More and more small and medium-sized companies are adopting technological tools, turning everything into a competitive advantage.
Many options are easily available in the market. It becomes difficult to make an informed choice without expert support.
Not any tool is necessarily adapted to your reality. Considering your industry, your current situation and involving all potential actors becomes paramount.
Myth vs Reality. What is really happening?
Blockchain. Artificial intelligence. Big data. The Cloud. Automatization.
In 2018, it is almost unimaginable to not have heard these words. Whether in a conference, in a business lunch, in a discussion with colleagues, everyone seems to talk about it.
However, is it true that a small or medium business needs these tools? Is it true that all companies invest in these technologies? Do you need to invest immediately, else risk becoming the next Blockbuster?
The answer: it depends.
Since 2010, SMEs have seen their information technology spending rose from $534 billion to more than $686 billion in North America, an increase of about 19 percent (Deloitte University Press). As a result they benefit by differentiating themselves in the quality of their service and their operations.
The benefits are both qualitative and quantitative:
- Reduce workload by 42% with Cloud solutions (Microsoft : http://jess3.com/small-business-infographic/).
- Employees who work for firms that make apps available and highly accessible spend 17% less time on manual processes (VMWare: https://www.vmware.com/radius/report-impact-digitally-empowered-workforce/).
- Income growths of more than 100% in several case studies.
- Better coherence and homogeneity of information.
- Detailed monitoring of operations to reduce inefficiencies and detect possible optimizations.
- Customized systems built to improve customer satisfaction.
- And much more.
Nevertheless, the reality is that 80% of small businesses still use manual integration tools (SMB Group: https://lauriemccabe.com/2014/03/07/cloud-is-the-the-new-normal-for -smbs-but-integration-isnt/) and only 53% of companies have a website (Statistic Brain: http://www.statisticbrain.com/small-business-website-statistics/).
It is not too late to make the change and transform your environment into a modern operations center or even to take the lead of your competitors.
Investment in technology. What is the right tool for you?
There are many options available on the market, horizontally and vertically. The size of the SAAS (Service As A Software) market will have quadrupled by 2021 (Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/505243/worldwide-software-as-a-service-revenue/) and the Technology companies of all kinds are emerging with big waves.
First, it is important to understand the difference between the various tools in front of you. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses that you need to know in order to choose what will be most beneficial for you.
Among these, here are the main ones:
CMS (Content Management System).
A CMS allows you to properly manage the content of your different platforms in an efficient and convenient way. Accesses can be given and controlled by the system administrator, making it easy to secure your business based on your choices of internal controls. It is best used for blogs, websites management and news.
The cloud is the concept of virtual servers allowing you to store, manage and access information from any internet access point. Most platforms handle secure authentications processes to ensure high security and integrity of your data.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
A CRM allows its users to manage all their business relationships and data through a one-stop software. This is efficiently used by sales teams wishing to track their progress while handling many customers on longer timeframes.
ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning software)
An ERP integrates all core business processes into a real-time platform that will track your different operations and agents. It allows management to interact with information of many departments, such as finance, marketing, IT.
A website can serve as a virtual showcase that provides a taste of your business to your web visitors. It can also be a complex platform interacting with your current and potential customers in an automated way, in conjunction with your many tools. An optimal website needs to be secure, regularly updated, and remain relevant in terms of content and features for its users.
SCM (Supply Chain Management)
A SCM is a platform generally focused on the management of logistics and suppliers. Everything manages the flow of goods and finances and associated data. This system is particularly convenient for production companies who wish to monitor and measure all their products, deliveries and performances.
DSS (Decision Support System)
A DSS provides administrators with decision support tools. Based on several analysis methodologies (What-If Scenario, Sensitivity Analysis, Goal-Seeking Approach), the system offers recommendations taking into account the parameters and constraints that you impose on it. The best recommendations will usually be made when a lot of data has been accumulated, "cleaned up" and interpreted.
Each tool helps to achieve specific goals and can fit into a specific framework of your operations. A technology system is optimally implemented throughout the enterprise but can be used by a specific functional department.
An expert in process optimization can analyze your current situation and determine the inefficiencies to be solved first. By reviewing your different operations, this one can suggest precise interactions between your different software to accumulate data and create synergy.
In addition to increasing revenue or lowering costs, most software creates true business value by standardizing processes, centralizing information and increasing the robustness of the existing structure.
The tool isn’t the end. You got to choose who will dig, what will be dug, how and when.
Choosing the right tool is an important decision in itself, which can take a lot of time. You have probably already budgeted for these investments. Like any business decision, however, it will be necessary to prioritize. Indeed, although the implementation of several of the software may seem beneficial, it will be necessary to consider the financial aspect.
By choosing the most optimal tool, it will be necessary to establish which features will be most useful. Several generic models usually already exist on the market: from the simplest to the most complex, from the most generic to the most personalized. By establishing your functional goals and performance metrics, you can more easily determine what's best for you. It is also possible to build a customized solution to benefit from the adequate and sought-after functionalities, while ensuring an optimal integration in the current environment of the company.
Then you will need to include all the potential users of the software: customers, employees, suppliers, managers and others. In doing so, the software will be built intuitively and appropriately, which will allow users to more easily integrate the technological solution into their daily habits.
Finally, different stages in the life cycle of a company mean different approaches. Generally, the more a company grows, the more it will want to ensure the coherence and integrity of its technological system through a complete system. Some industries may, however, lead to investing sooner or later. For example, a young manufactory wanting to quickly integrate a SCM to focus its energies in sales, instead of catching late orders and missing materials.
This is the lifecycle of a growing business and a typical example of the investments it could make to optimize a strong technology structure that mixes with the right financial health.
Company X specializes in recruiting services. Its founder has domain experience but does not have the high budget to invest in big infrastructures yet. It aims to be the bridge that connect employees and employers. The founder wants to reach $2M of revenue as of its 2rd year and plans to have a few employees at first. Let’s see how she could integrate it.
Development, Year 1 (Founder only):
- Basic website to have an online presence and gather leads through its contact form and quote service.
- Social Media Management Tool to better handle its presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Startup, Year 2 (Founder + a few support staff):
- Use a CMS for its website content and its blog presence.
- May use an excel sheet to track all of its orders and its finances
- Use of cloud to save everything across company.
Growth, Year 3-4 (Founder, a few managers and about 20 employees):
- Integration of a CRM that will be connected to its growing website. Every lead will now be instantly added on the platform.
- Increase of data tracking and use of analytics to discover new insights.
- ERP for internal stakeholders such as employees, contractors and management.
Expansion, Year 5-8 (Real management team, HR and 75 employees):
- ERP integrates all the CRM, CMS and data. It also offers a high quality of customer service through a personalized platform theme.
- Administrator has full access to comprehensible data analysis.
Maturity, Year 8+ (full C-Suite, upper management, HR and 150+ employees):
- Full ERP platform accessible online to all its stakeholders.
- Access 24/7 to IT support if necessary.
- All data is tracked and available to upper management in a form of big-picture views and graphs.
Companies are investing more and more in information technologies to stay ahead of the market and to stay relevant to their customers.
However, given the number of options that are increasing from year to year, it is important to gather specific knowledge of the field or the support of experts.
It is possible to develop a solution adapted to your company and your current situation, considering all those who will be involved in your environment.
All this would allow you to continually increase the value of your business, both internally and with the different actors with whom you interact.