Last week, the World Bank warned of the potential for a new financial crisis – one worse than the GFC.
Of course, it may not happen (and I’m sure we’re all hoping it won’t). But if we do begin to see a downturn in economic demand, businesses will once again be looking for internal measures to improve their bottom line.
This means one of two things: cutting costs or improving productivity. Technology is a powerful weapon for both, and I’ve blogged before about how you can use IT to reduce costs. This time around, I want to look at the productivity side of the equation – how businesses can best think about and use IT as a productivity tool.
Automate your business
For most business tasks, the general rule is that it doesn’t cost much if a machine is doing it for you.
Whether you’re processing sales or managing your supply chain, reducing the “human time” you need to invest in executing tasks not only makes them faster, but allows you to work more productively elsewhere.
A well-designed Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is key here – performing the grunt work that will help you to productively manage everything from inventory to financials and payroll management.
Make sure that yours is doing as much for you as it can.
Take your business everywhere
Many businesses are currently using mobility to secure sizeable productivity gains, especially in the area of customer relationships.
The ability to have real-time information and functionality on hand when dealing with customers makes your time with them (and their experience with your business) more productive and effective.
If you’re yet to “go mobile” – either through a custom system or one provided with your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software – start 2012 by investigating a solution. In a similar vein, online customer self-service is also worth considering as a means of more productively processing orders without staff intervention.
Know what’s happening
Another important driver of productivity is integration. The ability for your systems to “talk” streamlines processes, reduces time-consuming double entry problems and helps to eliminate the revenue leakages that occur, for example, when products and services aren’t correctly billed.
Integrated systems also mean that it’s easier to get accurate business intelligence and insight. Having an at-a-glance dashboard view of how your business is performing can be a valuable tool – alerting you to impending productivity problems earlier, but also providing insight into where your business is at its most profitable.
Ensuring that staff can effectively come together across different business areas and offices allows them to collaborate to better serve customers and improve business results.
A good intranet platform is vital here. Yours should not only help with managing tasks but should also spread information and knowledge. If you or your staff are constantly digging through email inboxes as part of routine work, then making more of your intranet is a quick route to a productivity boost.
When it comes to voice, many SMEs are now finding that Unified Communication is a productivity primer worthy of investigation.
If the economy slows, sharpening your productivity will become increasingly important. IT and communications technologies offer significant scope for improving the efficiency of your business.
Whatever solutions you consider however, make sure that you keep an eye on the return on investment they’ll offer. This is a good way to prioritise the systems and solutions likely to deliver the biggest gains.
Dave Stevens is managing director of managed IT services business, Brennan IT.