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Help family-sized start-ups get off the ground

The number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Thailand has exploded in recent years. Today close to 3 million SMEs are in operation, making up 99.6 per cent of the country's total businesses. Together, these SMEs generate over 37 per cent of Thailand's GDP. These are staggering statistics. In 2009, Thailand was ranked by CNNFortune as the 13th best country in the world for startups.



Although I am new to Bangkok, it didn't take me long to notice that on every corner of the city, it seems, young entrepreneurial upstarts are laying wires and hanging signs. For residents of Bangkok, these businesses are owned and run by neighbours, friends and relatives. They create jobs, inject capital into a neighbourhood and add to the life of the city. For expats and tourists, as well, they are a boon to the Bangkok experience, and provide valuable services, variety and vibrancy.

Despite the impressive statistics, individually, these mostly family-run establishments face myriad challenges. They have limited budgets that need to be stretched to meet complex and expensive needs, including the expenses of staffing, insurance, equipment leases, and not least among them, IT infrastructure.

Supporting financial and security systems, IT assets are fundamental to the health and success of a small start-up. The costs of such investments in IT, however, especially commercial-calibre, high-performance products needed to drive sophisticated business operations can take the lion's share of a new business's budget.

Many small businesses need, for instance, secure, easy-to-backup servers, flexible data storage and security systems. However, without dedicated IT staff, such systems can be difficult to use and burden an SME with the costs for an IT consultant and the expensive equipment and systems only the consultant knows how to use. A user-friendly interface saves a business-owner these ongoing costs. And because this class of equipment can nowadays be manufactured in smaller sizes and at more moderate prices, it's easier on the pocketbook on the front end as well.

Cloud-storage services are also growing in popularity because they cut costs and promise convenience. The drawbacks of cloud storage, however, are that it requires a reliable Internet line and at times can be slow to access large files. Good NAS systems operate just as well off the Internet grid and offer remote access from external PCs or smart phones so that owners can access data from other locations - great during travel and in emergencies.

It's encouraging to see that IT product developers are beginning to take note of the very real demands such as these. By innovating high-performance, low-cost classes of products specifically targeting small and medium-sized enterprises, the IT industry is helping this class of entrepreneurs build their businesses.

All organisations in Thailand, from SMEs through NGOs to international corporations are preparing themselves for the upcoming Asian Economic Community in 2015. The IT world can play a role in helping lift everyone in Thailand if it starts by supporting the smallest, most budget-conscious, neighbourhood- and family-friendly among them.

Atsuo Shibata, country manager, Southeast Asia & Oceania Group, Buffalo Inc


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