Small Business Owners: Utilizing Technology to Improve Profits

If you really want to become more profitable and improve operations in your company, you have to shift your focus from the following limiting thoughts about technology.

  1. If I buy the latest production software we will be in good shape
  2. We don’t do that here
  3. We are unique, we don’t have competition that use technology to help them generate profits
  4. The plan is in my head, people will steal it off the computer
  5. All I need is more sales to make more profits

You’ve got to get the right mindset by eliminating restricting thoughts, and then you’ll be ready to improve people, processes and profitability.

Do you ever wonder how a company can start out with just one idea, a passion and a vision, then 10 to 20 years later have thousands of employees and millions in sales?

  1. What did these companies do to become so successful
  2. Are the owners smarter than you?
  3. Do they work harder than you?
  4. Did they have better equipment or people than you?

No. But they do use better technology tools to drive operation (the people and the process). Operations represent about 60% or 80% of all your overhead costs but they’re the least understood by US businesses.

For decades, the Japanese have focused on operations that have driven innovation and a culture of continuous improvement. In the right small business owner hands, operations and technology can be a competitive weapon.

Now, ask yourself how can your small company— with just a handful of employees and limited resources — turn operations and technology applications into a powerful weapon to beat competition and learn to grow and thrive!

Why invest in technology / What are the benefits

The bottom line is, if you’re suffering from tight cash flow, exhausted lines of credit and top-line growth, then you have weak operations and have underutilized the technology applications onsite or off-the-shelf that can help you.

First step to rapid profit improvement is to start by questioning your employees. They usually know where costly blocks and bottlenecks are hidden.

Technology can store employee survey results that help you to plan profitability.

Employee Questionnaire(sample)

  1. Are your interests and ambitions being challenged
  2. Does each department in this company have measurable standard designed to increase profitability? Does each area have documentation of process flows and procedures of how it should work?
  3. Does everyone in this company share the goal of improving the company profits? Does the CEO hold town hall meetings about ‘planned profits’?
  4. Are you regularly told when you do good work?
  5. Do you get the help you need to do a good job?
  6. As an employee, do you feel you can trust your direct supervisor/manager?
  7. Are owner/managers open and honest with employees?
  8. Does the company provide you with continual training in areas that will make you a better employee? Has it trained you on how to cut operating expenses or increase revenue to improve profits in your area?
  9. Are your responsibilities generally explained, well planned and organized?
  10. Is poor performance tolerated by management? i.e., worker performance, operations bottlenecks and customer relations.

The following are other ways business productivity software drives business processes more efficiently to gain optimal results:

Create an open and communicative environment.

By storing appraisal information within a formal database, managers can more easily communicate business strategy and create measurable goals for their employees that will support overall company objectives. In allowing employees to see the whole picture and understand better how individual goals fit into the company’s business objectives. This can create a energized and engaged employees, thereby raising the business productivity of the company.

Motivate your employees using technology.

Based upon the information gathered in an online performance evaluation, managers can compare current skills with those required for advancement or other recognition or reward opportunities that present themselves as the manager tracks progress on employee goals throughout the year. You may also find you need to redirect employees to different departments if you feel their business productivity could increase elsewhere. If there are impediments to better performance, the company should review why it is happening and try to eliminate these through better allocation of resources or additional training.

Monitor business productivity and employee progress on goals.

Business productivity software solutions enable managers to more easily track progress during every phase of goal completion and offer immediate reinforcement or coaching to keep performance and deadlines on track in daily operations, and utilize performance measurements for strategic planning.

Electronic Commerce

There are many business applications related to e-commerce, from setting up your online storefront to managing your supply chain to marketing your products and services. These technologies fall into three main categories:

Business to Business(B2B)

  • Purchasing indirect supplies
  • Look for catalogue-based websites offered by suppliers for corporate purchases, similar to business-to-customer websites, for purchasing indirect supplies such as office furniture, pens, paper, and general office equipment.
  • Leveraging your existing Web presence
  • Improve your existing business-to-customer e-commerce website. Greater sophistication can be added into your online store to target your business clientele.

Business to Customer(B2C)

The global reach of the Internet has allowed many businesses to sell their products and services online, both at home and abroad. An electronic storefront is a website with many pre-built e-commerce components like electronic shopping carts and secure payment gateways that you can use to set up an online store.

Internet Marketing

Everything you do to promote your business online is Internet marketing. For example, Internet marketing strategies include (but are not limited to) website design and content, search engine optimization, directory submissions, reciprocal linking strategies, online advertising, and email marketing.

How to Implement Technology to increase profits

IT implementation can be a valuable tool for increasing workplace productivity, but without a careful selection of the right technologies for your specific industry and comprehensive employee training, it can also serve to reduce productivity, profitability and employee satisfaction. The return on investment will depend on whether the technologies implemented are right for a given business’ needs and how prepared employees are to use them.

Step 1

Brainstorm a list of business process improvements you may be able to realize from a technological implementation. Your list should include three categories: improvements that you know to be possible, and which are core requirements for your expense; a wish list of things you would like to have, but which may be future development efforts; and a list of things which would transform the way you do business, but which may not be possible. These three targets provide you with a present-day implementation goal, as well as a future development target–and it may be that your transformational goals could be far easier to reach than you expect.

Step 2

Determine whether you intend to develop these technologies using in-house resources, or through outside consultancies. Nearly every major workflow technology requires extensive customization, implementation procedures and training. Small businesses can sometimes get by cheaply using staff members technologically proficient–but mistakes made at the beginning of the process can ramp up costs later on when you turn to professional outside support.

Step 3

Avoid specifying particular technologies if you do not have the technical expertise to evaluate them properly. The purpose of the managerial process at this stage is to define goals and budgetary constraints; non-technical managers who wed themselves to specific technologies too early can miss out on substantial cost savings, and choose a technology not the best suited for the work.

Step 4

Circulate your request for proposals among outside consultants and implementors, or establish an internal process for doing the same among your staff if you are keeping the work in-house. Major technological implementations will not succeed if they are added to the existing workload of an employee. Proper technological implementations can be more than a full-time job in and of themselves. Staff members shifted to technology implementation should have their existing duties moved to other staff resources.

Step 5

Negotiate a time frame, budget and implementation benchmarks with your external or internal staff resources. If you are working with an outside consultant, your contract should include protections against running over budget and over schedule. Likewise, the consultant will protect his own firm by setting specific terms of the work to be completed, and charging you extra if you change them over the course of the contract.

Step 6

Develop an implementation timetable, including the following steps: test deployment to review the work; training, if necessary; a transition phase from the current workflow to the new technology; and production deployment of the completed technology. This last phase is typically followed by an iterative process, in which improvements to the technology are collected from the staff who have direct experience working with it. When budget and time allow for it, apply a new cycle of upgrades to your technology to ensure that you are getting the most out of it.

A Very Brief Recent History of Business Technology Applications

In the late 1990’s technology soared. It was the era of the dot.com boom and subsequent bust. Many new software and hardware advances were adopted by large companies that began to integrate new technologies into their business processes.

Some of these technologies were on the ‘bleeding edge’ with buggy software, crashes, insufficient memory and so on. Online ‘cloud’ or web based applications were often not reliable and not user friendly.

For smaller companies without IT departments, being on the technology bleeding edge was the equivalent to living a nightmare.

Around 2003 the applications became more robust and bugs and crashes were less of a problem. Part of this progress was due to the dramatic drop in pricing for computer memory meaning that more robust programs could be run without crashing.

Also around this time many industries developed industry specific software to run businesses like car dealerships or bookstores. Called “management systems” this genre of software allowed smaller companies to combine all their processes under one program. This management software also did not require an onsite IT department to keep it running.

This vertical industry specific software was complemented by horizontal industry software such as bookkeeping and contact management software. This meant that a company could also run its books and keep track of prospects and customers in ways they were not able to do before.

Software and platform integrators stayed busy. The big drive during this period was to try to link and integrate software. For instance, management software would generate an invoice, note that it was paid and then route the data to the proper category in the general ledger through a linked accounting system.

It was clearly understood that the more integrated and “seamless” a software was, the more powerful and cost effective it could be. And since human error continued to be a major drawback to software applications, greater integration meant not only saving time and money but reducing errors.

As hardware and software improved it also became cheaper and more affordable to smaller companies. By 2005 and 2006 many of these applications became more mainstream and were used by smaller and smaller companies.

Perhaps the biggest advances during this time were web based applications. Companies could link all parts of their business online from sales and inventory to employee communications and human resources.

This shift also reduced costs from thousands of dollars for a software purchase to a monthly user’s fee making it much more affordable. These applications also eliminated a lot of paper.

By 2007 the second wave of technology upheaval had begun as smaller and smaller companies began using technology to manage and market.

Smaller companies began to sell more online and funnel new prospects to their sales department. These new technologies allowed companies to sell more by expanding their markets.

“In today’s marketplace if a retail or service business does not exploit all their potential markets then their competitors will,” says Eric Ressler of Zuniweb Creative Services, “it’s just not optional anymore.”

Across horizontal and vertical industries the key driver is strategy. Those companies with a solid strategy that is well executed are stronger competitors.

Technology is a critical component in almost all business strategies and in recent years technology has enabled businesses of all types to leverage their strengths in their respective markets.

As technology has become more user friendly it also has more users. Today one does not have to know html or coding to operate very sophisticated software and companies do not require a high level of technical expertise to run most software.

The big advantage is that the user can focus on business functions and not on user unfriendly software.

With these innovations has come a second wave revolution that is changing the way business operates today. As always, the issue is which companies take advantage of these opportunities and which do not.

As always the marketplace will ultimately decide which of these companies succeed.

Business Intelligence in Mobile Applications

Gone are the days when the use of a mobile phone was restricted to connecting to your family and friends. The scenarios have changed now, and it is no surprise that mobile technologies have advanced beyond recognition. The users of the new mobile applications have access to more than thousand applications online and mobile manufacturers are trying to tap this opportunity by developing solutions for smart information.

Over years BI (Business Intelligence) service providers have spent time and money to deliver best solutions to the users. Though the growth has been stagnant for a long time but now it has shown a momentum because of a rapid growth in technology and revolution in mobile based applications. The face of BI in mobile apps will change more when it will move from a dashboard providing application to a more sophisticated task specific feature. With improvement in the ability of smart phones the users not only enjoy interacting with mobile devices but also access useful information and sophisticated analysis.

BI in simple terms means technology, application or software that is used to extract, store, analyze data so as to help the management make better decisions, and BI through phones is sending business information through mobile.

It is helpful to business in several ways like:

1) Improving employee productivity – Today information system is used in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) marketing that will automate sales force management system, which involves huge cost and too much time on data entry. With implementation of these services in mobile BI, the users will get a structured management information system at less cost. This will provide accurate data for sales team as to where they are and what they want to achieve. BI applications also help sales team to represent how the services of the company can be useful to achieve targets. Moreover, it will be useful in supply chain management to form a distribution strategy for retailers and manufacturers. Several models can be proposed through mobile BI for product lifecycle management and information technology chain operations.

2) Faster decision-making – In current business scenario all the firms need information in a speedy manner so as to take accurate decisions and grab the right opportunity. The slow and inflexible business information may lead to major problems. For example, if a decline in sales has occurred in a particular region, the management cannot address the problem quickly without channelized information system. The accurate and fast information through mobile will be helpful in determining the actual cause of the problem along with quick decisions from the management front. The aim of mobile BI is not restricted to provide quality information but to enable faster decision making. Decision makers will be benefitted as it will reduce cost and increase profits by providing the historical trends and predict future estimates.

3) User friendly interface – The introduction of user friendly functions will definitely improve ROI (Return on Investment) in business. The decision makers can keep themselves updated with new trends and developments by subscribing for reports and alerts. These reports can be saved in certain formats and the mobile apps feature makes it easy to update the information from time to time. The information can be filtered by sort functions which save time. Moreover, the user can easily analyze different trends by changing the metrics or can breakdown the single report into different graphs and conduct a drill down research on the data.

In short, the applications are extended to be used in mobile device so that reports and graphs can be seen in small screen and more accurate decisions can be taken in real time.
BI through mobile applications was a growing concept few years back, but with the rising competition and need for accurate information, its demand is increasing at a faster pace. Once the end users can work on the technology with same accuracy and velocity as conventional systems, the thrust will increase further.