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Connecting Small Businesses is Not What it Used to Be

June 10, 2024
Telecom in small business has changed immensely in the last ten years, and service providers must be there to guide them.

A lot has changed for all of us even just in the last ten years. The culprit, as usual, is technology. That’s equally true for small businesses, and often much more complex than for you and me.

The evidence for this couldn’t be more obvious. You go into a hip new bar, sit at a table where you’re served by an employee who takes your order on a wireless device, and at the end of your meal, you tap your card on a tablet, get your receipt texted to your phone, and your email stored in a database.

Alan DiCicco is Vice President, Solution & Product Marketing at Calix, a broadband platform and managed services company for BSPs that is right in the thick of this digital, small-business transformation. He explained what’s happening in the small business world right now and where telecom is playing a huge role.

A Suite of New Challenges (and Opportunities) for Small Businesses

So what about this new digital landscape for businesses? How much has really changed in the last ten years?

“I think probably the most impactful change is the shift to digital commerce, online, social media … it’s this sort of awareness by small business owners that more and more of their clientele, the people who come shop or eat at these restaurants discover them through the online experience.”

But he notes that with all the good stuff comes increased susceptibility to fraud, malware, phishing, etc.

“We’ve done our own survey looking at how often a small business is attacked vs. a residential home. The intrusion attempts are six times what they are to residential.”

And that’s the last thing a small business owner needs. “There’s connectivity, there’s productivity, but also shoring it up with security and privacy at every level. They just can’t afford to be taken offline … the owner is working twelve hours a day, they can’t afford to have yet more problems to deal with.”

“In many ways, small businesses have always been connected, but the challenge is they’ve not been well served,” he says.

And despite the importance of their network, DiCicco says it’s pretty low on their list of things they actually think about on any given day.

He says most businesses are generally more concerned with the short- and long-term survival needs, such as productivity, inventory, employees, or IT, than they are with connectivity specifically.

“If you look at survey data, what’s most important to a small business owner, generally never on the list of top tens does it say, ‘high-speed internet,’ ‘phone service,’ … they’re bringing up business issues.”

“Whatever we can do, and through the service provider can do to support the small business owner, just increases the odds of their business being successful,” he says.

Leveling the Playing Field

Calix’s SmartBiz is a managed services offering for BSPs to take care of the tricky connectivity and security needs such as differentiating employee and customer wi-fi, cybersecurity, and also to enable an uplevelling of capabilities.

For example, Calix wants owners to be able to extract data about things like general customer use patterns that could allow companies to “have a deeper relationship” with their customers and ideally make their business better, more efficient, more profitable, etc.

He notes that obviously the local coffee shop down the street doesn’t have a corporate headquarters like Starbucks does, so smaller businesses might struggle to catch up to the technology needs. “We’re trying to level the playing field a little bit.”

Small Business, Big List of Needs

And what is a “small” business? Well, it depends on who you ask. “Most of the industry thinks of a small business as a business that might have less than 500 employees,” remarks DiCicco.

Nevertheless, SmartBiz is targeting companies with less than 20 employees, which he says is the vast majority of businesses. “It’s closer to residential in terms of economics, transactional business.”

And for small businesses in 2024 and their connectivity, there’s a plethora of tech, both new and old that has become absolutely essential.

“There’s the owner, and the owner’s business systems. There’s printers, cameras. Then you’ve got point-of-sale machines. There might be two or three point-of-sales, maybe there’s a bar, maybe there’s the front, those tend to be connected with ethernet, the wait staff might have portables that are wi-fi…"

DiCicco says they saw that there’s actually four different users: the owner, the point-of-sale machine, the staff, and the customers and that they all have different security needs. “Connectivity has turned into secure connectivity.”

“You can’t go beyond connectivity without doing an actual job of connectivity,” he says.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Calix’s customers are the service providers, often at the local level, and DiCiccio says there is a competitor for small businesses in every town in America.

“It’s an opportunity to differentiate the service provider, as well. So many of our customers are local. They literally are local. You see them during the week or at your kids’ softball games. So this is a way that our customers can easily feed back to the company.”

Small BSPs are part of their communities, or at least they should be. “This service allows the service provider to establish a high-value, low-friction service that they can create as the base for their small business owners,” says DiDicco.

And of course, the providers can brand it. “They can now make it standard, they can arm all of their sales teams, they can put it on their web page, and they’re able to go out compete for small businesses.”

Business is Booming

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that in 2020, small business applications doubled from previous years, and that in 2023 a new record was set with over 5.5 million new applications.

Entrepreneurs are making their dreams come true, while filling a need in their community. Bring on all the little pizza places, coffee shops, and comic book stores. There’s a mutual bond that’s created in a community around small businesses and their customers that opens up meaningful experiences. And remote workers are always on the look out for a good place to set up shop.

Local service providers have a real opportunity in this new world of community connection. Connection both literal and in spirit.

About the Author

Joe Gillard | Executive Editor

Joe Gillard is a media professional with over 10 years of experience writing, editing, and managing the editorial process across a spectrum of innovative industries. Joe strives to deliver the best possible editorial product by focusing on the needs of the audience, utilizing the data available, and collaborating with a talented team.