We may live in a technological age but, according to a new report, businesses may not be taking full advantage of the technologies which are available to them. The report, commissioned by Exact, revealed that just 6% of UK SMEs have invested in technology in order to respond to market developments; this despite the fact that 66% percent of businesses are facing increasing competition from new digital players in the marketplace.
The good news is that the same survey has revealed that 73% of UK SMEs are actively planning to grow, with 56% currently exploring the benefits of adopting new business models in order to remain competitive in a technological age. Online sales, cloud technologies and interactive reporting modules all appear to be on the priority list, with companies also looking to invest in partnerships and expanding the workforce as a way of boosting business.
When looking at technological solutions, one of the keys to success is to choose technology which will boost the business rather than adapting the business to suit the technological solution presented. It can be all too easy to be hypnotised by some great sales talk allied to a snazzy presentation; only to find that your brilliant new (and expensive) system doesn’t integrate with your existing systems and will in fact take a lot more man-hours in order to deliver any kind of beneficial outcome.
Of course, unless you design your own system from scratch, the chances are that no system will exactly match your requirements but it is possible to get close as long as you are well prepared before you go out to the marketplace. Our top tips would include_
Understand your starting place. As leaders you are naturally one step removed from the day-to-day processes within your business. Your employees may be doing fantastic work in extracting value from existing systems and they will know far better than you what works and what doesn’t. Taking time at the outset to understand not only the current state of your business but also the current state of your systems will help to clarify ideas. Make sure too at this stage that you take time to review your strategy, goals and values in order that your new system meets the latest growth plans.
Be clear on your requirements. One of the easiest ways to avoid being taken in by sales talk is to predefine your requirements, being clear about what you must have in order to deliver your strategy, what you would like to have as an aid to productivity, and what would be quite helpful as long as it doesn’t come at a cost.
Test to destruction. If you can’t test the system in advance then don’t take it on. It is only when you put in your data and test potential process flows that you can find out whether the system will deliver as expected. Here, don’t simply leave the testing to top-level management or the IT team; involve your customer contact people, your salespeople, your accountancy people, in fact anyone who is likely to actually use the system on a daily basis. Simply by assembling a cross department team at an early stage you can quickly see whether the new technology is going to boost or hinder your business.
Above all else, don’t tie yourself into a system which will only deliver within fixed parameters and which will therefore need to be replaced as the business grows or changes. Flexibility and scalability are the name of the game for businesses which want to stay one step ahead of the competition. So choose a system which will grow and change as your business develops, delivering additional functionality as you need it without having to pay upfront for features which you may not require for a couple of years.
Given the speed of technological development, it is easy to see how the business which stands still is the business which is swiftly left behind. On the other hand, the business which makes the most of smart technology, which chooses systems with one eye on flexibility and scalability, and which is clear on leveraging technology in order to deliver a defined strategy is the business which is in the best position to stay ahead of the competition in an ever-changing marketplace.