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Toronto Businesses are prime for Digitization



CN TowerThe Toronto area is becoming a top spot for tech innovation. While the IT sector is propelling industry transformation, business owners are still struggling to capture the benefits of digitizing their business. What are the IT trends that really matter? When is the right time to digitize processes? Which solutions fit the business best? How to best use technology to maximize your investment?

Business digitization boosts competitive edge

John Tory, Mayor of Toronto, working with the Tech community at TechTOFirst of all, we should rejoice that technological innovation is booming in Toronto, in Ontario, and Canada. John Tory’s speech at TechTO last week was all about supporting local start-ups — many of those among the 400 attendants at City Hall — and Cisco’s launch of its Innovation Centre. The week before, the Ministers of International Trade and Small Business and Tourism announced a new export program funded with $50 million.

Combined with a lower loonie, this initiative can help Canadian businesses gain a strong competitive edge. Southern Ontario is becoming a powerful tech corridor, very similar to the iconic Silicon Valley, from Kitchener-Waterloo through Toronto to Ottawa. The region ranks fourth behind California, New York, and Texas, in terms of finance and technology strength. At the same time, the latest report from Oxfam raises concerns about growing inequalities. The 62 richest individuals control as much wealth as the bottom half of the humanity. The wealth of the poorest dropped by 40% in the last five year, and the gap between the extremes keeps increasing: there were six times more people at the very top in 2010. Chances are small business owners fit closer to the bottom half.

Every company is a tech company

Small businesses are the strength of Canada, amounting for 98.2% of Canadian business (i.e. under 100 employees). They account for more than 25% of the country’s GDP, and more than 30% of R&D spending. Small businesses also employ close to 70% of the total private labour force. With such profile, it is clear that small businesses are at the root of business digitization and country digitization.

Cover picture of 'Bold', book authored by Peter Diamandis, on business digitizationToday, every company is a tech company. Every business leader needs to understand the opportunities described in books such as Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold. Small businesses can indeed apply simple lessons immediately to stop paying too much in some areas, and to figure out where to start investing more. The barriers of entry in technology have never been lower. Now is the time to lead or to survive.

Let’s explore together, starting by sharing our experience with ERPs. Three years ago, Savoir-faire Linux migrated to Odoo, a Free/Open Source Software ERP. As far as I can see (as a standard user), it replaces expensive solutions from ORACLE and SAP that handle expenses and procurement, but it does much more than that. Odoo handles our accounting, invoicing, and hiring too.

A couple of weeks ago, I’ve been pulled seamlessly into a workflow to review a job candidate. The interface is beautiful and responsive, with a social component that allows teams to communicate effectively. It’s working well, and so we should be soon migrating more data from SugarCRM to Odoo. Yes, Odoo does CRM too!… and e-commerce, and much more. This comprehensive solution saves us a lot by avoiding duplication of records and saving time.

Even better — it is free software.
Why is that better?

Free Software is often referred as Open Source Software, or Free/Libre Open Source Software (to skip the subtle difference). The first advantage is that downloading useful software is free (as you might be familiar with Firefox or Chrome on your PC, and with apps on your mobile). However, free means more than free of charge, since at the same time it warrants four freedoms including the right to use the software, and the right to study it so you can modify it.

Empowered by this right, our team localized Odoo with a Canadian chart of accounts, tax configurations, interaction with Canadian banks… and we made it free (thanks to the last two freedoms), so that any Canadian business can leverage it with the same freedoms. In addition, Savoir-faire Linux is leading meetups (communities of practice) in Montreal and Toronto.

Some will ask where is the catch with free software, and whether it makes business sense. There is no trick. It is just a different business model.

The Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) model is at the core of the most successful businesses we know. Not only Google, Facebook, Apple, Tesla use open source (not reinventing the wheel), but they contribute back to the FLOSS ecosystem to gain traction and adoption (e.g. Apple Swift, Microsoft .Net, Google Android). To take an example from Peter Diamandis’ book, the Linux project has evolved into a $30 billion dollar ecosystem, whereby Linux is present in data centres, cars, planes, phones, TVs…

Small Business in the captain seat

In addition to FLOSS ‘the product’, there is also FLOSS ‘the methodology’ which inspired the modern software industry (distributed team, agile methods, DevOps). Small businesses can leverage the same products and techniques that made large businesses successful.

We’re talking about putting Small Businesses in the captain seat. The challenge is real to our mindset, wrongly educated to fit the business around whatever technology was available off-the-shelf. We know the results in the ERP business: costly and challenging implementations leading to project delays and more cost overruns.

If branded products are not cheap, servicing them is not cheaper because certified professionals command high daily rates. In comparison, working with Free Software is a little like cabinet making. You buy the materials (some of it is freely available, other you have to finance e.g. servers, hosting, premium subscriptions), and then you call the local entrepreneur to assemble everything to fit your needs. Naturally, you always have the option to do it yourself. It’s not about the product, it’s about making it work for your company!

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