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SOFTWARE REVOLUTION; Big IT companies finally target the small business market to create more choice.

Byline: By Louise Jenkins

SMALL firms have never had it so good - well in terms of new technology, that is.

There was a time when many technology firms believed that all small businesses needed was an accounts package and something to handle payroll.

However, customer demand, legislative changes and a switch in focus from software firms has changed all that.

And not before time, says Alan Moody, director of small business software provider Mamut Software.

He said: "Everything a big business needs, a small business needs too. Everyone has customers, a product and needs to get money in."

So today's small business will find e-commerce, contact management and customer relationship management thrown in as standard.

All the major software companies have improved their products for small businesses.

As Raymond O' Hare, Microsoft's manager for Scotland, points out, Microsoft are spending around pounds 1.5billion on research and development for the small business market. And they're not alone.

That's good news for smaller firms. Not only do they get access to IT previously out-ofpackages from Simple Start (pounds 79) to top-of-the-range accountant's versions. Simple Start also offer Quick Books Regular (pounds 149.50), which adds payroll functions, stock control and integration with Word, Excel and Outlook.

Sage is the granddaddy of small business accounting packages. It offers the basics such as Instant Accounts, which provides integration with Microsoft Office, reporting, a customer ledger and stock information. A step up is Line 50, which adds dashboards, data importing, cash-flow planning and e-banking and payments.

Line 50 customers can also gain access to Sage Business Intelligence, which provides powerful management Sage accounts packages direct to the business' PC/internet banking software.

Mamut Software is also a small business all-rounder with one all-inclusive package - Small Business Concierge.

Aimed at companies with up to 50 staff, it offers accounting, Microsoft Office, CRM, sales force automation and e-commerce. Their products were voted Small Business Software of the Year in 2004.

Microsoft Office Small Business edition includes Business Contact Manager - the first step into the company's CRM software. Microsoft Small Business Server for up to 75 users offers an IT infrastructure in a box, offering file and print serving, e-mail, web accessintranet, firewall and collaborative tools.

Oracle's E-business Suite Special Edition offers financial reporting, purchasing, salesforce automation and business intelligence.

When choosing PCs, avoid big PC stores and opt for a retailer or reseller that specialises in small businesses. Also, stick with big-name brands that manufacture specifically for the business market - Dell, Fujitsu Siemens, HP Compaq and IBM.

You'll pay more but in return you'll get better components and a decent warranty.

When it comes to software, don't buy what you don't need. With hardware, however, buy as much as you can afford.

Key things to look at are processor speed, hard drive size and memory, then screen type and size and the drives available (DVD writers are popular for use as back-up).

Good business desktop PCs include Dell's Opti Plex GX620 USFF and the Fujitsu Siemens Scenic E600 series.

However, desktop sales are falling with the rise in mobile working and the market is awash with laptops designed to suit every budget and business need.

For general business use, the Dell Latitude D610 and IBM Think Pad T42 are recommended
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 24, 2005
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