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PromotingInnovationandEntrepreneurship TheCaribbean

by in In

LeveragingInformationTechnology BusinessIncubators
by

ChrisRoberts,ADGPro

Preamble: Itisevidentthataspiritofentrepreneurshipneedstobeencouragedtofostereconomic growthintheCaribbeanregion.Withthedeclineofthebananaindustry,economic diversificationhastakencenterstage.Themajorityofdiversificationeffortshavefocused ontourismandtourismrelatedactivitiessuchasmusicfestivals.Theseeffortscanbe augmentedwithprogramstofacilitateentrepreneurshipanddiversificationinother sectors. TheconceptofBusinessIncubationisanareaofinterestformanyGovernmentsaroundthe worldintheirdrivetofosterentrepreneurialgrowthanddevelopmentintheprivate sector.IntheCaribbean,theconceptitselfisintheincubationstageandhasonlyreceived specificattentionfromfundingagenciesandGovernmentsinrecentyears.Inthepastthree yearsanumberofCaribbeanislandshavedevelopedBusinessGateways,supportedby fundingandtechnicalassistancefromTheEuropeanUnion,(EU) 1 andtheWorldBank throughInfoDev 2 anditsaffiliates. ItisgenerallyagreedthatInformationTechnologywillplayakeyroleintheviabilityof businessesandbusinessIncubators.Agoodplanwillutilizeastructuredapproachtoward ITimplementationfollowingmethodologiessuchastheITILFramework. Thevastarrayoftechnologiesandservicesavailableatunbelievablelowcostbehooves uponthemanagementofabusinessincubatortoefficientlymaximizetheuseoftechnology toprovideservicestoclientfirms. Innovation ItisgenerallyacceptedbyConsultantsandBusinessIncubatormanagersthatthereisno onemodelforsuccess.InnovationisthedrivingforcebehindALLsuccessfulBusiness Incubatormodelsandakeysuccessfactorinmostoftheinnovativeideasforthestructure oftheincubatorsisthefactthatthesolutionswerehomegrownandcontextual. AnyBusinessIncubatorplanningtobesustainableshouldleverageInformationand CommunicationTechnologytoreducecostsandimproveefficiency. Inthiseditionwewilllookat2technologiesthatprovidesolutionsthatarechangingthe waybusinessisdone.
The European Union, through its Special Framework of Assistance (SFA) has given a mandate and has provided funding for the development of sustainable Business Incubators as an effective mechanism for supporting economic diversification through local innovation and entrepreneurship. InfoDev is an innovative global partnership of international development agencies focused on how Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can help combat poverty and promote opportunity, empowerment and economic growth in developing countries. This partnership is coordinated and served by a secretariat housed in the World Bank, one of InfoDevs principal donors and founders.
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Virtualization
Whileitistruethatthecostofcomputerhardwarehasbeensignificantlyreduced, implementingaproperlyequippedITinfrastructurecanbecostly.Addedtothatisthe challengeofprovidingqualityofservicetoIncubatortenantsandtheconceptof establishingavirtualinfrastructurebecomesmoreandmoreattractive. VirtualizationcanprovideanincubatorwitharobustsolutionforitsITinfrastructure whilereducingtheneedforinhouseITAdministrationandITassets. Avirtualmachineisaseparateandindependentsoftwareinstanceofanoperatingsystem andapplicationsoftware.Multiplevirtualmachinescanbehostedonasinglephysical machine;theactualnumberofvirtualmachinespossibleislimitedonlybyavailable memory.Thephysicalmachinewouldbeconfiguredwithaservervirtualization hypervisorsuchasVMware,CitrixXenServer,VSphere,orMicrosoftHyperV. VirtualServersaregenerallyhousedinasecurefacilityandaccessedviatheinternetusing connectionprotocolssuchasRemoteDesktop,TelnetorVPNTunnels.Thissolutionis referredtoascolocation.Theseserversaremanagedbytheserviceproviderwhotypically providesadditionalservicessuchasdisasterrecovery,backups,failover,securityandpatch management.InanenvironmentliketheCaribbeanpronetonaturaldisasters,such considerationsareimportant,however,virtualserverscanbehostedinhousejustas effectivelyusingalowcosthypervisorsuchasVMware. Virtualmachinescanalsobeconfiguredasworkstations.Thisreducestheneedforhigh CPUcapacityattheusersphysicalworkstation.Virtualdesktopsoffermanyadvantages overphysicalmachines.Becausethesevirtualmachinesrunentirelyinmemory,theyboot faster.Ausercanstartataskathisvirtualmachine,shutdownhisphysicalmachine, leavingthetaskrunningonthevirtualmachineandlogbackinlatertocheckonprogress. Ifthevirtualdesktopsarehostedonthesamenetworkastheserver,significant improvementsinthroughputcanberealized. AnincubatorwithavirtualITinfrastructurewillbeinapositiontoscaleupordownasthe ITneedsofthetenantfirmschange.Excessservercapacitycanalsobeleasedtoothernon tenantclientstherebyallowingtheIncubatortorealizeongoingreturnoninvestment. Thecostofvirtualizationwillbedictatedbytheneedsoftheincubator.AswithallIT projects,properplanningwillensuresuccessfulimplementation.AproperlyITenabled incubatorwillbeinagoodpositiontoprovidecosteffectivesolutionstoitstenantclients andwillmoveonestepclosertothegoalofautonomoussustainability.

SoftwareasaService
CloselyrelatedtovirtualizationistheconceptofSoftwareasaService(SaaS)sometimes calledCloudComputing. ThissolutionhastheentireITworldbuzzingwithexcitementwithcompaniessuchas Microsoft,IBMandGoogleinvestingbillionsinthisnewformofcomputing.SaaS applicationsareameansforincubatorstoprovidecosteffectivesolutionstotenants. Essentially,theapplicationsrunonpowerfulcomputershostedinthecloudanduserspay alicensefeetoutilizetheapplication.Theapplicationisgenerallyaccessedviaabrowser interfaceandinsomecasesviaaSmartPhoneapplication.Updatesandmaintenanceofthe applicationnowbecomestheresponsibilityoftheserviceproviderresultingina significantlyreducedcostofownership. JustabouteverythingisavailableasSaaS.ApplicationssuchasMSExchange,Sharepoint, CRM,ERP,OfficeProductivitySuites,andSupplyChainManagement,whichcanbe expensivetoimplementandmaintainarebutafewapplicationsavailableasSaaSthata businessincubatormaywanttoprovidetoitstenants.OtherSaaSapplicationsinclude WebConferencingsolutionssuchasWebexandGoToMeeting,Emailmarketingsolutions suchasConstantContactandIntranetsolutionssuchasWebOffice. DatabasesolutionsforMarketAccess,KnowledgeManagementetc.arealsoavailableas SAASapplications. ThesesolutionscanbepowerfultoolsintheITarsenalofaBusinessIncubatorandthe abilitytooffertheseservicesimprovestheviabilityoftheIncubator. WithVirtualizationandSaaSapplicationsinitstoolbelt,theIncubatorneedsproperly leveragethesetools.Iremembersomeyearsbacktryingtointerestagroupofcompanies tobuyintotheideaofaSaaSsolutionfortheiraccountingsoftware.Theissueoftrustwas firstandforemostonthemindsofbusinessownersspawningquestionslikeHowdowe knowthedataissecure?andWhocanseemyfinancialdata?.Theinitiativefailednot duetoanyinadequacyofthetechnologybutduetothelackofconfidenceinthe managementofthetechnology.Whilethiscanbeseenasaculturalnuance,Ihave encounteredsimilarsentimentsinNorthAmerica.TheBusinessIncubatorseekingtooffer SAASapplicationstoitsclientswillneedtodosomindfuloftheneedtoproperlyallayany fearsthatmayexist. AswithVirtualization,SaaSimplementationsneedproperplanningforsuccessful implementation.Thesetwotechnologiespavethewayforevenfurthercostreductionsby anincreasedabilitytoshareresources. Subsequentarticleswilldrilldownfurthertoimplementationstrategiesforthese technologiesandwilladdressotherimpactfultoolssuchasSocialMedia.

Howtogetstarted WhenconsideringCloudComputing,itisveryimportanttoconsideryournetwork bandwidthrequirements,andunderstandhowmuchdatayouwillneedtomoveacrossthe network,aswellasthenetworkresponserequirementsfortheparticularservice. Next,developabusinesscase.Calculatethenetfinancialimpactthataninvestmentor changeisgoingtohavetoyourBusinessIncubator. Finally,oneofthemostimportantthingsyoushoulddoislookattheongoingserviceand supportaroundtheapplication.Forexample,mostSaaSapplicationsaresoldundera subscriptionmodel,whichisgreatforthecustomerbecauseitmeanstheproviderhasto provideongoingvalueandsupport. Entrepreneursshouldnotbeafraidtofail.Failureprovidesalearningexperienceandan opportunitytorevisetheplan.Weshouldnotplantofail,buteventhebestlaidplanscan fail.Entrepreneurshipisbyitsverynaturerisky.ThemarkofatrueEntrepreneurisone whoisnotafraidofriskandcanreboundafterexperiencingfailure.Areweuptothat challenge? ****