It is no secret that we have more technology and productivity tools at our disposal than ever before. Every week we see every imaginable type of cloud tool being released into the online world; customer relationship management tools, point of sales systems, social media platforms, project management tools, communication and conferencing tools, and the list goes on. With so many established and upcoming tools available, SMEs can be operating in a short amount of time and from virtually anywhere in the world. However, having so many tools available that are meant to make us more productive can be overwhelming and ultimately work against us, making us less productive than if we went without.
So where are we at?
Virtually every SME recognises the benefits of having good technology in place to support their core business. The benefits of the tools used depend on these three key factors:
- the quality and reliability of the tools
- how the tools fit into the organisation
- how the tools are embraced and used by staff in the organisation
Predictably, there is a large variation in the uptake of tech used amongst SMEs and the actual usefulness (aka productivity) of the tools that are used.
There are two key factors for the selection of tools that are used in SMEs. The first factor is the staff size of the SME. Generally speaking, a larger SME is a more mature organisation and will have some capital to invest into the organisation and the tools that are used. The second factor is the age demographic of the SME staff. A younger median age team are typically more tech savvy than an older team and are willing to learn and adapt to new technology that is introduced into the organisation (especially if staff are office-based).
Where do we want to be?
The hunt is on for the ultimate combination of visual representation and automation; The portal, the dashboard and the reward automated tasks; The Land of Milk and Honey, where Streams of Data, Design and Engine flows into one Super River System. Although there is no perfect system, more SMEs recognise the benefits of having everything in one solid system which is designed well, easily used and accessible.
There is a lot of talk at the moment about portals and dashboards among SMEs. Organisations are heading towards the perfect “one stop shop” system that can do everything and the good news is we are closer than ever before. Apps and databases that can manage more of the core business requirements, converge data and functionality and create automation helps any organisation to save time and provide richer and quicker understanding of the business; where it is succeeding and where things need to improve.
Gareth Cunningham, Technical and Administrative Support from Statcom Systems, has recently implemented a new portal in his SME. “LinkFM is our new portal for compliance measurement. A lot of development has been done around automation for reminders and follow-ups, freeing up our compliance managers to spend more time dealing with serious issues.”
Top 5 tech pains for SMEs
So what is the gap between where your SME is today and where it wants to be tomorrow?
1. Stuck using the wrong systems and apps
It is hard to make the jump into a new system when there is a strong reliance and uptake of an older one, even if the old system is dated or less powerful than its successor. Unintuitive systems lead to frustration, loss of productivity and ultimate abandonment of the systems and processes they are meant to support. Poor support by third party developers is also an indicator of a failing system.
2. Not enough time to implement new systems
A busy organisation does not necessarily equate to a productive organisation. Geordie Worland, General Manager at Concrete Protection & Repair Services (CPRS), admits, “It is hard to make time to improve the business when we are barely getting our core work done.” There are busy periods in business where the job needs to get done, but slower periods are to be capitalised on for continued growth and improvement.
3. Too many systems
Multiple systems and databases quickly becomes unwieldy and leads to duplication of data and effort. Fewer systems enhances efficiency by streamlining data and processes, helps to lower ongoing costs and more fully utilise the features of a system such as more useful analytics and reports.
4. Resistance to change and embracing new technology
Many people understandably find it difficult to keep up with the rapid changes in technology today.
Worland from CPRS notes, “Staff can feel bogged down by systems and see it as extra work, but actually good systems save time and hassle down the track.” The value of a potential system needs to be proved to decision makers to gain adoption of the system. Another common downfall to embracing technology is the lack of training provided to staff that end up needing to use the system.
5. Over-reliance on technology
Everyone has experienced the pain of no Internet. So when an SME relies heavily on it, work grinds to a halt, loss of productivity, loss of clients, loss of profits. Pain!
Brenton Killeen, Director of Mustard, works with a tech-savvy young team. Killeen says, “Sometimes the use of technology is not the most efficient means. There is an assumption that it is (more efficient), for example, sending lots of text messages, but other methods like a phone call or face-to-face conversation can often expedite results… And if the Internet is down, it’s the end of the world!”
How can we improve our technology and productivity?
People and systems is probably the simplest way of addressing our top tech dramas. On the flip side, we can significantly improve our technology and productivity by focusing on these two things.
Get the right systems
The functions of an online system need to reflect the processes that happens in the real world. David Johnson* (not his real name) from a food and beverage manufacturer states,“Because we are fledgling business, we need to get a handle on our processes to then understand how to implement tools to facilitate it. There is a fair bit of work that needs to be done first.” A clear set of workflows and requirements makes the task of selecting and implementing the right systems much easier and sets a team up for much faster (and successful) adoption of the technology.
Help your staff to succeed
Worland understands the importance of training, “The staff think that using the platform is an extra step in their workload, but it actually saves a lot of time in the long run. We need to engage in more training to educate our staff, not just on how to use the system but why we use the system.” Once staff are more positive about using the systems, they can trust the system and processes to achieve the organisation’s outcomes.
When staff are empowered with the right systems and skills to use the system, productivity will increase and this leads to greater savings in time, costs, reduced frustrations and increased team morale. Win-win-win, right?!
Quick question: What are three small steps you can take this week towards improving your SME’s productivity and technology? Hit the comment box below!