Business Matters – Issue 27

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How investing in tech can help business owners thrive in an evolving world

New technology systems can bring a wealth of opportunities for businesses, but what should be the priority for SMEs?

From boosting efficiency to improving the customer experience, it’s clear that technology is king in propelling businesses into the next stage of growth.

In today’s world, regularly reviewing your software systems is more important than ever in getting a competitive edge. But it can fall down the priority list for start-ups and SMEs, who often don’t have the time, scale or (in some cases) the financial capacity. After all, budgeting for your IT strategy is tricky when you have to account for an array of unexpected situations.

So, why is it crucial to set aside the time – and funds – to leverage new technology in your business strategy? How do you budget for it while staying agile to potential changes? And how do you know when a full digital transformation is needed? Our latest Business Matters investigates…

Seizing opportunities

Technology filters into a wide of sectors, from electronics to manufacturing, digital storage and – the hot topic at the moment – artificial intelligence software. With so many applications, there are therefore countless ways in which tech can benefit your business.

Larger companies often have teams dedicated to finding and investing in new technologies, a luxury that many SMEs don’t have. However, a regular review of your systems among your key decision makers will help you stay on top of the latest developments – and jump on any opportunities. There’s also an increasing number of products designed specifically for smaller firms, which can scale with your business.

Sometimes a full digital transformation (sometimes called a DX) is in order. Assuming it fits into your short- and long-term budgets, a DX can be a critical milestone for future growth, no matter how daunting it can be.

Here are our top seven benefits of harnessing the power of technology in your SME:

  1. Automate to ameliorate

When thinking about how to use the latest technology to enhance your systems and service quality, automation is a popular option.

Learning how to delegate can be a tough challenge for new owners and thinking about automation can raise similar issues. But the fact remains that automation can be essential in scaling your company.

It can bring huge benefits to small or medium-sized enterprises, from driving productivity to improving resource management, i.e. saving you and your staff valuable time. Many processes can benefit from automation, particularly those that are standardised and frequent, but it’s also worth thinking about automating labour-intensive tasks that are costly to perform manually or tasks prone to human error.

Your business plan will help you see where automation will impact the business most. Ask yourself: What generates most value to the business? Where do your employees’ skillsets lie? Would they benefit from certain admin tasks being automated?

  1. Customers first

Automation can also help with cost-related goals, such as cutting the cost of serving each customer – a critical metric for successful SMEs. It can also improve response times, service and output quality, which will increase custom and, ultimately, revenue. After all, what’s good for your customer is good for your business!

Moreover, many businesses collect customer data (in a GDPR-compliant manner, of course) but aren’t aware of how to analyse the data to drive the company forward. Reporting and analytical tools can help you crunch the numbers and identify new opportunities

  1. Winning business

As well as improving the experience for existing customers, more and more business deals and negotiations are taking place online. Every entrepreneur dreams of being a disruptor, and taking advantage of more digital opportunities can be the launchpad.

Historically, directors wanted to be out there, tangibly winning business. But since the pandemic, most people are used to the digital business environment and are harnessing the power of tech for pitches – bringing market data to life and highlighting the most important (and saleable) features.

What’s more, video technology has enabled the creation of a virtual meeting space that’s not too far from a face-to-face scenario, while saving on travel costs.

  1. Protecting your assets

As well as winning new business, refreshing your systems and upgrading software can help you guard what you have, protecting you against potential vulnerabilities like fraud and cyber attacks.

From fraudulent emails to malware, online attacks can be devastating, and it’s an increasing problem for all businesses. Tech can help you stay a step ahead of the hackers. Many fraud-prevention tools and technologies are available, including identity and authentication tools, fraud data and trace services and anomaly detection.

Not forgetting that business owners must be hypervigilant because, while professional criminals are the biggest perpetrators, the threat can come from employees, customers and other business contacts.

Lastly, cloud-based systems have made it much simpler to integrate parts of the business, but much more than that, operating in the cloud can improve access, security and efficiency, while reducing the overheads required for storage.

  1. Connecting your team

Another benefit of a technology refresh is enhanced employee engagement. It shows you’re investing in systems to make their roles easier or more efficient. You could also consider using HR technology to gather employee-engagement information.

Plus, with more workers taking advantage of the benefits that flexible and remote working can bring, tech can help you ensure they feel connected, valued and part of the team. Effective communication is vital to keeping them in the loop. There are now lots of online communication and training tools at your disposal, so make the most of them.

Remote working capability also gives you access to a wider talent-pool to choose from, including parents, people with mobility or health issues and people based further from your physical location than a regular commute would allow. Again, HR technology can help improve onboarding and recruitment experiences, helping you be more specific about what you need and why.

  1. Looking ahead

We’ve previously covered business exits in detail, and even though it might not be on your immediate radar, if you want to sell your business within five years, decisions made now could significantly impact the sale price.

It’s important to have a solid plan in place to grab the attention of potential investors. After all, buyers will always want to see as much data as possible to support their decision and potential offer, including evidence of good growth and future potential. Analytical software can help you present these metrics in an effective way.

  1. Asking for back-up

While it’s great to be the mover and shaker in your SME, it often pays to listen to the experts. Technology advisers can support you in everything you need for your overall strategy from a software point of view – including the IT needed to grow the business.

Regularly updating your software systems can feel out of reach for many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but task-based advisers can be appointed to implement a very specific project, for example a technology overhaul. They can help you audit your current systems, identify the tech that’s redundant, calculate the cost benefit and ensure you have the right talent available to implement the new systems.

Spotlight on: IT budgeting

Knowing how to budget for tech can seem impossible, but when done correctly, it can serve as a roadmap for the future of the business.

Firstly, you need to decide how best to allocate the IT budget, followed by listing the vital aspects. Here are the essentials:

  1. Upgrading outdated software and hardware, including applications that enhance security.
  2. The purchase of new equipment, including ergonomic desk solutions and mobile devices for staff.
  3. New software to help increase efficiencies and productivity. Always run a cost/benefit analysis on this.
  4. Account for backup solutions, whether that be for data backup to other locations or the upgrade to your existing backup hardware. Consider secure cloud-based solutions.
  5. Formal training around cyber security across the whole organisation to ensure staff remain compliant with IT and data policies and the business remains resilient to threats.
  6. Contingency for unforeseen circumstances, disaster planning and recovery.

Finally, it’s important to remember that tech is a moveable feast, so you need to be flexible. Always consider your budget as a work in progress and try to tweak it where you need to so that your strategy remains on track.

Embracing change

It’s clear that regularly reviewing your technology strategy and software systems can help small businesses thrive. It doesn’t just improve your growth prospects and profitability, but can also drive your priorities and help the organisation as a whole.

But, as with all aspects of business planning, it starts with you – and it’s important not to lose that human touch. By using technology as tool to enhance your time, service offering and communication, your business will be able to stay ahead of the game in the digital age.