A Guide To IT & SME Business Fundamentals


SMEs looking to enhance their growth will often turn to IT to help boost their efforts. The increased power and smaller footprint of modern computer technology allows a company to magnify its expansion efforts without incurring excessive expenses. In addition to helping companies wishing to grow, IT provides extensive support for SME business fundamentals. As a result, SMEs can now use the automation and enhanced functionality that stems from using IT to run their businesses more efficiently than ever before.

This guide covers a variety of ways that SMEs can utilise IT to enhance the performance of their business. It looks at the core functions such businesses conduct and explains how these operations can be improved or facilitated via the use of information technology. The four core business functions covered in the guide include:

  • Strategic Planning
  • Communication
  • Marketing
  • Employee Empowerment

Strategic Planning

Especially for SMEs, strategic planning is fundamental to business success. A small company, operating in a highly competitive, global marketplace must be nimble to compete against larger competitors. Accessing and analysing information, in whatever form, is a crucial component of successful strategic planning. A well-designed IT system can provide data for this purpose in a variety of forms, including:

Metrics for strategic analysis: The number and variety of data points that can be tracked and displayed by modern information technology is truly impressive. This can include detailed data about the industry a company operates in so they can track the performance of their competitors and gather other relevant data for making strategic decisions. The data provided by your IT system relating to your company’s performance can be used in a variety of ways to make it easier to understand your company’s performance relative to its competitors and make strategic decisions about its direction.  

Some considerations when determining metrics to use include:

  • Include metrics that indicate whether the company is making progress towards its goals.
  • Performance metrics should be developed to measure long-term as well as short-term company objectives.
  • Solicit opinions and aim for consensus across all company departments when deciding which metrics to use.
  • Metrics may need to change over time. As a result, they should be examined on a regular basis to make sure they are relevant.
  • Whilst general performance metrics, for instance operating profit percentage, can provide valuable insight, there is no single “magic” metric which applies across all companies in all industries or operating environments. Typically, a group of metrics should be used to provide as complete a picture as possible of company performance.

Some metrics you may want to measure using IT functionality include:

  • % decrease
  • Hours of skills training
  • Percentage of supplier rejects
  • % of achieved deliveries to planned
  • Internet up-time
  • Projects on time
  • Availability of materials
  • Lost staff hours
  • Projects on target
  • Benchmarking data obtained
  • Materials availability
  • Raw materials dollars
  • Completion date
  • Number of staff trained
  • Raw materials turnover
  • Cost of rework
  • Number of hours billed
  • Revenue growth (% increased year over year)
  • Cost reductions achieved
  • Number of projects held up
  • Revenue growth – monthly
  • Cost savings achieved
  • Number of quality customers
  • Staff feedback sessions per month
  • Deliveries on time as ordered
  • Number of repeat calls
  • Survey response from customers
  • Finished goods turnover
  • Number of training hours
  • Waiting time for a call-back (minutes decreased)
  • Help desk hours
  • Percentage IRR (internal rate of return)
  • Hours of education
  • Percentage of on time delivery

Graphs, charts, and other decision-friendly displays: Computer readouts in the past often consisted of long rows of numbers – whilst the data they provided may have been accurate, deciphering it was not necessarily easy. Modern IT systems offer much more user-friendly forms of data delivery, including charts, graphs, infographics and other methods designed to provide visual representations of relevant data. An example of this type of functionality is the ability to import charts in Microsoft’s Office 365 from Excel spreadsheets to its popular word processing software Word.  

Communication

Communication plays a crucial part in the success of any business, whether amongst a company’s staff, third party partners or its customers. The development of a variety of methods for rapid, inexpensive communications allows modern IT systems to facilitate communication between your employees as well as between your company and third parties. This creates opportunities for increased collaboration within and without your company via a variety of methods, including:

  • Business productivity software: One example of this is the latest release of Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud-based bundle, which includes the ability to use the Skype VOIP communications software within applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Office 365 also allows for enhanced cooperation via simultaneous editing and other such features. The closer collaboration possibilities engendered by such solutions can improve productivity within a firm as well as between it and third party partners.
  • Videoconferencing: Whilst person to person meetings are likely to persist as a way of conducting business, the expense and time involved in traveling to meet with outside partners or distant coworkers can be reduced dramatically via the use of modern communication technologies. Videoconferencing is one such technology, with its ability to enable face to face meetings even when the participants are at separate locations.
  • Work-from-anywhere: The ability of modern communication systems to allow for communication anywhere an internet connection can be accessed enables increased productivity from a company’s staff. This trend works hand-in-hand with bring your own device (BYOD) policies which allow personal technology devices to be used for business purposes – subject to any applicable security policies.
  • Unified Communications: The ability of modern communications tools to unify vast amounts of communication data in the form of easy-to-access streams or summaries enables workers to more efficiently source and access data. With a study by McKinsey Global Institute showing that highly-skilled workers in knowledge industries spend 19 percent of an average workweek looking for and gathering information, the productivity gains that can be derived via unification of communications are likely to be substantial.
  • Instant Messaging: These systems are helpful in a business setting as they allow managers to see who is logged in to the system as well as facilitating rapid sending and receiving of messages among company personnel. One commonly used IM system is Microsoft Office Communicator; Google and Yahoo also offer services of this type.
  • Smartphones: Sometimes described as computers masquerading as phones, these communication devices enable increased productivity by allowing employees to perform a variety of work functions even when they are away from a computer. The technology powering these devices enables sharing of data via email, voice, and text wherever an employee has access to these functions on a smartphone.

Marketing

Marketing comprises a fundamental activity for most SMEs. Even the best product in the world won’t sell itself, so reaching out to potential customers is a mission critical function for many companies. A well-designed IT system provides helpful functionality over the complete marketing and sales cycle.  The following technology-enhanced functions can be used to improve your marketing efforts:

  • Data management and analytics. Using customer-sourced data to analyze their preferences.
  • Insight-driven marketing. Using customer data to gain insights into your business for more effective target marketing.
  • Marketing automation. Automating your business processes as a means of improving efficiency and keeping costs low.
  • Self-service optimisation. Giving customers ways to interact with your business at times of their choosing.
  • Workforce effectiveness. Encouraging your staff to accept new approaches to doing business by providing tools and training that enable them to deliver better service.

Types of solutions that allow you to improve your company’s marketing efforts include:

Customer nurturing software: These programs track the customer journey from first contact all the way to an initial purchase. They aid the process by enabling you to provide information and encouragement to your prospects that is aligned with their location on the sales funnel. This approach increases the efficiency of the process by avoiding a “one-size-fits-all” approach that doesn’t take into account the different considerations prospects have at different points in the sales cycle.

Affinity enhancement tools: Your marketing efforts can be enhanced by software that allows for detailed data to be kept on your customers and prospects. Such information can include data about past purchases and other relevant facts allowing your sales and service representatives to offer the most appropriate customer support.

Location-based solutions: Geo-marketing now allows companies with a retail presence to offer visitors special offers and services based upon their nearness to the company’s location. These solutions offer customer services options – for instance, automatic check-in at a hotel, or a pre-poured cup of coffee at a café.

Some specific software solutions that can be used for marketing purposes include:

  • HitTail: For SEO (search engine optimisation) marketing purposes, seeing the keyword phrases visitors use to find your site, which this solution enables, provides you with valuable information for planning your campaigns.
  • Buzzsumo and Feedly: These tools help your content marketing efforts by assisting you in the process of finding new topics to cover.
  • SEMrush: A helpful competitor analysis tool.

Employee Empowerment

To improve their chances of success, it is crucial for SMEs to empower and engage their employees as a way to enable them to represent the company to the best of their ability. A fully functioning IT system provides employees with a wealth of options to help them perform to their full potential. The wealth of communication enhancements associated with modern IT systems also helps increase employee buy-in to the mission of your company by making it easy and convenient to regularly update your staff about the company’s progress.

Some tips for using your IT resources to increase employee buy-in and engagement include:

  • Use visual communication tools when possible: Instead of an email, a video message from the company’s president can be a better way to deliver news to employees. Another idea along these lines is to use screensavers which reference the company’s mission or ideals.
  • Deliver custom messages for different employee groups: Modern communication software can, in most cases, easily segment messages so that you can tailor them to reach different audiences.
  • Establish internal social media channels: Setting up such channels can enable information sharing among employees that spreads useful knowledge and enhances productivity
  • Solicit employee feedback across a variety of formats. Gaining such feedback provides a chance for management to gain information at the operational level that they might not otherwise have access to.

Conclusion

The improvement in power and affordability experienced by IT systems in recent years have made such systems an increasingly important part of the business infrastructure worldwide. A company’s IT assets now, in many cases, are responsible for operating a variety of essential aspects of the company’s business. This is particularly the case with SMEs, where cautiousness in regards to taking on new salary commitments often means that more has to be done with less staff than at larger firms. In such an environment, productivity is at a premium. By allowing these firms to accomplish more with less, IT can be a competitive game-changer, giving SMEs a chance to compete for business with much larger firms.  

 


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