Steve King, a founding partner at Emergent Research and the blogger behind Small Business Labs, is a bit of a data freak. He regularly pores through and analyzes data on small business trends and behaviors as part of his work for Emergent. He’s also quite optimistic about the transformative possibilities of big data.
Small Biz Labs, one of BizTech's "50 Must-Read IT Blogs," documents King’s findings, opinions, analyses and forecasts on all things small business. His current research interests center mainly on the future of work and workspaces, big data, the growth of the independent workforce and the resurgence of small manufacturing.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Steve King and ask him a few questions about small business, IT and social media.
BIZTECH: What are your daily must-visit tech stops online?
KING: I don't have specific must-visit online tech sites. Instead, I have several news feeds that combine information from a wide variety of sources, including tech sites, blogs, mainstream media, Google searches, etc. Because of this approach, I'm literally scanning content from dozens of sites every day. This process usually takes me about an hour or so per day.
One source I like is Smartbrief. They have free daily newsletters with article summaries on dozens of tech topics (and other topics also). They source their articles from hundreds of sites. I read several tech-oriented Smartbriefs each day.
BIZTECH: What emerging technology do you think will most change the enterprise landscape in 2012?
KING: It's not emerging, but mobile computing — especially tablets — are gaining traction so quickly it's hard for enterprises to keep up.
But since you said 2012 — and emerging technology, not just IT — I will add new oil and gas drilling technologies. These have led to a natural gas glut (natural gas prices have fallen substantially over the last 2 years) and rapidly increasing US domestic oil production as well as giant new fields elsewhere (Brazil, for example). The declining costs of energy (we think oil prices are likely to drift lower this year) are changing the economics of many industries and will have a major 2012 impact.
BIZTECH: What existing technology do you think businesses have most underutilized?
KING: Customer Relationship Management (CRM). It amazes me how few companies are taking full advantage of the information they have on customers, much less combining their information with other available data — such as social data from the web — to improve their customer service and marketing. I think there are huge opportunities in this area for most businesses.
BIZTECH: What's the most innovative, creative or unusual way an organization has deployed technology that you've come across?
KING: I get most excited when I see a low-tech firm use technology in innovative ways. My favorite example is now 4 to 5 years old. Saber Roofing, a roofing company in Redwood City, was one of the first roofing companies to use Google Earth for prospecting and cost estimation. This was a huge innovation that is now in use across the industry.
Algae Busters, a pool servicing company, is another example I like. They use remote sensors to monitor pools and are immediately alerted via their smartphones if problems occur or if they need to visit. It saves them time and money and also results in higher customer satisfaction.
BIZTECH: When it comes to small business technology, what best practice can't be repeated often enough?
KING: Data security and backup. Every day the risk of not being bullet proof in these areas increases.
BIZTECH: Why do you blog?
KING: Our blog started as a research project database, and that's still the primary purpose. We use our blog to store and organize our project information or other information we find interesting.
Over time, and to our surprise, we attracted a pretty decent audience of readers. Because of this, we also use our blog to present our views on issues, trends and shifts we think are important to small businesses. This broadly falls under the heading of thought leadership, and our blog helps position us as experts in our fields of study.
BIZTECH: Why is it important for small businesses to understand and integrate with technology?
KING: We're seeing a clear trend showing that small businesses that effectively use technology are gaining competitive advantage relative to their less technically savvy competitors. Generally speaking, this has resulted in tech-savvy firms being more efficient and profitable than competitors that struggle with technology. We think this competitive advantage is going to continue to grow.
BIZTECH: Why should small businesses engage with social media?
KING: Social media is tool that can be used for lead generation, sales, marketing, customer service, etc. We think almost all small businesses should experiment with social media.
But we also think social media is not a magic bullet. We've seen a lot of small businesses waste their time and money on social media efforts doomed from the beginning for failure. They fail because their customers either (1) aren't active on social media, or (2) aren't interested in engaging with the company on social media.
Our advice is experiment, test and evaluate the effectiveness of social media using hard metrics and goals. If it works, use it. If not, don't. But don't use social media just because everyone says you should.