Why should I care about optimising my organisation’s use of business software?
Because business software exists to increase productivity and to increase control. On the productivity-side, software can do many things faster and at a lower cost. Whether it’s making a record of a sale or a purchase, doing a calculation, creating a document or providing information for a report then the chances are that software will do it
more productively (relatively lower input to achieve the same or greater output). On the control-side, software also gives the business a level of control over how tasks are achieved. For example, software will make every calculation and produce every document consistently using the rules, templates, data and trigger points (timing) defined by its programming or configuration. The same level of consistency can’t usually be guaranteed from people. Taken together, productivity and control help a business to scale (grow) profitably without compromising on control.
What are the signs that my business might not be maximising the benefit of its software?
Well there are some obvious things to look out for. Think for a moment about the business’s normal, repeating tasks … the things employees do every day as part of business as usual. If some or all of the following are true then all might not be well.
Normal, repeating tasks …
… cannot be done without significant use of Microsoft Excel and/or Word
… require lots of printed paper, evidenced by paper on desks around the office and/or in storage
… take longer to complete than required or seems appropriate
… require more staff than seems necessary or is appropriate
… cannot be done without an unusually high error count
… are adversely impacted when key staff members are away on holiday, ill or when they leave the company
… are done using more than one, similar business software application
Ultimately this can affect the business’s performance. Margins will shrink as relative costs – and in particular for the staff needed to operate and grow the business – go up. Competitors who are better at protecting margin and controlling quality might eat away at the customer base resulting in lower revenues. And the worse bit? Well the worse bit is that managers might not have the management information to tell them something’s going wrong!
OK. I get it and I think my business could be better at using its software. So what do I do?
Firstly don’t ignore the problem … it probably won’t fix itself and may get worse. If there’s clear evidence (or even a gut feeling) of a problem then following the steps below should help.
- Take a closer look. With the relevant staff members involved, make a list of all the issues and give each a priority based on the benefits to be gained from taking some action. If possible try to put a £ value against each issue to help you prioritise and so you can measure the impact of changes you go onto make.
- Imagine the future. For each of the highest priority issues, write down how you’d like things to be … your objectives. Write down how the business will measure what’s happening. For example, in a context where a company’s customer invoicing is slow, the objective might be to send invoices 1 day after service delivery, to reduce average debtor days by 15 days and to reduce invoice factoring costs by 50%.
- Consider the solutions. There’s usually more than one way to achieve an objective. Consider the options and the pros and cons of each. Agree which to take forward. Bear in mind that the solution might be complex requiring change in more than one part of the business. For example, the billing team will struggle to issue invoices faster if they don’t have the pricing and work completion status from other parts of the organisation.
- Implement. Set up initiatives to make the changes, first defining clear outcomes and then the necessary timescales, budget and people required. Assign ownership. Don’t take on too much. Start small, review progress regularly and pivot (change direction) if results require it. Do some quick and easy things at the same time as tackling longer term, more complex change. Increase the pace and scale of change as confidence grows and as business capacity allows.
And finally ….
Bring in an expert to make it happen. Chances are you don’t have the capacity or focus to run the business and to do the above. Also you may not have the right skillset in your organisation. Employing a professional to analyse and implement these changes should bring benefits worth many times their cost.
Julian Rains is an experienced consultant Business Analyst experienced in analysis, planning and delivering business change to improve e.g. efficiency, effectiveness, quality, margin. www.julianrains.com