Create an Ecosystem to fit Around your Business

Create an Ecosystem to fit Around your Business

SME HybridSprawl

All SME businesses grapple with choices around what is the best business system to manage growing operations. Devising a plan for an integrated business management software system is often put on the 'back burner' (and quite rightly so for a new business). 

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Short-term income goals take precedence. As an outcome of this, many different applications are installed at different points in time in various working areas, resulting in business process wastefulness and software integration challenges. But how did these difficulties arise in the first place, and more importantly how can they be bypassed?

The design of a standard siloed SME Business System

Even a medium-growing firm can quickly become entangled with a complicated application landscape. When starting out, companies first install accounting software such as Xero so that they can manage their bookkeeping.

In the search to acquire more customers, companies then put in a standalone CRM, along with separate systems for resolving customer support issues (Help or Service Desk). Stock management, order management and distribution systems get addressed with different software and spreadsheets.

To further increase revenue, many businesses will open new offices and include additional sales channels resulting in more sophisticated processes for sales integration, recurring billing, financial controls, amongst others. New business software to support these methods can take the form of standalone applications from different suppliers, homegrown applications, or a variety of spreadsheet workarounds.

Businesses that emerge over time in this manner can find themselves with an inadequate architecture that handles short-term tactical needs poorly while holding the company back from climbing efficiently over the long term. This disorganized web of siloed business software systems, frustrates flexibility, productivity, and ultimately slows down the company's ability to grow.

When budgeting, plan for a gain to be seen and tangible before further budget allocations take place. Seeing a benefit could be as simple as a reduction in call time for customers, reduction in duplicate customer records, increase in retention of customers, simplified sales processes and getting prospects through the funnel quicker and so on. There will be numerous small, tangible benefits that a good implementation plan will document. Look to those as guidance around the decision on committing significant future budget allocations.

Ok, but is this really a problem for SME Businesses. So what if the software applications are disconnected.

When companies have several siloed applications, many business challenges arise. These challenges can become so severe, that they can cripple the survivability of the company because the firm cannot grow. Here some of the leading problems that can hinder growth in a business with disparate software systems:

Lack of Clarity: With un-integrated software systems comes multiple overlapping databases and the problem of 'Multiple Versions of the Truth'. Reports that show performance in accounting, sales, service, purchasing areas are crucial in giving an integrated view of the company's operations. Most SMEs just give up on acquiring this information on a regular basis because of the amount of time it takes to reference, derive and examine this data. For those that are brave and do, many hours are spent trying to match unrelated, error-prone, and out of date information together. Consequently, businesses either end up making significant decisions slowly, based on incorrect information, or they make swift and hazardous choices based on 'abdomen instinct'.

Integration Complexity and Cost:If an SME has identified a need for an IT budget or even a department there is an enormous amount of time and money wasted in integrating, maintaining, and acquiring new versions of all of the business software systems. When new software is obtained, or current software is updated, more integration and maintenance is made to get all the different versions of software to work together. Consequently, valuable IT time and budget are drained rather than using IT to make the business more productive. 

Wilted Employee Productivity:Today the competitive pressure is so immense, that at all times, every employee must be operating at optimal productivity. If workers are tied up in unproductive and incoherent processes, errors increase and time is driven away from essential core duties. Critical processes such as order booking, invoicing, expense approvals, and distribution, can take longer to get finished, and are often incorrect. For instance, operators may be spending time re-entering order information into the invoicing system, while other employees pull that same information from the CRM system for their order delivery processes and to calculate sales commissions. Such labour-intensive tasks reduce the agility that the business needs to survive.

Increased Client Churn: Customer acquisition and income growth are essential mainstays of a company's survivability. With ferocious competition, it is vital that the firm provides an exceptional customer experience or risk having buyers take their business elsewhere. When clients are unable to get information on their order status quickly, can't get issues resolved promptly, or have to deal with products being out of stock frequently, there is a danger that they will be less satisfied and less likely to continue buying. A unified software system ensures that clients have the right information and buyer experience and that the employees have the immediate access to all the customer information they need to service and sell.

Another factor you could consider is whether the processes you are targeting for automation are right for your business in the first place. If a process can be eliminated without significant productivity loss, perhaps elimination should be documented as the benefit.

So what are the advantages of integrated software applications

Planning to survive and grow in business has always been tough. Today, however, it is near impossible for the average SME to do so without some form of software system automation. Whats important is to design a system that functions around a single codebase, database and business process. The advantages of creating systems in this manner yield enormous cost savings and improved business productivity, including:

Dramatically Increase Clarity: Visibility is vital in making appropriate informed choices. When data can be accessed instantly from almost anywhere, without spending resources on data extraction and matching data from different sources together, employees are better informed and can make more valid quicker judgments. 

Process Effectiveness Across the Organisation: Several fundamental processes may be encountered in the daily operations, such as order management, invoicing, HR record keeping, supplier and contract compliance monitoring, expense approvals and accounting approvals, to name a few. Automating such processes via workflows and other productivity tools avoids new hires that would otherwise be required to manage these processes, and redeploy staff to higher-value activities to help the business innovate and grow. 

Meaningful IT Time and Cost Savings: With the IT budget no longer needed to procure, install, and maintain multiple systems as well as the various integrations between them, a significant reduction in operational costs can be realised while IT time can be spent improving the business operations. On the flip side to this, a substantial amount of funds can be saved and 're-allocated' before the SME embarks on a design process that will eventually lead to the 'Siloed' un-integrated business system.

User-Driven Change: Process changes can be implemented quickly, everyday business users can apply their practical expertise to tailor methods and applications in a way that elevates performance. 

Conclusion

SMEs in virtually every industry are using sophisticated business software to fuel their growth but many are still struggling to keep up with their growth and manage costs effectively because of a hodge-podge of disconnected functional systems causing process bottlenecks and employee productivity issues. Integrated business software suites are transforming how companies run and enabling them to transcend growing pains that previously were holding them back from taking their business to the next level of profitable growth.

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imtiaz ahmed

Imtiaz is an enthusiastic and innovative Professional, with over 20 years of experience in the Retail, ERP and CRM business areas in the UK, South Asia and the Middle East. PS. When he’s away from running UnifiedApps, he’s also been known to be a mediocre guitar player.

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