Large corporations heavily rely on technology to improve performance, increase efficiency, grow profitability and manage expenses. Due to the size and complexity of such organizations, maximizing technology use is a necessity. Yet, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can benefit from technology just as much if not more.
A growing number of SMBs are coming to this realization. According to a 2015 study, nearly 30% of small businesses see technology as vital to improving their outcomes. That being said, the technology space is vast and SMBs can be overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of options. We have listed below some of the key areas smaller enterprises can leverage the power of technology.
1. Data Centralization
Experiencing difficulty locating information you need is not just a source of frustration, but also leads to inefficiency. Every second wasted searching for such data is a second that could otherwise have been used to grow the business.
For SMBs, employees are often stretched and play multiple roles. Making data harder to find further increases staff workload in a way that doesn’t benefit the business. To reduce the time it takes to access information, store all your data in one location.
Cloud-based storage can serve the purpose although you can achieve the same objective with an on-site file server. Develop a file naming procedure that makes it easy to understand the content of a given file or folder at first glance.
2. Data Protection
Business data will be one of if not the most important asset an SMB has. Business data includes inventory, customer details, customer orders, employee information and marketing campaigns.
If such vital data is stored on only one employee’s computer, the business runs the risk of losing it all in case the laptop is stolen or someone spills coffee on it. Rebuilding this information is difficult and some of it may actually be lost forever. In extreme cases, lost data has led to the collapse of small businesses.
To avoid falling into this predicament, SMBs should develop a robust framework for data protection. All data should be backed up at least once a day and the backups kept away from the premises. Backups to a cloud-based server are ideal since the information can be accessed from anywhere.
Also, access to both live and backup data must be controlled. Each employee should only have access to information they need to do their job.
3. Faster, More Accurate Communication
When a member of the team forgets or otherwise fails to relay information in time, the end result is customer dissatisfaction which eventually negatively impacts the bottom line. A similar outcome is expected when an employee inadvertently disseminates erroneous or outdated information to a colleague or third party.
To ensure information moves quickly and accurately between departments, workflow software would come in handy. SMBs that want to go a step further should acquire an ERP system. ERP systems store inputs from multiple departments and relay action points to the relevant data are immediately saved.
4. Process Automation
A business is an aggregate of multiple repetitive tasks and processes. Not all such tasks and processes are created equal. Whereas a certain task may be necessary for the smooth operation of the business, the same task can take away from time you’d otherwise spend on activity that’s more productive.
Fortunately, many business processes can be partially or fully automated and there are already many off-the-shelf tools that do that. For example, Minor Decliner automates the age verification process for businesses that sell alcohol, tobacco or other age-restricted products. The automation saves time, reduces errors and maximizes resource utilization.
For SMBs, the processes that can and need to be automated are often fairly simple, but take an inordinate amount of time.
For instance, if the business spends a lot of time calling and emailing customers who haven’t paid for a product that’s already been delivered, automated payment reminders serve the same purpose. Customers start to receive the reminders a few weeks before the deadline. The reminders continue at set intervals until payment is made.
5. Scalable Technology
Enterprise technology is expensive. There are many free web-based and stand-alone tools that can help SMB owners run a more efficient operation. However, purchasing systems is inevitable at some point in the business’ growth.
When a company goes through the process of buying a new system, there’ll be a time or monetary cost for the search, selection and installation. In addition, employees must be trained on how to use the new system. Over the first few weeks, there’ll be a decline in productivity as team members grow accustomed to working with the new system.
Large companies often aside millions of dollars each year to buy new or upgrade their existing technology. SMBs have no such luxury and must deploy resources carefully and only where needed. That’s why for smaller businesses, scalable technology is crucial. Buying a system that expands as the business grows ensures they do not have to go through this costly cycle as often.
Even though business meetings can be inconveniencing, distracting and expensive, they are a necessary evil. Sometimes, meeting attendees have to travel from a different city, state or even country. Teleconferencing is a powerful tool for cutting the cost of meetings. Teleconferencing technology has grown in functionality and sophistication over the past decade.
Unlike past conference calls where you were limited to hearing each other’s voices, modern teleconferencing is audiovisual. You can see each participant, which is vital, especially when engaging a client since facial expressions play a great role in communication.
Attendees participate irrespective of whether they are using a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Electronic documents are shared with all participants in real time. Since no one needs to move from their workstation, meetings are viewed more favorably.
Technology is a business enabler. Buying technology is no guarantee that an SMB will be successful. It does, however, create a conducive environment to the business to realize its goals in the most efficient way. It is by taking advantage of technology that small businesses are able to compete in the same space as large corporations.
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