Using the right (digital) tools for the job

The importance of having an efficient digital workplace

Although it might be nice to reflect back on the more sedate pace of the business world of 30 years ago, before all of our lives became dominated by mobile phones and emails, there’s no getting away from the fact that today’s world is a digital one, so making the best use of these technologies can have a massive impact on the success and profitability of your company. Done well, it can also go a long way to reducing the stress of surviving in the digital age and give you a competitive edge not previously possible.

I think we can all agree that probably the most important resource in our businesses nowadays are ourselves and our staff. However, people are costly to find & retain. So, using technology well to get the most out of this resource, makes absolute sense.

So, what form might this take?

  • Digital can help us automate time-consuming & repetitive tasks.
  • You can offer more flexibility to work remotely or outside of core hours.
  • You can integrate all the important information your company needs into a single place, saving you and your staff time, ensuring you can respond quickly to your customers and making sure that decisions that are made are based on the truth.
  • You can provide customers with the means to access information and update their own details when it suits them.

Using the wrong tools

We all use digital tools in our businesses to a greater or lesser extent, but are we using the right tools? Or even if we’re using the right tools, are we using them in the right way?

A lot of our work at CM System Designs involves helping companies get the right tools in place. Now I’d like to share with you a classic example, we come across, time and time again.

Let’s say that a company starts selling a fantastic new product, as their sales grows, they decide to use a spreadsheet to tally up their sales and costs. Next, they create another spreadsheet to hold their customer information, then they create another one to capture their suppliers’ details, then another to keep track of their stock... and so on!

Fast forward five years, the company has done really well. It’s now employing 20 people; and the spreadsheets? Well, they’re still there at the heart of the business, only now they’ve grown into some kind of Frankenstein beasts! And sit in shared folders along with mountains of quotes, letters, proposals and chains of emails.

So, is there a better way to manage that business?

Using off-the-shelf tools

The internet has brought us some great off-the-shelf products. CRM & marketing products such as SalesForce & Hubspot. Xero or QuickBooks for accounting, DropBox for sharing documents etc.

Whilst these are all great products, before reaching for the credit card, it’s useful to understand some of the limitations of using those products:

  • They are essentially one size fits all. They may offer some degree of customisation, but often you have to use an approved affiliate to do the work, which can be costly.
     
  • You may need to alter your business workflow to fit the software’s workflow which, I think we can all agree is the wrong way around.
     
  • As these products are trying hard to satisfy everybody, quite often you’ll be paying for a lot of functionality that you don’t need and can even get in the way of you using the product the way you want to.
     
  • You will be placing your vital business information in someone else’s hands. Will you really have control of what happens to it and will you be able to easily get it back if something happens to them?
     
  • In most cases you will have to pay monthly subscription per user which means that if the company grows, your software subscriptions costs might grow considerably.
     
  • You will be beholden to their development roadmap. You might have a great idea for a new feature which might really help you, but it will be down to them if they decide to implement it and when.

A single point of truth

The holy grail of a good digital strategy is often to create what is called a ‘single point of truth’ system. So, what does this mean?

In essence, this is a single place where you and your staff can go to find up-to-date information about everything that’s important to running your business well.

All the information that goes into this system should do so in a structured, validated fashion and keep audit trails of who did what and when.

It will probably take data feeds from other systems you are already using, such as sales and accounting systems and combine this with other information contributed by you and your staff to give you a complete picture, with all the context you need to make informed decisions.

It will allow you to present different views of your data to you and your staff depending on what they do. It should allow you to create custom dashboards so that every member of staff has easy access to the information they need to do their job and it should be prioritised so they are focussing on the most important tasks first.

It should be cloud-based and mobile-friendly, so you and your staff can access it whenever they need and wherever they are.

The importance of having an efficient digital workplace

  • Although it might be nice to reflect back on the more sedate pace of the business world of 30 years ago, before all of our lives became dominated by mobile phones and emails, there’s no getting away from the fact that today’s world is a digital one, so making the best use of these technologies can have a massive impact on the success and profitability of your company. Done well, it can also go a long way to reducing the stress of surviving in the digital age and give you a competitive edge not previously possible.
     
  • I think we can all agree that probably the most important resource in our businesses nowadays are ourselves and our staff. However, people are costly to find & retain. So, using technology well to get the most out of this resource, makes absolute sense.
     
  • So, what form might this take?
    • Digital can help us automate time-consuming & repetitive tasks.
    • You can offer more flexibility to work remotely or outside of core hours.
    • You can integrate all the important information your company needs into a single place, saving you and your staff time, ensuring you can respond quickly to your customers and making sure that decisions that are made are based on the truth.
    • You can provide customers with the means to access information and update their own details when it suits them.

Using the wrong tools

  • We all use digital tools in our businesses to a greater or lesser extent, but are we using the right tools? Or even if we’re using the right tools, are we using them in the right way?
     
  • A lot of our work at CM System Designs involves helping companies get the right tools in place. Now I’d like to share with you a classic example, we come across, time and time again.
     
  • Let’s say that a company starts selling a fantastic new product, as their sales grows, they decide to use a spreadsheet to tally up their sales and costs. Next, they create another spreadsheet to hold their customer information, then they create another one to capture their suppliers’ details, then another to keep track of their stock... and so on!
     
  • Fast forward five years, the company has done really well. It’s now employing 20 people; and the spreadsheets? Well, they’re still there at the heart of the business, only now they’ve grown into some kind of Frankenstein beasts! And sit in shared folders along with mountains of quotes, letters, proposals and chains of emails.
     
  • So, is there a better way to manage that business?

Using off-the-shelf tools

The internet has brought us some great off-the-shelf products. CRM & marketing products such as SalesForce & Hubspot. Xero or QuickBooks for accounting, DropBox for sharing documents etc.

Whilst these are all great products, before reaching for the credit card, it’s useful to understand some of the limitations of using those products:

  • They are essentially one size fits all. They may offer some degree of customisation, but often you have to use an approved affiliate to do the work, which can be costly.
     
  • You may need to alter your business workflow to fit the software’s workflow which, I think we can all agree is the wrong way around.
     
  • As these products are trying hard to satisfy everybody, quite often you’ll be paying for a lot of functionality that you don’t need and can even get in the way of you using the product the way you want to.
     
  • You will be placing your vital business information in someone else’s hands. Will you really have control of what happens to it and will you be able to easily get it back if something happens to them?
     
  • In most cases you will have to pay monthly subscription per user which means that if the company grows, your software subscriptions costs might grow considerably.
     
  • You will be beholden to their development roadmap. You might have a great idea for a new feature which might really help you, but it will be down to them if they decide to implement it and when.

A single point of truth

  • The holy grail of a good digital strategy is often to create what is called a ‘single point of truth’ system. So, what does this mean?
     
  • In essence, this is a single place where you and your staff can go to find up-to-date information about everything that’s important to running your business well.
     
  • All the information that goes into this system should do so in a structured, validated fashion and keep audit trails of who did what and when.
     
  • It will probably take data feeds from other systems you are already using, such as sales and accounting systems and combine this with other information contributed by you and your staff to give you a complete picture, with all the context you need to make informed decisions.
     
  • It will allow you to present different views of your data to you and your staff depending on what they do. It should allow you to create custom dashboards so that every member of staff has easy access to the information they need to do their job and it should be prioritised so they are focussing on the most important tasks first.
     
  • It should be cloud-based and mobile-friendly, so you and your staff can access it whenever they need and wherever they are.
     
  • For example: one of our clients, PizzaExpress, have got many different marketing channels on systems that are not talking to each other (Facebook, Instagram, Website, Mobile app, E-mail marketing, Press coverage etc.). Each week it takes 2 of their staff a day to manually produce a management report on their market coverage. They have therefore asked us if we can create one centralised system that would automatically collate the data from all these different channels and allow them to automatically produce the report.

What we do

  • We build bespoke business applications that solve the issuesmentioned above.
     
  • We are well aware that when you mention bespoke software to people, the picture in their mind usually involves lots of noughts and years of development time. However, the world has moved on from those days and you’d be surprised at how cost effective it can be.
     
  • We make use of Open Source software to build our solutions. These are software components that are created and supported by the global programming community and released under a free to use licence. This means that rather than having to start with a blank sheet for a development we are able to pull a lot of the functionality we need from these Open Source components and we can then focus our time on putting them together in a way which exactly suits our client’s requirements.
     
  • The benefit of what we do when compared to some of the other solutions I’ve talked about is that the end result is a solution that gives you exactly what you need, works in the way you and your staff want to work and is tailored to support and help you grow your business in the way you want.
     
  • What’s more, the ROI can be quite substantial. We’ve implemented solutions which have reduced the time taken for someone to do a previously laborious manual task which was taking them half a day to do and reduced it to something where they can achieve a more accurate result in only half an hour.
     
  • And finally, by being more efficient and freeing up your employee’s time to do the things that only humans are best suited to do, you can focus more on giving your customers a better experience of dealing with you which is going to give you better customer retention and referrals.

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