One of the defining characteristics of nearly every entrepreneur is a burning desire to know the latest technology available to them – tech that either makes their efforts easier or that allows the business owner to push beyond existing constraints into new territory.
Small business owners are pulled in several different directions all the time. By assigning tasks that you can do yourself and those you can delegate to others, such as experts, small business owners can spend more time focusing on what needs to be done drive the business forward.
Here is a list of terms small business owners should familiarize themselves with as they make critical decisions on technology, marketing and human resources.
Internet of things (IoT): The internet of things (IoT) describes the increasing number of items using smart technology that allow you to control security from your phone, turn lights on and off in your building, control heating and cooling when you're not in the office, and many other items.
Server hosting: Servers are devices that support a company's computer and internet networks. Servers are typically owned by internet service providers (ISPs), which 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 full-time technical support.
Other businesses lease their servers from ISPs, but without the extra tech 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.
Data center: A data center 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 prefer using a web hosting service that runs Linux.
Cloud hosting: Companies that don't lease servers may instead pay for their data to be stored on virtual servers. These servers are based in the cloud and can only be accessed with an internet connection. Businesses typically access cloud-based servers through a software interface specific to their cloud hosting service provider.
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.
Back end: What you see when you click on a web page is the front end. The back end is everything "behind the scenes" on that page, like web servers, databases, or applications, that make it work. When developing your website, what is in the back end influences what search engines see.
Virtual private network (VPN): A VPN allows users to connect to private networks from anywhere for added security. For instance, instead of using the public network at a local coffee shop or hotel room with a heightened security risk, employees can connect to your private network with the same security as if he or she were sitting at their desk.
Web app: While this sounds like an odd term, it is exactly what it describes: A web page that looks and acts like an app on a smartphone or tablet. This provides viewers with a familiar format and more intuitive navigation as well as being immediately mobile-friendly.
Application programming interface (API): An API helps different components of a software program work together so it seems to operate as a single software application. They are very common and help eliminate complicated coordination to make use of the software easy for the user.
Technology stack: There are many different components to a network, from security to navigation. A technology stack describes how those components are layered, like data management, logins and retention. Benjy Weinberger, lead programmer at Four Square describes it like this: "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. Users can take it and modify it for their purposes. WordPress is a great example.
Machine learning: An example of machine learning is Siri, Apple's friendly iPhone helper. This uses a form of artificial intelligence, which is growing by leaps and bounds as more companies incorporate it into products and services. 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.
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 is billed 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 applications 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 CMS programs feature one-to-one marketing tools that enable targeted advertising.
Digital centralization: This term refers to centralizing as much information as possible in one area. Instead of several different apps or program, the trend is to try to get as much in one spot as possible to make it easier for entrepreneurs.
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.
Business intelligence software (BI): BI is the information a business collects about itself and can include a broad swath of information. Companies purchase the enterprise software modules that are relevant to their business and use ERP software to view all the data collected by these modules in a uniform manner. 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 contracts made with customers, vendors and employees. Contract management software helps businesses track all aspects of their contracts, from initial negotiations to monthly billings.
Performance management software: Human resources professionals often rely on performance management software to track employee performance. Large amounts of data can be organized and analyzed more efficiently with the use of this software.
Customer management software: Customer management refers to the way in which 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: 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.
Version control: Version control keeps programmers and engineers, for example, from writing over the work of their co-workers. This keeps not only historical data intact to backtrack how a task was accomplished, but also allows for progress on multiple fronts when teams are collaborating on systems. Having access to older versions allows 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 managed services. Human relations activities and information technology activities are two common areas of expertise often subjected to this practice.
Distributed systems: The bigger your business becomes, the more it needs a distributed system to handle the data and server requests that come in and flow out. These systems use several computers connected on a network to provide a service, compute data or accomplish tasks.
Customer experience (CX): This seems like a pretty simple term, but it probably has the most impact on your success. CX is the way your customer interacts with you, and their opinion of it. Businesses no longer only compete locally; the internet has made every market a global one.
Steven McDonald, a digital marketer writing for SuperOffice, said. "For example, if you book a vacation on the phone, and the person you are speaking with is friendly and helpful, that's good customer service. Yet, if your tickets arrive early and the hotel upgrades your room, then that's a good customer experience." What can you do to improve your customers' experience?
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR): At first glance, these terms look like they should be categorized in the technology section, but unless you are developing these advancements, you are most likely to find them in ways to promote your product and service. Putting on VR goggles and interacting with your product at a trade show or conference booth can be an enticing way to engage the attendees and keep them talking about your service well after the event.
Big data: Big data describes collecting and analyzing large amounts of information. It is based on a quantitative, numerical foundation of algorithms, which can make it very effective but somewhat limited until interpreted by the organization and used appropriately.
Minimum viable product (MVP): The MVP is the latest in startup and new venture business models. The purpose is to use validated learning – for example, 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 read.
Merchant account: Merchant accounts are agreements with banking institutions necessary for your business to accept credit and debit card transactions. In exchange for converting credit card payments into cash, banks charge merchants interchange fee as well as other fees.
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 they 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 is seen by consumers. The goal of an impression is to make it a memorable one.
Organic: Organic is a term that relates to your content that individuals have liked or viewed, because they come to it naturally instead of through paid promotions. As such, it ranks higher in search engines.
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, and see which version receives the most response. It helps narrow down marketing and advertising avenues.
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.