Over the past few days I’ve been playing with DabbleDb, an online database that makes it easy to collect and display data via the Internet.
DabbleDb is a powerful database that competes head to head with Intuit’s QuickBase, Trackvia, WebEx’s WebOffice, HyperOffice and others.
In playing around with this database and as brought up in discussions I had recently Cindy Bates, Microsoft’s General Manager for US Small Business, I realized that there is a need for a new type of technology expert. This person could be on your staff or be a part of the staff of your local technology consultant.
Let me try to explain.
Currently you have experts you can turn to who can repair your computers and technology peripherals when something goes wrong. You also have experts in telecommunications, networking, network security, and of course programmers who can create custom programs for you. Another type of experts include web site developers who can build web sites and add much needed programming to take them beyond static HTML. Many web developers or “online experts” can also help you build a good blog as well – using software such as Movable Type, Word Press, TypePad or Blogger.
The new type of person you need, however, is one who understands, can manipulate and put together off the shelf, or “out of the box” web based applications. These are NOT traditional programmers, who are very much needed for advanced programming, but these are “geeks” who use relatively simple to use online tools.
I’m no programmer, but I have enough geek in me that I can tinker around. Using DabbleDB, I was able to create an online database – to be launched in a few days. There are hundreds of online tools you can use. Some cost nothing and some cost a nominal monthly fee that you can use to dramatically expand the way you use and share information.
You still need your “old school” technology experts, however, if you want really expand how you use information (for example, making it available on your web site), it’s important to nurture “web expertise” within your company or encourage your traditional consultant to develop the expertise.
Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Flickr is an awesome tool to use for sharing photos.
DabbleDb – for online databases
Brightcove – powerful way to share videos
OfficeLive – Microsoft’s powerful entrant into using SaaS
Google – a number of powerful tools for document collaboration and sharing
Kickapps – a powerful service for building a social network
ExpressCorp – sharing spreadsheets
These tools and dozens of others (such as tools that take Excel data and place it on the Internet, or that enable you to stream video from a cell phone) are powerful and you need to leverage them for your own business.
Why not encourage customers to post photos of how they are using your products – use Flicker. Why not start your own video channel using Brightcove?
Before you rush into using these tools, you still must have a “business plan”. You know the thing you write on paper to plan how your business will start and grow? (If you need help check out Tim Berry’s Palo Alto Software).
I could go on, but I hope you get the point.
This new type of person, with this expertise in online/web technologies, is going to be increasingly valuable to your small business. Large companies like Microsoft and Google have online tools but also many startup companies, many still VC funded, are releasing tools that don’t require one to know how to program per se but do require one to be able to read instructions, copy what others have done and experiment.
If your secretary, assistant, accountant or procurement manager has the latest Mp3 player, had the first Tivo, is always online, and goes to blog parties on Friday nights – their probably the person best suited for this new role. If your current technology consultant or web developer is not able to use these new online tools to save you money on programmer costs and provide better ways to share and retrieve data you need to consider hiring an addition to your “tech” team.
I should note – traditional databases are still important and include FileMaker (a sponsor of the Third Annual Small Business Summit 2008), Microsoft Access, Alpha Software.