Typically, business costs from highest to lowest go as follows: People (salaries); real estate (rent); inventory (cost of stock on the shelves); communications (phone, data and for the purpose of this article, travel); IT (cost of equipment and maintenance, data and licensing).
If you can find ways to change people and real estate costs via your investment in IT you can quickly reduce the total costs. For a business making a 10% profit it implies costs are 90% of revenue, so if you can reduce costs by 1-2% it can increase profit by 10%.
So what tools might make a difference and where will the savings come from? I wrote a little about that a couple of weeks ago, you can read about it here.
What I did not mention there is that large organisations have been working on unified communications (UC) that allow their staff to work from anywhere linking together email, phone and other systems in the business.
There are many versions of this technology, from Aastra to Interactive Intelligence to the market leaders (according to the Gartner Magic Quadrant of August 2012 – see the diagram below) of Cisco, Microsoft Avaya and Siemens. All of that was before the Microsoft Lync 2013 release that saw some significant improvements to the tools offered by Microsoft.
I can already hear the screams from the open source fraternity who know they can do it all on the smell of an oily rag, but the whole point is to drive the cost of doing business down.
The very tight integration between Exchange, Outlook, SharePoint, Dynamics CRM, Lync, Lync Enterprise Voice, Office 2013 and Office 365 make this suite of productivity tools well worth contemplation for relatively small businesses. If nothing else, the Office 365 Versions of these tools are a blessing for the very small businesses out there.
Home-based businesses run by a technical person may well find cheaper tools that mimic the leaders, but they may not scale well. Larger organisations may be able to spend a lot of money integrating cheaper solutions together to get a reduced overall cost of implementation. But for all of us in the middle, a well-integrated offering that is relatively easy to get going is essential.
UC can reduce face-to-face meetings, reducing travel costs. It can be used for follow-up sales meetings, internal staff meetings across locations, even for hands-on staff training through shared desktops.
UC can also improve capabilities for hot-desking where your “phone” becomes a USB Bluetooth headset plugged into whichever PC you sit down at. With your PC becoming the phone you no longer need a handset at all. This further reduces the requirement for large offices as often a large percentage of desks are empty.
Using click to dial out of your Outlook contacts and CRM system or right off a web page can really speed up your calls for the day too. Tie this in with call logging in your CRM tool and you can keep better records efficiently too.
Of course there is always that catch of investment before benefit, especially where in-house servers are needed for solutions like Lync Enterprise Voice. But, today, for every server-based function there is a hosted version; companies will offer you hosted Lync, or other similar products from Telstra, like their TIPIT, will do this for you. So no big capital costs, just a monthly subscription.
So the real question comes back to value and how it will impact the P&L for your business. If you are already bleeding money by wasting time, resources, effort, utilities, floor space, etc, or you are losing business for lack of innovation or lack of speed to market or poor response times to requests. Then it is time you applied some planning to how better use of technology might cost you less than the waste or loss is costing you now.
If you know you have the waste piling up but have not measured it or considered it, you do not have the justification to change. So first get help to measure your losses, then get help to adapt to technology that, if promulgated through your company by investment and encouraged uptake, can drive your costs down and your success up.
David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.