2: Shifting Human–Machine Dynamics

T

Every day, we see new examples of how technology is reshaping the dynamics of human–machine partnerships at work and at home. Some of the changes we can already see include everything from smart watches to drones to self-driving cars.
How will the next wave of technology disrupt our lives and change the nature of human and machine partnerships, and how quickly will this disruption happen? Although no one knows the exact path this latest round of innovation will take, Dell Technologies has partnered with Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore how these trends are likely to take shape in their new report, The Next Era of Human–Machine Partnerships: Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030 . In the first post in this two-part series, I discussed the emerging technologies that will underpin these changes. In this second installment, I examine how these technologies are likely to reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

What will the brave new world of 2030 look like? The Dell/IFTF study highlights the following key shifts in human–machine relationships:

  • People become digital conductors. We already use apps for many tasks, from finding jobs to hailing rides. Personal assistants—or chatbots—help us turn off the lights, monitor home security and order products online. As technology helps us to orchestrate more activities and tasks, more of us will become “digital conductors,” using more personalized apps to predict, meet and respond to more of our needs. Expect solutions to help us monitor and care for elderly relatives, understand the role our emotions play in making a decision and help us to run errands. We’ll “conduct” these apps through connected devices. In the future, machines will become extensions of ourselves. Honor, for instance, has developed a platform to match elderly patients with doctors and care professionals as well as coordinate meals, transportation, housekeeping and companionship. OhmniLabs is working on an affordable telepresence home robot. With one click of a button, a person can be in the same room as his/her family, friends and colleagues without being physically present.
  • Work chases people. There’s little doubt that machines will replace humans in many jobs: PwC predicts that robots could take over 38% of U.S. jobs in the next 15 years. However, IFTF authors contend that new jobs will replace them. The percentage of “gig” or contract workers will grow to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. Instead of workers looking for jobs, organizations will compete for the best talent for specific jobs, using solutions such as reputation engines, data visualization and analytics to automate the process. Companies will also change the way they work, adopting more capable solutions that streamline collaboration across geographies and time zones. Glowork, the first women’s employment organization in the Middle East, has launched a platform that links female jobseekers with employers. So far, it has put more than 3,000 women in the workplace and located work-from-home jobs for 500 women. By leveraging big data, employers can search for candidates based on different search criteria.
  • In-the-moment learning becomes the norm. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that today’s learners will have 8 to 10 jobs by the time they are 38, and IFTF estimates that 85% of the jobs they’ll be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. This makes the ability to learn new skills a worker’s most valuable asset. But how will people—especially the growing population of gig workers—learn new skills? Probably not through traditional HR and training processes. Instead, they’ll need to do more learning on the fly, with “in-the-moment” learning becoming the norm by 2030. New technologies such as AR and VR will facilitate this trend, guiding, for example, a new field service technician through an HVAC repair. DAQRI, which is based in Los Angeles, is using AR devices to display digital work instructions in workers’ physical environment, helping them to complete tasks more efficiently.

Technology: The Fabric of Our Future Lives

No one knows exactly how these trends will unfold; and while some people are excited about them, others are uneasy about what may happen. Will machines steal jobs from people and lead to unemployment? Will bad guys create evil robots like the Terminator in the movie of the same name and Ava in Ex Machina?

But whether we’re ready or not, it’s safe to assume that technology will continue to play a bigger role in our business and personal lives. Think about it: the internet was a novelty 20 years ago, and “dumb” phones outsold smartphones until 2013. Now, both are ubiquitous. The next round of technological change is likely to be as inevitable and pervasive, so the best route is to start preparing for it by asking critical questions, such as the following:

  • How can we, as individuals, get smarter and keep learning?
  • What skills are most likely to be automated?
  • What human skills will have the most value?
  • How can we use new technologies as tools to accomplish goals, for our businesses and ourselves?
  • How can we build people skills and digital infrastructure for the future?

Recognize that what seems disruptive today will become part of our individual and business fabric tomorrow. By thinking proactively about the next level of human and machine interactions in the workplace now, we will be much better positioned to reap the benefits in the future.

You can read the full Dell/IFTF report  for more food for thought and take the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Survey to help assess your organization’s readiness for the future. 

This is the second post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell. The first post examines the emerging technologies that will underpin changes in human–machine dynamics.

As Machines Get Smarter, How Will the Way We Live and Work Change? Part 1: Key Technology Drivers

You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that machines are getting smarter. Every day, we see new examples of how entrepreneurs, businesses and academics are using new technologies to reimagine how things get done. Not that long ago, for instance, ADT provided armed security guards to protect property. Today, ADT has transformed to become the largest professional installer of home automation solutions in the United States. From manufacturing robots to self-driving cars to devices to help us manage our homes, technology is reshaping the dynamics of human–machine partnerships.

Depending on your point of view, the next round of innovation may be exciting, scary, confusing, uncertain—or all of the above. How will the next wave of technology disrupt our lives and change the nature of human and machine partnerships, and how quickly will this disruption happen?

Although no one knows the exact path this latest round of innovation will take, Dell Technologies has partnered with Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore how these trends are likely to take shape in their new report, The Next Era of Human–Machine Partnerships: Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030. In this post, the first in a two-part series, I examine the emerging technologies that will underpin these changes. In the second installment, I discuss how they will reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

The Next Technology Wave

According to the Dell/IFTF study, the following key emerging technologies will radically change how humans and machines engage:

  • Robotics: Robots have been around for a while—especially in manufacturing, where they’ve mainly performed repetitive and/or dangerous tasks that don’t require a lot of problem-solving skills. But technology is expanding robots’ capabilities, enabling them to do more in manufacturing and to take on new roles, from driving our cars to administering physical therapy. For example, some rehab facilities already use wearable “exoskeletal robots” to help patients recovering from spinal cord injuries and strokes to stand, reach for objects and relearn to walk.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning make computer programs and machines “smart” by enabling them to learn, change and predict patterns as they are exposed to new data, as well as to converse with users to answer queries and provide insights. Unlike humans, programs that use these technologies can crunch massive amounts of data quickly and efficiently. For instance, many financial trading firms use these systems to predict and execute high-speed, high-volume trades. In healthcare, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD) is helping radiologists find early-stage breast cancers that might otherwise be missed. And, as I wrote about previously, Alice (which is powered by Circular Board and partnerships with Dell and Pivotal) is the world’s first AI platform for female entrepreneurs. Alice uses machine learning to guide and connect these women with mentors, referrals, capital and other resources needed to start and grow their businesses.
  • Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are transforming how we engage in both virtual and physical worlds. VR “blocks out” the physical world, taking the user to a simulated, digital world. VR is often used for training, such as in the military, where soldiers can prepare for combat situations without the risk of death or a serious injury. AR adds a digital layer on top of the physical world. The best-known example is the AR game Pokémon Go, which uses your smartphone’s GPS to mark your location and move your Pokémon avatar, and uses your smartphone camera to show you digital Pokémon in the real world.
  • Cloud computing: I know, after 20 years, cloud computing no longer seems like an emerging technology. However, cloud computing is the backbone that provides scalability, flexibility, cost, speed and ease-of-deployment benefits that enable businesses and people to continue to take advantage of newer technologies. For instance, Chitale Dairy’s “cow to cloud” initiative uses the cloud to improve farming for 50,000 dairy farmers in India. Chitale has outfitted more than 200,000 cows with RFID tags to monitor their health habits. Information from the tags is sent to the cloud to be analyzed, and alerts are sent to local farmers regarding when to make dietary changes or arrange vaccinations.

The Chitale story also underscores how some of these technologies are maturing, converging and coming to life as part of the next generation of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Liam Quinn, chief technology officer and SVP of Dell Technologies, the cloud provides the technology required to dynamically distribute and allocate resources across different platforms and devices. Now, organizations can attach gateway-to-legacy IoT systems so they can send the data they’re already capturing to the cloud to analyze and use it to run their businesses more intelligently. These advances also make IoT more cost effective and manageable, and they will enable companies to develop entirely new IoT solutions to improve efficiencies and facilitate new business models.

You can read the full Dell/IFTF report  for more details and insights on these trends and take the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Survey to help assess your organization’s readiness for the future.

This is the first post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell. The second installment looks at how these technologies are likely to reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

SMB Group’s 2017 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends

2017-top-10-image2017 has the potential to bring unprecedented changes to the technology landscape for SMBs. In most years, the top tech trends tend to develop in an evolutionary way, but this year we also will see some more dramatic shifts that SMBs need to put on their radar. Areas such as cloud and mobile continue to evolve in important ways, and they are also paving the way for newer trends in areas including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, integration and the Internet of Things (IoT) to take hold among SMBs.

Although we can’t cover all of them in our Top 10 list, here are the headlines for SMB Group’s 2017 Top 10 SMB Tech Trends  that we think hold the most promise for SMBs in 2017. Click here for the full report.

  1.  The Cloud Continues to Power SMB Digital Transformation.
  2.  Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) moves from hype to reality for early adopter  SMBs.
  3.  The Rise of Smart Apps for SMBs.
  4.  Focused, Tailored CRM Solutions Take Hold With SMBs.
  5.  SMBs Get Connected With New Collaboration Tools.
  6.  SMBs Modernize On-premises IT with Hyper-converged Infrastructure.
  7.  Application Integration Gets Easier for Small Businesses.
  8.  SMB Mobile Momentum Continues, But Mobile Management Lags.
  9.  Online Financing Options for Small Businesses Multiply.
  10.  Proactive SMBs Turn to MSSPs and Cyber Insurance to Face Security  Challenges. 

Please contact Lisa Lincoln, Director of Client Services at lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com or 508-734-5658  to learn about licensing options.

SMB Adoption of Unified Communication and Collaboration (UCC) On the Rise

—by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe

Today’s small businesses need the right mix of collaboration tools to create a productive work environment. SMBs looking for new collaboration solutions that will help them work smarter, and achieve top business goals of attracting new customers, growing revenue and improving customer experience. Flexible solutions that connect employees with each other and with customers and partners from any location, device or network will play a big part in achieving these goals.

But as SMBs increase their reliance on collaboration tools, managing and integrating multiple solutionsincluding email, instant messaging, voice, click-to-dial, presence, videoconferencing, and morecan become difficult. As a result, more SMBs are considering unified communications and collaboration (UCC) solutions to aggregate and integrate these functions and bring some order to collaboration chaos.

Mainstream VoIP Adoption Lays the Foundation for UCC

SMB adoption of voice over IP (VoIP) solutions is already well underway. According to SMB Group’s recently completed 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, 53% of small businesses (companies with less than 100 employees) and 68% of medium businesses (companies with 100 to 1,000 employees) are currently using VoIP. In addition, 16% and 10%, respectively, plan to implement VoIP within the  next 12 months.

Figure 1: SMB VoIP and UCC Adoption

b2-picture1-768x383Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

With a VoIP foundation in place, more SMBs are considering deploying UCC solutions. Currently, just 12% of small businesses (companies with less than 100 employees) and 28% of medium businesses (companies with 100 to 1,000 employees) use UCC solutions. But, over the next 12 months, 17% of small and 35% of medium businesses say they plan to deploy a UCC solution, potentially doubling year-over-year penetration.

SMBs Are Split on UCC Implementation Preferences

Our study shows differences in SMBs’ UCC implementation preferences. While small businesses tend to gravitate to cloud-based solutions, medium businesses are more likely to choose on-premises deployments. In addition, 14% of small and 20% of medium businesses favor a hybrid UCC approach.
Figure 2: SMB UCC Implementation Methods

b2-picture2-768x320Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Drivers for UCC Adoption

As shown on Figure 3, SMBs are turning to UCC to:

  • Improve employee productivity from any location, device or network
  • Standardize communication and collaboration tools
  • Increase security
  • Easier to use, monitor and manage
  • Better integration between communication solutions and business applications
  • Lower telecommunication costs
  • Create a more professional image with customers, suppliers and partners

Figure 3: Top Reasons to use UCC

b2-picture3-768x340Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

UCC Solution Purchase Channels

32% of the small businesses and 23% of medium businesses have purchased or plan to buy their UCC solution from their traditional phone carrier (Figure 4). A greater percentage 28% of medium businesses have purchased these solutions from an Online UCC service provider vs. 24% of small businesses. Small businesses prefer to buy from channels they have an existing relationship with. Medium business that have some more IT resources prefer to buy from newer online channels or VARs (if their requirements are more complex).

Figure 4: UCC Solution Purchase Channels

b2-picture4-768x354Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Most Important UCC Features

SMB survey respondents ranked the UCC features that are most important to them (Figure 5), with the following coming out on top:

  • Better security and compliance capabilities
  • Lower cost
  • Easier for end-users to use
  • Easier to integrate with other business applications
  • Easier and flexible to deploy, manage and extend
  • Better voice and video quality and reliability

Figure 5: SMB Rank Importance of UCC Features

b2-picture5-768x378Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Summary and Perspective

The market opportunity for UCC in the U.S. SMB segment is around $4.5B. Adoption among both small business and medium business segments should be continue to rise, as more employees work away from their companies’ main offices. Traveling employees, telecommuters and employees in remote offices represent different types of mobile workers and cloud-based UCC solutions can help keep them connected—both among themselves and with their customers—in a more streamlined and manageable way.

Integrated UCC solutions that also connect easily with key business applications can further fuel adoption. And, UCC solutions can help SMBs gain more control, and as a result—security—when compared to a hodge-podge of disjointed point solutions.

Especially in the resource-constrained small business segment, cloud-based options, which offload deployment and management headaches, and offer more affordable subscription pricing, will continue to help facilitate UCC adoption among SMBs.

However, the concept of UCC as an integrated set of systems and applications is still confusing and complex for SMBs who have yet to adopt these solutions. UCC vendors and their channel partners need to help SMBs better understand benefits and evaluate the best-fit alternatives to best capitalize on the growing interest in UCC.

For a complete table of contents and ordering information for SMB Group’s 2016 Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, click here.

Trends in SMB Collaboration, Communication, and Mobility: What’s Your Strategy?

Almost every employee in every company collaborates and communicates every day. In the past, most businesses relied primarily on email, phone systems and sticky notes to do this, but today’s technology provides us digital solutions that enable us to work anytime, anywhere.

Stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, cloud file sharing, conferencing, smartphones, tables and laptops can help employees and contractors collaborate to get work done more quickly and easily. Companies that use these solutions to automate and streamline collaboration can not only improve productivity, but also give employees more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where people they want to work. As baby boomers retire, these businesses will also be more in tune with and better able to attract and retain millennials as they enter their prime working years.

How are small and medium businesses (SMBs) thinking about and adapting to create a smarter, more agile workforce? At SMB Group, we recently surveyed 730 SMB decision-makers via our 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration & Mobility Study to find out. In our July 26 webinar, sponsored by Citrix, I’ll discuss survey findings that show that while SMBs are progressing well in some areas, there are some that they may not be paying enough attention to.

  • A majority of SMBs say they have a collaborative culture, and are getting productivity value from collaboration and communication solutions. 61% of SMBs agree/strongly agree that their company encourages and rewards collaboration; 70% agree/strongly agree that their communication and collaboration solutions help improve productivity. By incenting employees to work together, and providing them with solutions to empower them to do so more effectively, SMBs can boost productivity, job satisfaction, business outcomes and the bottom line.
  • SMBs are embracing cloud collaboration and communication solutions. A majority of SMBs already supplement staples such as email, on-premises file sharing servers and phone systems with newer, cloud-based tools for file sharing, instant messaging, and web and audio conferencing to aid collaboration. Furthermore, SMB plans to use more of these tools, and newer solutions, including video conferencing and stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, over the next 12 months. However, with so many solutions in the market, many SMBs have a hard time figuring out which ones will work best for the business. In addition, it’s easy for employees to use “unsanctioned” collaboration solutions, which can create support problems and security risks.
  • SMBs may not be making the connection between employee metrics and growth. SMBs are most likely to cite attracting new customers (51%), growing revenue (49%) and maximizing profitability (38%) as their top three business goals (Figure 1). In contrast, attracting and retaining quality employees (28%), improving productivity (19%), and creating a millennial friendly work environment (8%) are much lower down on the list. Yet empowered, productive and satisfied employees are generally a pre-requisite to creating happy customers and growing the business. SMBs can gain a competitive edge by realizing that strong employee metrics are intertwined with sustainable business growth and profitability.
  • SMBs are slow to embrace telecommuting. All SMBs surveyed have some employees that work from home on a regular basis, but telecommuting is not the norm among SMBs, with 59% indicating that 1%-10% of employees work from home regularly, and just 14% saying that more than half of their employees do so. On the bright side, 18% expect the percentage of telecommuters to rise over then next year, and 45% say that their company wants to make it easier for employees to work from home. Of course, not every job lends itself to telecommuting. But, to synch up with changing worker expectations—especially among millennials, who place a premium on flexibility—SMBs need to create a work at home strategy that aligns with both business and employee requirements.
  • More work is getting done on mobile devices, but SMBs face mobile management challenges. 67% of SMBs say that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. While the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices, especially when it comes to collaboration and social media. For instance, for collaboration apps, 37% say that they’ve decreased their use of traditional PCs and laptops—and 6% say they no longer use PCs at all for collaboration! This swing is due in part to the convenience and portability of mobile devices over traditional desktops and even many laptops, and to increasing preferences for mobile interfaces. However, SMBs face several challenges to taking full advantage of mobile, including effectively securing and managing mobile devices and apps, especially when it comes to supporting bring your own device (BYOD) programs. Since the growing preference for mobile shows no signs of abating, SMBs must update mobile strategy, devices (including laptops), services, apps and policies to create a productive yet secure and manageable mobile work environment.

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals Slide1

These are just a few of the findings from the study. Please join our webinar, sponsored by Citrix, where I’ll examine these and other findings about the changing collaboration and communication landscape, and discuss the key pillars to create a strategy to improve communication, collaboration and productivity for your business.

Can IBM’s Redesigned PartnerWorld Move the SMB Needle?

ibm pw logoEast coast weather and flight issues foiled my attempts to attend IBM’s annual PartnerWorld Leadership Conference last week. I was disappointed, as IBM took advantage of the event to formally launch its newly revamped PartnerWorld program, which focuses on helping partners drive business in strategic areas, most notably in cognitive and analytics. However, I was able to talk to Brig Serman, IBM’s Director of Global Commercial Business, about what these changes mean for IBM, its partners, and small and medium business customers.

Here are some of what I consider the key changes that IBM made, followed by my perspectives on them.

  • Introduced the newly named “commercial segment.” This segment includes the former midmarket segment (businesses with less than 1,000 employees) and “white space” larger enterprises in which IBM has a small or non-existent footprint. IBM has consciously moved away from identifying this segment based on company size, and calling it “SMB” or “midmarket.” Big Blue made the shift because it believes that this segment—which it sells to via the channel—is not well-defined by size, and that other characteristics such as different buying and consumption behavior, including self discovery, self-service transactions, a preference for cloud, and partner involvement.
  • Committed to a channel only model for the commercial segment. IBM has committed to serving this segment by driving higher value solutions exclusively through its global business partner network. Brig’s group includes 450 IBM sales people. Each is responsible for a territory, from understanding market requirements to driving engagement with business partners to increase penetration in that territory. IBM sellers will only be compensated if the sales transaction goes through a business partner.
  • Redesigned the PartnerWorld program to help partners provide more value to this segment. IBM is offering partners refined “roadmaps” to help partners identify and build skills in selected areas in a more simplified and integrated way. These roadmaps direct business partners to invest in software asset certifications for all software brands, with a focus on analytics, cloud, security and mobile solutions. Partners will earn incremental incentives for sales in these areas, offering margin opportunities that are two to three times higher than for hardware sales. The goal here is to help partners move away from hardware only sales towards higher value solutions that include IBM software, industry expertise, their own IP and/or integration. IBM is also providing Business Partners with the shared best practices of its most successful partners, so they can model skills investments, lead generation, presales and post sales support more effectively and make investments that will pay off.
  • Announced new digital programs to help partners build skills. IBM is expanding digital partner benefits. It has overhauled the PartnerWorld University portal, which offers web-based training for both sales and technical skills, adding new courses and certifications, and giving users more tools to track and manage their progress. IBM is also adding Digital Marketing workshops to help partners use digital and social media more effectively. Big Blue is also expanding its Business Transformation Initiative (BTI) to help more partners move up the solutions value chain. Finally, IBM is offering developerWorks.Premium at a reduced price to help developers more easily tap into the IBM ecosystem and build new applications on IBM Cloud.

Perspective

Although IBM has changed the name, the Commercial segment really has the charter as it did before the name change: to help IBM more effectively reach the millions of businesses that it doesn’t sell to today.

IBM’s new channel programs and directions will certainly help IBM increase its footprint in the large enterprise “white space,” where its worth it in terms of deal size for the business partner and IBM to make the investment. The new initiatives are also a step in the right direction in terms of making gains in the SMB market, as partners are clearly IBM’s best bet to grow, scale and make headway in this diverse and complex space. Boosting partners’ technology, sales and marketing expertise will help them make some inroads with prospective IBM customers. These tactics should also help partners more easily surface solutions that might be a good fit for SMBs who are looking to solve a problem.

But IBM also has a big perception problem in the SMB market. Many SMBs believe IBM lacks solutions that are relevant, consumable, and priced right. While IBM does have some solutions, such as SoftLayer, IBM Verse (for collaboration) and cloud-based Watson analytics that are suitable for SMBs, and has recently begun offering free trials for a handful of them. But, most SMBs are blithely unaware of them, and while IBM has the vision, it really doesn’t have mechanisms in place to stimulate the type of viral adoption that vendors such as Google, Box and Slack have enjoyed. In fact, IBM’s cloud marketplace is just in the early stages, and having IBM solutions in third-party marketplaces is also nascent.

Furthermore, all businesses (regardless of size and whether or not they are IBM customers) are doing much more research, comparisons and shopping and purchasing online. IBM is changing its high-level value proposition (e.g. easier to discover, shop for, buy and use) to accommodate this evolution, and intends to make the necessary business model and solution changes required to execute on it. But, this type of tectonic shift will take time, and in the interim, it will be difficult for IBM raise awareness about the relevancy of its solutions for the broad SMB market.

Given these realities, helping business partners to invest to accelerate skills development and marketing and sales movement will only go so far. To really move the needle, IBM needs to fully execute on significant cultural, business model, sales and marketing and product design changes. Whether or not IBM has the will to put enough time, energy, commitment into the market to make bigger gains this time remains questionable.

BizSlate: Weaving QuickBooks Into ERP for Small Businesses

Laurie:  Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and today I’m talking to Marc Kalman, who is the CEO and founder of BizSlate, which provides inventory management solutions for small businesses. So, welcome Marc!

Marc:  Thank you. Glad to be here today.

Laurie:  Thanks for coming. We’re here at the QuickBooks Connect conference, a very appropriate place to be talking about small business solutions. I’m wondering, before we get into the specifics of what BizSlate does, can you tell us about your role how the company got started?

Marc:  Sure Laurie. I’ve been in the supply chain technology field my entire career. I started off as a software engineer right out of college, did that for about nine years and had the opportunity then to move into more of the practitioner side of things where I was an EDI (electronic data interchange) analyst for a while, I was a supply chain specialist at companies like Coach Leatherware, and then I had the opportunity to direct a team for a nine division accessories business in New York City. From there, I started my last company, which was, and still is a successful EDI provider, Easy Come Software.

What we found was, because of our unique way of addressing the market for small businesses, we were upwards of 90% more efficient than any of our competitors as far as a supply chain capabilities around EDI were concerned. That led to our customers calling up after a while saying, “Hey Marc, this is great what you’re doing for us in the world of EDI. While in our case it might be 70% or 80% of our business, it’s two customers and we have a thousand customers and we’re using QuickBooks and we want to see our inventory and we can’t keep track of things correctly. And people are traveling and need access to real-time information quickly to make important decisions and keep up with the market.”

So it caused me to look at what was going on in the supply chain space for small businesses and I saw that it was a big problem. I’m very passionate about the space, I’ve been involved with it for a very long time and decided, you know what? I’m going to go do something about it and so here we are.

Laurie:  So, what specifically does BizSlate do?

BizSlate_Logo2Marc:  So, we obviously we do integrate with QuickBooks, predominantly focusing on QuickBooks Online right now. That seems to be the direction that QuickBooks is pushing everybody towards anyway, and we want to be the forefront of that.

Laurie:  Right. And new companies are starting more with cloud-based offerings.

Marc: Exactly. We are web-based, and we focus on helping small businesses improve how they manage everything–customers, orders, vendors, inventory, logistics of the supply chain–and give them the tools that they need to succeed this very intense, omnichannel market.

Laurie:  Does it plug right into QuickBooks, Marc?

Marc: It does, seamlessly. We connect right to QuickBooks through APIs, so as you process documents in our system, let’s say like you post invoices or you receive inventory, if you go into QuickBooks you would instantly see those transactions.

Laurie:  It sounds like it kind of fleshes out QuickBooks beyond accounting and basic financials into what other companies would call ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning, with functionality that manufacturers or distributors might need.

Marc:  Correct. And you know, QuickBooks is great from an accounting system perspective. But certain businesses, particularly product-related businesses that have to track inventory, as they evolve, the operations aspect of QuickBooks doesn’t always keep up with the rate of growth. This causes companies to start looking outside of QuickBooks, at companies like MAS 90 or Dynamics. And until now, QuickBooks really hasn’t had a lot of defense against that. In fact we just did a demo for someone earlier and they said, “You know, QuickBooks plus BizSlate equals NetSuite.”

Laurie:  What are you finding in terms of the sweet spot of customers that are interested in BizSlate? I would expect you have a lot of QuickBooks users that say, “I like QuickBooks but I need more.” Any other kinds of people coming by that are interested?

Marc: There are two key areas that customers are attracted to us. One is what you just described, where someone is using QuickBooks, loves it, or their accountant wants them to stay on QuickBooks. They don’t want to have that disruption of having to change the whole system, they just want to expand functionality. We give them a nice path to be able to do that with a system that will help them not just today, but sustain them for the future. Also, the power that we offer is at a very affordable price. So we also find companies that use solutions like NetSuite that maybe aren’t capitalizing on all of the capabilities that NetSuite offers, or it’s too complex, it’s too big, it’s too expensive. This is an opportunity for them to get the same efficiency but easier, and more affordably.

Laurie: Is there a sweet spot in terms of company size for BizSlate?

Marc:  We are primarily focusing on businesses that are fifty million in revenue or less. Industry-wise, we have a lot of traction in apparel, footwear, also housewares, consumer goods, and electronics

Laurie:  A lot of companies are targeting small businesses who are outgrowing QuickBooks. So why BizSlate? What makes you different?

Marc:  That’s one of my favorite questions. Because we get it. We understand small businesses. Small businesses today are understaffed and overworked. People are doing fifteen different jobs at the same time and that’s on a good day. They don’t have time to sit in front of a computer processing documents. Every single person at that company needs to focus on the growth and profitability of that organization. It’s actually detrimental to the business in a very aggressive market to have people who are wasting time on a lot of data entry.

When some vendors target small businesses, they just don’t understand what these small businesses need. They say that they do, but they don’t. These providers, what they say is, “Well, for a small business it has to be affordable,” right? It does. Has to be easy, and it has to be easy, right? But to get there, the typical provider does that by removing value. But this removes ROI. So where BizSlate is different is we bring enterprise value, the kind of tools, the intelligence that small businesses really need to be able to capitalize on the market. But we do it in a way that is affordable and easy and gives them tools that to really rev the business up and focus on things that are more important to the company.

Laurie:  I think you hit the nail on the head. Time is usually the most precious resource for many small businesses. So how long on average does it takes somebody to get up and running on BizSlate, and how do you help them get productive more quickly?

Marc:  Every customer’s a little different. There are different levels of complexity. We start our promise to our customers with ease of use by making sure that the software itself can be learned and trained and used without anybody ever having to teach somebody something. Now that said, that doesn’t mean we don’t support our customers. In fact, I believe we’re one of the few, if not only, providers of this type that offer free unlimited phone support.

Laurie:  That’s a big deal.

Marc: Because we want to make sure our clients succeed, it’s not just about selling software here.

Laurie:  Yes, in a subscription model you really want to keep them once you get them.

Marc:  Exactly. And we’re passionate about small business, I come from the space. Half the employees at BizSlate come from the space. We are really here to make a difference and we want our clients to be successful. As great as our software is, we want to be known for the service that we offer and really make a difference.

Laurie:  Last but not least, is there anything here at QuickBooks Connect that you’re highlighting that you’d like to just give a shout out for?

Marc:  We have two very exciting themes here at the show. Number one, we just found out that we were selected as one of the top twenty cloud providers of 2015 by CIO Review magazine.

Laurie:  Congratulations.

Marc:  Thank you, we’re very excited. Also we’re just finishing up QuickBooks partner certification. In about a week or two, we should be listed on apps.com so everybody will be able to find us.

Laurie:  That’s great. It looks like you’re having a good time at the show too.

Marc:  I’m having a great time. I’m meeting lots of great people, having great conversations, and excited to see that there’s a lot of interest for what we’re doing.

Laurie:  Well Marc, thank you so much for talking to me today and sharing this information so people can learn more about BizSlate and connect with you.

Marc:  Thank you.