Running a small business has never been easy; it needs time, emotional, financial and physical commitment that many find overwhelming. The hours are long, the pace of progress is often frustrating and the results can be mixed.
Small businesses of less than 20 people constitute the largest employer group, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (providing about 3.6 million jobs) and represent 30 per cent of the country's economic activity. There are 1.88 million small businesses (including sole operators) spread across the nation and 80 per cent of these are connected to the Internet.
In fact, IT plays a central role in running many of these small businesses (and is sometimes the source of frustration). But while traditionally focused on hardware to solve their ills, there's a nascent interest in services.
"I think, and I have seen it in terms of spending, a small business environment is really spending a lot on hardware," IDC research manager IT spending, Jean-Marc Annonier, said. "A little bit on software as well but the services component is very small compared to the mid-market and enterprise spaces.
"It's mostly because nothing is properly designed for them in terms of services. The challenge they are facing is that they do have some business and IT requirements to deliver by using their IT platforms but, at the same time, they are left with hardware and software and they don't get much advice from the IT vendor community."
While there are some businesses doing a good job, SMBs need a lot of help and are just not getting it, Annonier said. As part of this, he pointed to materials issued by vendors that show charts and graphs highlighting different specifi cations and features.
"The business owners just don't care about this, all they want is the service and for somebody to actually do this for them," he said. "But at this stage unless you have a good managed service provider [MSP] you are not getting that sort of service in a small business environment.
"We are at the beginning of the next stage in deploying IT services within the small business environment. The big guys are not interested at all and, although there are a few good franchise models, the whole coverage is not happening yet. I think there's a lot of progress to be made there."
To get a fully managed service model that includes offerings like those touted for cloud computing there is a long way to go in Australia, especially considering the limitations imposed by the national broadband network.
"We don't have it yet, that is why this strong debate is raging," Annonier said. "We are behind. We are behind Europe; we are way behind Korea in terms of speed. So unless you get the proper network to deploy those services then you are stuck with a distributed computing model. You need to have a server on site; you need to have the applications."
Many observers suggest this state of affairs is a primary factor holding small businesses back through time wasting and capital outlay.
"I think a large number of SMBs are doing a good job of managing their IT to some extent, but I've seen some cases where it's a miracle they have things running," Annonier said.
Although the big boys don't often play the SMB game, there are countless small IT resellers and service providers that are taking the field. As these companies face the same challenges other small businesses do, it gives them an opportunity to lead by example, or walk the talk.