Editor's Note: As we continue with our top 2006 trends series, we are very pleased to offer this guest column by Ramon Ray. Ramon is THE man when it comes to technology for the small business office. In the following article Ramon offers his list of top 2006 trends in technology -- the technologies he sees small businesses increasingly use. By Ramon Ray Technology is one of the biggest keys to ensuring a SMALL BUSINESS can operate with more efficiency using less resources in less time. By smartly using technology and leveraging it to grow your business, you will find that your customers are happier, business partners are strong and your overall work is improved. In the following paragraphs I will outline 10 key technologies that you NEED to consider in 2006. Email Marketing & Communication Although the telephone is a great tool, businesses are increasingly using email. Email lets you keep track of communication much easier; is legally binding; and enables one person to have multiple conversations with multiple people. As your use of email increases it is VITAL that you learn to manage your email inbox using automatic filters and replies. Being able to establish regular communications with customers is important to ensuring a one-time customer is a customer for life. Voice over the Internet There is absolutely no need to pay the high fees that traditional telephone companies charge for phone calls. Voice Over the Internet (VOIP) providers are leading the charge to reduce costs. However, there is much more than cost reduction that VOIP providers give -- they also give increased flexibility and features. Voice mail is no longer a "voice" in a voice mail box, but "voice mail" can be retrieved anywhere/anytime there is an Internet connection. Having your "phone" ring on your notebook PC and bring up critical client information is all doable and more with VOIP. Mobile Computing No growing business person can grow their business being tied to a desk. To ensure maximum productivity in your (and your staff's) day -- ensure you can access office documents (on your PC or server) from a smart phone, PDA or notebook computer. Mobile technology advancements are mature. While prices are still a bit high for some, technology prices are getting lower and features are getting more vast every day. Being able to check inventory in an airport and make a critical sale is easy with the right mobile technology. Hosted Applications While traditional PC based applications have a role to play, hosted applications, that you can access over the Internet is becoming more widely available. With Google launching application after application (all hosted on the Internet) more and more companies (Microsoft is now awakening to this trend) will offer core applications online. Hosted applications increase speed of deployment, reduce computer crashes and speed program updates. Data Backup I could write miles of stories about businesses who wished they would have backed up their data only to find it lost due to human or technology error. More and more businesses are going to ENSURE that their critical business information is backed up and can be recovered on demand. Technology in Business Chasm The gap between the businesses who have and those who have not, unfortunately, will continue to spread. Those who "get it" and know that technology is a tool to grow their businesses will continue to grow and do well. But those who cannot grasp the importance of technology and harness its use will fail. Online Advertising Traditional media companies have a reason to be scared. More and more consumers and businesses are turning to online media for their news and information research. No longer is the 30 second radio ad or 60 second TV spot good enough. For small businesses leveraging cost per click and cost per call advertising will enable them to ONLY spend on advertising that works and can be tested. Security With phishing and hack attacks on the rise, smart businesses know they must do more than just install anti-virus programs to harden their networks. They must ensure every entry point into the network is as secure as possible while not making the burden to access the network too high. Hackers and rogue programs want to access your data and use it to make money for often illicit activities -- do everything you can to stop them. Customer Relationship Management At the end of the day and the beginning of the day, a business lives and breathes by its customers. CRM is only going to increase as small businesses realize that they need to do more than sending Christmas Cards once a year. They need an intimate understanding of their entire customer profile. Solution Providers / Consultants None of these solutions can be put into place WITHOUT the solid backing of computer consultants to implement solutions. While YOU take care of your business, your computer consultant or solution provider can implement your technology solution. * * * * * About the Author: Since 1986, Ramon Ray has been using computers and was first "online" in 1995. He is the author of "Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses" (Amacom), has written hundreds of technology articles and posted thousands of technology news items on Smallbiztechnology.com. His content is syndicated and read by thousands of readers. He is a contributing editor to the New York Enterprise Report and writes or has written technology articles for Inc Magazine, Black Enterprise Magazine, CNet, Var Business, TechTarget and other media. He has written technology articles for tech vendors including Microsoft and FileMaker.