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From acronyms ranging from ERP to POS, the jargon of business can be hard to decipher. Here are 25 terms every small business owner needs to know:
Servers are devices that support a company's computer and Internet networks. Servers are typically owned by Internet service providers (ISPs), who lease out server space in addition to providing customers with Internet connectivity.
ISPs "host" a company's information — its website, email, data, etc. — on their servers. Some servers are located in ISP data centers, while others are leased directly to businesses.
Businesses that don't have the in-house technical support necessary to maintain a server typically rent space on a remote server or use a managed hosting service. Managed hosting services provide businesses with their own servers and also provide full-time technical support.
Other businesses also lease their servers from ISPs, but without the extra help. Having a dedicated server, as this is known, is cheaper than managed hosting services, but it's only feasible for companies that possess technical expertise.
A data center is a facility that houses computer and data storage systems, including servers. Many data centers are owned by ISPs or large companies, like Google or Amazon.
Companies that don't lease servers may instead pay for their data to be stored on virtual servers. These servers are said to be based in the cloud if they can be accessed with only an Internet connection.
Businesses typically access cloud-based servers through a software interface specific to their cloud hosting service provider.
Web hosting, or website hosting, is a specific kind of server hosting service. Single-page websites typically don't need to use a Web hosting service, but more complex sites require such services to be able to edit content, enable forums or provide a secure e-commerce platform.
Content management systems (CMSs) are used to manage the content of a website. They usually include a Web-based publishing feature, which allows for editing and formatting of content without the use of Web coding language, like HTML. Many CMSs also feature one-to-one marketing tools that enable targeted advertising.
E-commerce is short for electronic commerce, or business that is conducted by transferring data electronically over the Internet. E-commerce is popular in part because of the widespread use of PCs and mobile devices.
Linux is an open-source operating system that can be installed on Web hosting servers. Many servers run Microsoft operating systems, but some businesses believe that Linux is a more secure and reliable option and prefer to choose a Web hosting service that runs Linux.
A virtual merchant is a merchant that uses a website as a platform for selling goods and services. Virtual merchants engage in e-commerce, accepting electronic payments from customers online. Some virtual merchants also maintain brick-and-mortar retail stores.
Data backed up in the cloud is transferred from a business to the data storage provider's servers over the Internet. Cloud backup, also called online backup, can be set up to occur automatically, making it a convenient data storage option.
It's also an affordable service because it does not require the use of any additional hardware on the part of the business.
Email marketing is the promotion of products and services via email. Businesses can get creative with their emails by including images, videos and other exciting content that customers will be more likely to read.
A point of sale (POS), or checkout, is the place in a retail establishment or virtual store where transactions are completed. Customers can usually pay at a POS with cash, credit or debit cards and increasingly, their smartphones. Most POS systems also include tools for tracking inventory and sales volume.
Merchant accounts are agreements with banking institutions necessary for businesses accepting credit and debit card transactions. In exchange for converting credit card payments into cash, banks charge merchants interchange fee as well as other fees.
Mobile application development
Mobile applications are popular with both businesses and consumers. The process of creating apps that can be used on mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets, is known as mobile application development.
Businesses in need of a mobile app can have one developed for them by a professional app developer or use app-building tools to develop their own mobile apps.
Custom software development
Some businesses require custom, or tailor-made, software for their daily operations. Instead of using mass-produced software packages, such businesses use programs created by software development companies or in-house software development groups.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software allows a company to manage various aspects of a business — such as accounting, inventory and human relations — in one place. Companies purchase the enterprise software modules that are relevant to their business and use the ERP software to view all the data collected by these modules in a uniform manner.
Project management software
Project management software lets companies plan how to best complete a project in an organized, efficient way. This allows them to come up with accurate estimates and bids before beginning a project. Most project management software includes modules for scheduling, estimating, budgeting and resource allocation.
Software as a Service (SaaS), or "software on demand," is a term associated with cloud computing. SaaS is a way of delivering business software via the Internet. SaaS usually can be paid for on a monthly basis, making it more affordable than other software options.
Many business management software packages, such as project management software, are now also available in SaaS form.
Business intelligence software
Business intelligence (BI) is the information a business collects about itself and can include a very broad swath of information, which is why businesses often need business intelligence software.
Business intelligence software lets companies keep all their BI data in one place so that it is easier to access and analyze.
Contract management software
Many businesses operate on the basis of contracts made with customers, vendors and employees. Contract management software helps businesses keep track of all aspects of their contracts, from initial negotiations to monthly billings.
Performance management software
Human resources professionals often rely on performance management software to keep track of employee performance. Large amounts of data can be organized and analyzed more efficiently with the use of this software.
Practice management software
Practice management software is used in medical offices and is designed to process day-to-day operations, such as billing data and insurance payer information, appointment scheduling and, in some cases, electronic medical records.
Customer management software
Customer management is the term used for the way a business collects and manages data about its clients. Companies use customer management software to keep track of all the information they collect on clients, such as service calls made or previous products purchased. This helps them close future deals and grow relationships with customers.
Learning management system
Learning management systems are used by businesses training employees. Such systems help human resource departments plan, implement and assess the training process.
Video conferencing, discussion forums and other interactive features are usually included within a learning management system's software.
Document management refers to the system of creating, sharing, organizing and storing documents within an organization. Document management software can be used to help facilitate the document management process.
Many day-to-day business activities can be outsourced as a means of cutting costs and increasing overall efficiency within a company.
Such a practice is known as managed services. Human relations activities and information technology activities are two common areas of expertise often subjected to this practice.