Many businesses use IT, but only to the extent of using computers to send email, write documents or browse the internet. They may have a small website created using a free online wizard or by their “creative” niece or nephew.
These are businesses not using IT to its fullest potential, and are therefore lowering their own businesses potential.
IT has the potential to change the way businesses operate, no matter the size of operation. Here are some ways.
1. Production visibility
Have you ever needed to know what the exact sales figure was at a particular time of the day but you couldn’t because the cashiers weren’t scheduled to perform their daily tallies yet? Or how about how many orders were shipped, or calls were made, or customers who returned items? If you have a manual system, there is no way to know this until someone goes through and tallies the figures to give to you.
With a computerised system you can have these figures at the tips of your fingers. You can have a running dashboard with how your production metrics are looking and how many sales were closed, or pending.
How much will such metrics help you in growing your business? How can such figures help you make better business decisions?
When you use data and statistics to guide business decisions, rather than gut instinct, you make better decisions. (You can read about this in Chapter 21 of the excellent book, “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman).
2. Enterprise Management
Don’t let the term “enterprise management” turn you off; just because enterprise is there, doesn’t mean that it’s only for big businesses. Enterprise means that it can tie in all aspects of your organisation – the financial, human resource, support, administrative and sales information – into a single cohesive mix. This may not be a single product, but products that allow access to each other in some way that you can automate much of the workflows within your organisation.
Small businesses can use this to help them manage the flow of orders from sales to warehouse. To understand where weaknesses are in the process and help improve it.
In larger businesses, enterprise management help a great deal because the size of the organisation adds many barriers to communication. But imagine being able to have a system in place where you can hire an employee and an automatic message is generated and sent to IT for IT resources, security for passes and communications for internal memos for new employees. When the employee comes in, his pass is waiting, workstation is ready and everyone is already expecting him. How will that increase his morale? How will such communication improve the workplace?
3. User Mobility
Many businesses have become a prison. To get any work done, you have to be at a workstation, punching away at a computer. If you are away from your desk and someone asks for some info, you may have to wait until you reach t othe desk to get it for them, by which time you may have forgotten about the request to begin with.
Wireless networks (WiFi) and mobile data (3G, 4G and LTE) allows us to be always online. We can debate the effect that has on us in terms of work/life balance, but I won’t get into that at this time. The fact is, that simply adding wireless access to your internal network allows users to roam the floor easily.
Simple changes to office design by placing standing round tables can allow ad-hoc, standing meetings, which helps faster decision making, since who would want to stay standing up for more than 15 minutes?
Internal wireless networks can help in many other ways. Location tags allow you to track assets within a building. Wireless barcode scanners can help asset managers account for fixed assets, and warehouse attendants to track and find inventory. And new standards allow for network access greater than 100MBit/s, which many wired LANs have installed. You can theoretically achieve greater than 1Gbit/s, but it’s not practically feasible at the moment.
Mobile data access using cellular providers open greater avenues. You can make final touches to a document on the road, get real time updates of performance metrics of the business, and sales can close deals and place orders on the road, rather than having to wait until they reach the office.
How can mobility help your business? The options are wide open.
4. Customer Management
Do you know who are your best customers? Do you know when last you spoke to any of your customers? If a salesperson leaves, will another person be able to continue where that last one left off?
Sales is mainly about relationships, but that does not have to be with the salesperson alone, but also with the company. You shouldn’t have to wait for a particular salesperson to be available to provide answers, but information should always be available about and for your customers.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software deals with all customer information, not just sales, but the contact information, the touches (the times you contacted, spoke, met, etc), and any other information that may be relevant.
Using CRM systems, you also reduce the risk of dropping the ball if a salesperson leaves, as all the information related to the customer account should be available within the system.
CRM systems are suitable for both large and small businesses alike, as the sales process is not all that different between them.
How will better relationships and interactions with your customers help your business?
5. Project Management and Collaboration
One of the top reasons for projects failing is the lack of user communication. Tasks are forgotten, information is lost, and other stakeholders are unaware of what exactly is happening.
Using a computerised project management or collaboration system, you can better manage projects ensuring that they don’t fail, or overrun. This is beyond using Microsoft’s Project software. I’m talking about an entire system where the team can collaborate and communicate about tasks and deliverables in real time.
Many online systems are available that are pretty affordable for even small businesses, and easy to scale as well. Using such systems can ensure that tasks are done, all information is kept within a single system, and all stakeholders are aware of what is happening.
What impact will improving the success rates of projects have on your business?
6. Knowledge Management
We now live in a knowledge based society, where employees are called Knowledge Workers. This means that the employee’s worth is more than the value of his physical labour, but also his skills, talents, and what he knows.
Such knowledge is truly valuable to businesses, and intellectual property is something that they all try to protect at great costs.
As such, companies try to capture knowledge in a variety of ways such as patents and whitepapers. But even normal day to day knowledge can be captured and used within an organisation to improve efficiency.
You can build an internal, private website called an Intranet that has loads of information available for all employees. You can also experiment with employees being able to add and contribute information to the Intranet, such as allowing internal blogs or wikis, so employees can write about what they learned.
IT allows us to spread knowledge around and grow it. As the saying goes, if I have a dollar and I give you a dollar, we still only have a dollar between us. But if I have an idea and I share it with you, we now have two ideas.
This is only a subset of ways that IT can help your business. My intention is to share it should you not have thought of it before. I am sharing my ideas in the hope that it inspires more ideas from you.
What other ideas do you have? Care to share?