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Grow Your Business Technology

35 Technology Terms Every Entrepreneur Should Know

35 Technology Terms Every Entrepreneur Should Know
Credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Every field has its own "lingo" that goes with the territory. The tech industry is a prime example of this, with dozens of acronyms and complex software terms that may make you feel like you're reading another language.

Even if you're not running a tech company, you likely use a lot of technology to help run your business. Knowing common techy terms gives you credibility, broadens your knowledge base and allows you to ask the right questions to get ahead. Here are 35 terms you should be familiar with as an entrepreneur, regardless of your product or service.

Server hosting. Servers are devices that support a company's computer and Internet networks, and "host" all its associated data. They are typically owned by Internet service providers (ISPs), which lease out server space in addition to providing customers with Internet connectivity. Businesses without the in-house technical support necessary to maintain a server typically rent space on a remote server or use a managed hosting service. These services provide businesses with their own servers and also provide full-time technical support.

Other businesses may lease their servers from ISPs and self-maintain them. Having a dedicated server, as this is known, is cheaper than using managed hosting services, but it's only feasible for companies with technical expertise. [See Related Story: The Tech Tools Small Business Owners Rely on Most]

Data center. 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. Linux hosting. 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 so prefer to choose Web-hosting services that run Linux.

Back end. What you see when you click on a Web page is the front end. The back end is everything else behind the scenes of that page, like Web servers, databases or applications that make the page work. When developing your website, what is in the back end can have an effect on what search engines see.

Virtual private network (VPN). A VPN allows users to connect to a private network from anywhere for added security. For instance, instead of using the public network at a local coffee shop or hotel room, which comes with a heightened security risk, employees can connect to your private network with the same security as if they were in the office.

Web app. This is a Web page that looks and acts like an app on a smartphone or tablet. Web apps provide viewers with a familiar format and more intuitive navigation, and are immediately mobile friendly.

Application programming interface (API). An API is what helps different components of software work together so that they all seem to operate as a single software. Such interfaces are very common and help coordinate numerous "moving parts" to make a program or app easy to use.

Technology stack. There are many different components to a network, from security to navigation. A technology stack describes the layering of those components, like data management, logins and retention. Benjy Weinberger, lead programmer at foursquare.com, told Business Insider that a common example of a technology stack is the LAMP stack: Linux for the operating system, Apache for the Web server, MySQL for the database and PHP (or Python) for the server coding environment.

Domain name service (DNS). Every domain name is translated into numbers as an IP address when it is entered into a browser's address bar. The DNS is a directory of those numbers.

Open source. Open source describes code that is available publicly and that anyone can use. People can take it and modify it for their purposes.

Machine learning. An example of machine learning is Siri, Apple's AI (artificial intelligence) personal assistant. By inferring a general set of rules, refined by use, the algorithm finds an approximate solution in place of having a specific algorithm for each individual function.

Cloud hosting. Companies that don't lease servers may instead pay for data to be stored on virtual servers. These servers are said to be based in the cloud if they can be accessed only with an Internet connection. Businesses typically access cloud-based servers through software interfaces specific to their cloud-hosting service providers. Cloud backup. 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.

Software as a Service (SaaS). Otherwise known as"software on demand," this 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.

Content management systems (CMS). These 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 a Web coding language, like HTML. Many CMS also feature one-to-one marketing tools that enable targeted advertising.

Custom software development. Some businesses require 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.

ERP software. 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.

Business intelligence (BI) software. BI is the information a business collects about itself. This can include a very broad swath of data, which is why businesses often need business intelligence software. These programs let 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.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software. Customer relationship management is the term used for the way a business collects and manages data about its clients. Companies use CRM software to keep track of all the information they collect on clients, such as service calls made or previous products purchased. This helps businesses close future deals and grow relationships with customers.

Learning management system. Learning management systems are used by businesses for 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. Document management refers to the system of creating, sharing, organizing and storing documents within an organization. Whether it's self-hosted or cloud-based, document management software can be used to help facilitate the document-management process.

Version control. Version control keeps programmers and engineers, for example, from writing over the work of their co-workers. This not only keeps historical data intact so you can backtrack and find how a task was accomplished, but also allows for progress on multiple fronts when teams are working together on systems. Having access to older versions allows for better troubleshooting as well.

Managed services. 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 using managed services. Human relations activities and information technology activities are two common areas of expertise often subjected to this practice.

Merchant account. 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 an interchange fee as well as other fees.

Distributed systems. The bigger the business, the more it needs a distributed system to handle the data and server requests that may come in and flow out. This system uses several computers connected on a network to provide a service, compute data or accomplish tasks.

Minimum viable product (MVP). When a startup team is trying to get its company off the ground, it will often work toward creating its MVP: the simplest functional iteration of its product that will be improved upon as the team goes. The purpose is to use validated learning (i.e., real feedback on the product versus beta or test input) to get the most from the minimum amount of development and effort. 

Email marketing. 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 view. Many businesses use email marketing software to manage distribution lists, campaigns and analytics.

Content curation. Content curation is basically choosing content to share online. This can be cultivated from existing content but should always be made new or "fresh" in some way to stay relevant, and to meet search engine algorithm specifications for higher ratings.

Engagement. Knowing how many people use your online resources and how often people interact with your social media efforts is called tracking engagement. The more engaged your audience is on social media or your website, the more you know your message is being heard and resonating.

Impressions. Along the same line as engagement, an impression occurs each time a piece of your social media content is seen. The goal is to make it a lasting one.

Organic. This term refers to content that individuals have viewed because they came to it through their own natural or "organic" keyword searches instead of through paid promotions.

Marketing automation. There are software or online services that measure marketing efforts through tools such as emails, social media, reporting, analytics and customer relationship management. Social media posts can be input and scheduled for release, and then data collected to measure effectiveness.

A/B testing. Using A/B testing, a business can release two pieces of online content — like a marketing email, blog post or Web page — to two different test groups and see which version receives the most engagement. This kind of testing helps narrow down marketing and advertising avenues, and predict which option will be more successful with the general public.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Petersen.

Marci Martin
Marci Martin

With an Associate's Degree in Business Management and nearly twenty years in senior management positions, Marci brings a real life perspective to her articles about business and leadership. She began freelancing in 2012 and became a contributing writer for Business News Daily in 2015.