23 May Learning from the big boys: With technology, women urged to “go gradual”
Madison, Wis. – Taking more women-owned businesses to the $1 million annual revenue level will require a number of resources and tools, perhaps none more important than information technology.
That was one of the messages to come out of the recent Wisconsin Make Mine a Million program, where women-owned businesses were encouraged to leverage information technology to a greater extent in their quest to reach the $1 million mark.
The advice they absorbed from the likes of Laurie Benson, CEO of Inacom Information Systems, was consistent with what chief technologists from larger companies have learned about information technology implementations – rather than bite off more than you can chew, it’s better to take one bite of the mountain at a time.
Several of the Make Mine a Million prize winners have fundamental business issues to address before they reach the $1 million mark, and information technology factors into them. For example:
• Linda Remeschatis, owner of Wisconsinmade.com, an online store featuring products made by Wisconsin artisans, would like a deeper understanding of customer data, but can she find the right vendor to provide the appropriate data mining and analysis software?
• Express Drug Screening, a Milwaukee-based start up, is in search of the right solutions for better intra-office communications and for reliably connecting the Milwaukee office with offices it would like to open in Appleton and Madison.
• Susanne Kufahl, owner of Fahlgreen Solutions, a Montello company that has developed emaChecks, a turn-key solution for processing federal criminal background checks, already has very highly secured and encrypted Internet connections. But can she make better use Web marketing to capture a greater share of the growing biometric-identification market?
The answer, of course, is “that depends,” and it depends in part on finding the right solution. Given what the public sector has learned in some highly publicized IT failures, and what the private sector probably has learned in some not-too-highly publicized IT debacles, the approach to deploying technology probably is more important than the technology, itself.
Proceed with caution
Vendor partners like Inacom and Cisco, who have every incentive to be a company’s best early-stage technology advisor, counseled the start ups to take a gradual, integrated approach to deploying information technology, something based on need and scalable into the future.
Lauren Ventura, senior director of commercial market management for Cisco, said technology deployments don’t have to be large and comprehensive to achieve eye-opening results.
“The business owners that we talk to are very curious, and generally what happens is once the equipment is installed and they begin working with it, they go, `Wow, you mean I can connect this to my backroom where I keep my supplies? I can start to manage my inventory remotely? You mean I can now work in the same type of fashion in the office and the home as well? I can securely connect when I’m out on the road?’
“All of the sudden the possibilities become clearer, but typically it has to be in their environment. It’s too abstract for them, I think, if it isn’t in their own environment.”
On a number of fronts, women business owners were urged to think outside the box. That was particularly true of their technological capabilities, and their mindset about the possibilities it holds.
Marilyn Johnson, vice president of market development for IBM, reminded them that a website confers a certain worldly status. “You’re a global business,” she noted, “if you’re on the Web.”
• Visions: Benson touts embedded innovation
• To drive IT, Wisconsin may need entrepreneurial makeover
• Women entrepreneurs reach for $1M level