By Michael Lazzaro

In 1994, Pizza Hut accepted the first-ever online order for a large pepperoni and mushroom pizza with extra cheese. It’s no mistake that “PizzaNet,” the digital destination where the order was placed, was borne from a multinational corporation with significant money and personnel to dedicate to the project.

It was another seven years before one of the chain’s competitors, Papa John’s, launched its own online ordering system. By the late 2000s, according to Advertising Age, pizza chains were doing up to 30 percent of their business online.

Online ordering is now par for the course for national pizza chains. But until recently, that technology was reserved for a relatively small number of well-resourced players. Due to the sheer amount of pizza ordered from the big chains, online ordering was widespread, but in leaving independent restaurants behind, it wasn’t exactly democratic.

That tide is starting to turn now that everyday pizza restaurants more easily have access to online ordering systems. From off-the-shelf websites that can get them up and running with their own online ordering in minutes, to online ordering services like Seamless and end-to-end delivery services like UberEats, local pizzerias – and other types of restaurants – can now take advantage of the same technology formerly reserved for the big guys.

Look no further than to SMBs

If you want to gauge if a technology is widely used and democratized, look no further than its adoption by small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Unlike enterprise executives who can make risky investments in early technologies to maintain their competitive edge, SMB owners must be more cautious about adopting new technologies and invest in proven technologies that will make their businesses run better. They have to contend with the costs, real and perceived, of changing processes and upgrading systems. SMB management often don’t have the time or resources to tinker with technologies that aren’t ready to use straight off the shelf.

Unless the technology is immediately beneficial, small businesses will stick with the tried and true before inviting an operational headache – even if that new technology shows promise.

To win over SMBs, the user experience for new technologies also needs to be relatively simple, and transferrable to existing workflows with relative ease. Often, multiple staff must use the system properly in order for the business to maximize its benefit, making a streamlined and foolproof experience that much more critical.

Enterprise adoption is a proving ground for democratized technology

To appreciate the contrast, consider “big data.” Enterprise companies are likely to have whole teams dedicated to harnessing their customer data and deploying it for marketing, analytics and other uses. They have the resources required to secure that data and the legal teams to ensure they’re complying with consumer and data protection laws – resources an average small business owner could only dream of.

Adoption of big data by large enterprises is lucrative – the banking industry alone accounted for more than 10 percent of big data and business analytics revenues totaling $130 billion in 2016 – but it’s not nearly a sign of a technology that has been democratized.

The term “big data” was used as early as 1997, when NASA scientists Michael Cox and David Ellsworth used it in a paper to describe the problem of working with massive data sets that taxed computing resources. But interest in the concept reached an inflection point in 2011, when businesses became preoccupied with how it could maximize their results. Source: Google Trends

That will happen when a critical mass of SMBs begin embracing technologies that automate customer data collection by integrating it into SMBs’ point-of-sale systems, then serve up easy-to-understand and actionable insights.

We’re starting to get there. For example, insights technologies that are directly integrated with point-of-sale systems can now facilitate business intelligence. Those insights can uncover information about a business’s own operations. They can also offer a robust picture of their customers’ behaviors, and how their individual business measures up to competitors in their sector or in a given geography. Package that up with affordable subscription pricing, and small businesses have access to powerful information that can inform day-to-day decision making.

To be sure, enterprise businesses play an important role in technology democratization. They have the incentives and means to be the innovators and explore new technological opportunities. They can also manage testing and learning that yields insights which can then be ported into boiled-down technologies SMBs can enjoy and afford.

Democratization of technology is critical because it gives SMBs a fighting chance to take their rightful place in an ever-changing economy – and that’s important to the entire U.S. economy, in which small businesses employ nearly half of all workers, or 56.8 million people, according to the Small Business Administration. Releasing business technologies from the enterprise and making them accessible to the corner pizza shop should be a top objective for all of us.

Michael Lazzaro is the vice president of Clover Brand and SMB Product Marketing. Michael Lazarro comes to First Data through its recent acquisition of Perka, a customer loyalty solution for small businesses. At First Data, Mike is responsible for overseeing Clover product and brand marketing and helping to position Clover as First Data’s premier brand in the SMB segment.