While the new media world abounds with wild and wonderful new ways to make or save a quid on the latest digital development, a much more accessible gold mine in productivity savings is right under the noses of most small business operators.
Duplication and multiple handling of data is robbing our SMEs of millions of lost hours of productivity every year, in turn unnecessarily multiplying the cost of their administration labour.
You don’t need to look too far inside the offices of our SMEs to find a minefield of duplicated records and unnecessary multiple handling of the most basic information requirements.
Duplication = Unnecessary expense
At its most extreme, as explored in this blog recently, some don’t even operate a computer at all. But even the most technology literate small businesses still suffer from this cost cauldron: Everything from handwritten notes, orders and instructions through to keying in information from one medium to another – all taking valuable and unnecessary time.
When you consider that there are often 10 or more records of customer data within an organisation, the savings that come from reducing this incidence to just one or two become apparent.
With this kind of saving you are slashing basic data entry productivity by 400% or more. Over the course of 12 months, that’s an awful lot of administrative wages.
Not to mention the saving in tracking and rectifying errors caused by the duplication in the first place.
Quite clearly, businesses large and small need to make an enemy of information duplication and multiple handling.
Centralising customer data
To achieve the holy grail of data – a fully centralised data system means research and investment into a
flexible and workable customer relatonship management (CRM) system – a smarter extension of the old ‘customer database’.
This needn’t cost the earth, particularly when the massive productivity gains are considered. There are a range of customer relationship management systems that are within easy reach of smaller business. Some even integrate with your website and its ‘backend’ for fully integrated records between customer and organisation.
Centralisation and integration of your customer data
But beyond tools, behavioural and cultural change is also necessary to achieve full productivity.
Achieving cultural shifts
So what can SME managers do to avoid this drain on valuable staff productivity?
Like most successful organisational cultures, the war on data duplication has to start at the top.
Managers need to be acutely alert to practices of data duplication throughout the organisation and let it be known that it won’t be tolerated.
They need to have an eagle eye for any sign of manual handling and ensure that their staff buy into this culture of integration.
Putting yourself into a job
One of the biggest challenges the manager has is fighting self-preservation among administrative staff. Staff don’t need to be rocket scientists to realise that productivity gains mean less time required to do their work. At its extreme, it may reduce the need for the staff member at all.
And who can be blamed for not wanting to contribute to their own demise?
Of course this is a negative and self-serving attitude. There are experts far more qualified than I to comment on what is essentially an HR issue.
What’s clear, however, is that staff need to be convinced that the newfound time they have on their hands means they can tend other tasks that need doing, streamlining the organisation further, making them more valuable to the organisation and making it more profitable – increasing their chances of being retained and essentially promoting a pro-active approach to productivity gain instead of a self-serving one.
Achieving such a culture may take some energy and persistence, but gradual improvement will lead to significant productivity gains over time.
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.