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Technology touches all aspects of society but it’s also affecting business–and the way businesses do business–like never before. For some companies, it’s breaking down barriers and creating opportunities. Others are finding that it’s the culprit behind a competitor’s ability to capture more market share.
“Technology is leveling the playing field for African American businesses and individuals,” said one panelist at our first summit. This past year has proved the wisdom of that assertion. As small businesses employ the latest technological advancements, they are streamlining their operations and boosting productivity. Some have even been able to wrestle business from larger corporations. Unfortunately, they are a minority since many businesses are not using technology effectively. This is doubly true for black businesses.
Last year, our first technology summit focused on preparing for the information age, which proved our entree. Now, our second annual Black Enterprise Technology Summit examines how African American entrepreneurs can embrace the benefits offered by technology to remain competitive in the marketplace.
This year’s esteemed roundtable panelists are: Jylla M. Foster, vice president of northeastern area operations for IBM United States; Edward L. Howlette Jr., president and CEO of NexGen Solutions; Ronald McKenzie, president of 3Tier Client/Server Systems; Larry G. Salter, director of AT&T Learning Network; and Derek Whittle, marketing manager for Microsoft.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: What are the obstacles that businesses, especially small businesses, need to overcome to understand how technology can help them?
RONALD McKENZIE: First, companies don’t understand how to use the computer in a competitive manner. Whether you are talking about a mom- and-pop shop in the black community or a multibillion-dollar company, the problem is the same. Well-established companies have large IS [information systems] budgets. They’ve spent a lot of money on projects that never ever get completed. They’ve had long experiences and still don’t feel that they’re getting their dollars’ worth. Even Citibank didn’t understand how to leverage its technology when it was the first to use all its computer power to implement ATMs.
The other problem is that nobody wants to invest the money.
The world has changed and we have to change along with it. We have to get that message through to the top executives because top executives don’t want to know. They say, ‘I have a staff that does that.’ Then when you go to the small business guy, he says, ‘I don’t have the time; I’ve got to get this out.’ He doesn’t see how he is losing money.
EDWARD HOWLETTE: Some of those obstacles are people’s fears about the complexity involved with bringing in technology, and their resistance to change. Businessowners should first ask, Are there some additional things we can do with our existing technology to get where we want to go? If you’ve made that investment, recognize the return on it before you start scrambling into other areas.
DEREK WHITTLE: I think it starts with basic business planning, a step- by-step building base process. Do small businesses have a business plan, a living document that talks about whom your customers are and what you’re