March 2004--Most small businesses don't have an IT person on staff, which can make technology tasks like setting up and maintaining networks and databases difficult, timely and costly. As a result, growing small businesses can end up spending a much larger percentage of their budget on IT than bigger companies. Part of the reason for this is that, until a few years ago, many IT products and services were designed to meet the needs of larger businesses. But companies like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are now tailoring more products and services to meet the needs of small businesses.

Microsoft, who in 2003 launched a $2 billion effort to boost sales to small and medium businesses, has had great success with its Small Business Server. The Small Business Server has helped small companies by offering a solution that, a few years ago, might have involved multiple servers, expensive software and ongoing IT management expenses.

And Hewlett-Packard, which received an SBA Small Business Champion Award last fall for supporting small businesses, is also devoting focus to IT solutions for small businesses. HP recently introduced Learning Curve, a service where smaller companies without an IT person or department can get a year's worth of unlimited, online tech help from HP for $149. The goal of the service is to help small business owners install, manage, and support their information technology systems.

"HP's mission in this market remains clear: to help small and medium businesses get more results from their technology investments," John Brennan, an HP senior vice president, said at a recent conference.