The technology of business

27 November 2015 / Published in Business

This article originally appeared in the National Business Review.

David Bell, General Manager of ASB Business Ventures, looks at the opportunities for business owners to leverage their time and their people with technology.

People are the most valuable part of your business. Releasing their capacity and enthusiasm with technology isn’t new, but some of the technology is.

When top sports teams train, they work on the basics: kicking, catching, passing. These basic skills create the opportunities to win games.

In business, there are two basic skills. The first is managing your cash. Knowing where it is and what it’s doing. Making sure you get paid and managing your expenses.

That’s no surprise. After hundreds of years of business, the fundamental lesson remains: cash is king. As they say, look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves.

The second basic skill of business is managing your people. Your people create the value in your business. Even if you’re the driving force, you can’t do it alone. You need your people, and you need their value.

But looking after your cash and your people takes time and energy. It cuts into the time you spend building your business. It gets between you and work life balance.

Technology, perhaps more now than any time in the past, can help you with both these areas. It can reduce friction and time for your finances, and release the value of your people.

The one constant is change

A lot of business owners say ‘technology isn’t their thing’. Then they sign off from their work email, pack the laptop and head home. They watch yesterday’s movie on My Sky while checking LinkedIn on the iPad.

What they really mean is that change isn’t their thing – especially in their business.

But you can’t stop progress. If you’re not keeping up, you’re falling behind. Over time that puts you at a competitive disadvantage. Your customer service and efficiency suffers. So does your ability to attract and keep the best people.

People plus technology

As a business owner you achieve results through others. Your people create and deliver the value that drives your success. They’re the most expensive part of your business.

Digital tools can boost their capacity and capability. It isn’t about replacing your people. It’s about giving them the tools to achieve more from the same effort. That’s more satisfying and fulfilling, and it’s more profitable.

It’s not people versus technology. It’s people plus technology. And today’s transformational technology is the cloud.

It’s all about the cloud

Everyone talks about the cloud, but not everyone understands what it means. But it’s real and it’s valuable, and it’s a lot simpler than you might think. It gives you new processes and tools, and it costs far less than the traditional ‘buy and own’ approach.

The cloud creates a more efficient alternative, by combining three things:

  • Your data, secured in different data centres
  • Third party applications that manage, combine and process your data
  • The internet, that links data centres, processors and your local computer

This isn’t new. The first cloud service was online banking. We’re all familiar with other examples like hosted email, Facebook, Trade Me and Xero. So why is this approach better?

This cloud is all silver lining

First, your data could be more secure. It’s not locked in your office with physical security, it’s stored online in many locations at once. The cloud is your business continuity plan.

Because your data isn’t locked in your office, it’s accessible from anywhere. You can give your team, your advisors and even your customers access. They can see it from the office, home or in the field with their mobiles.

You all operate off one up to date version of your information. Your teams in the field can enter customer details and orders directly in to your systems in real time. They don’t need to fill out paper forms for someone else to process later. Advisors and directors have the latest information, so there’s less focus on historic reports.

The software lives on the publisher’s own processors, so they provide the computing power. Anything that can run a web browser can usually run the software. That means you don’t need as many top of the line computers, and that releases capital.

You don’t need to install or upgrade the software. Everyone is always on the same software version, both inside and outside your business. That saves enormous amounts of time and effort, especially when you have a lot of team members. The software vendor upgrades features and usability constantly. There’s no extra cost and no disruption with big version changes.

Finally, you can share your data between different online software services. Your ordering system can update your inventory system and raise an invoice in your accounting system, in real time.

What can you do in the cloud?

There are hundreds of cloud providers, many of them New Zealand based. They usually focus on compliance, financial management and customer service:

  • Banking and accounting
  • Customer booking and relationship management
  • Retail point of sale and inventory
  • Sales force and sales management
  • Health and safety compliance
  • Project management and billing
  • Payroll and HR management

Enterprise-grade tools for everyone

That’s another benefit of the cloud at an economy level. You can now have the same computing power as giant corporates. It levels the playing field. It creates a stronger foundation for the small and medium business sector.

The corporates spend years and millions of dollars on systems. The cloud gives you the same productivity gains and processing power. But you only have to pay a monthly subscription. You can install it in weeks or even days.

We’re now using these opportunities to improve our own customer service and efficiency.

Beyond banking

Banks used to focus on payments and lending. Now they seek partnerships, both with you and with pioneering software suppliers, to help improve your processes and to offer you tools and services that would otherwise be out of reach.

Online accounting and online banking are already integrated, so your books can be more up to date. Your banking transactions can be fed directly to your accounting platform every day, making reconciliation faster and more accurate. You can also enter outgoing bills and payments in your online accounting, and then export them directly to your online banking for authorisation and payment. That eliminates double entry, reduces errors and can save you hours each month.

As traditional banking models move toward partnerships, you can expect more added value. Like-minded businesses will join with banks to create simpler, more productive processes. They will connect your banking to other software services in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Benchmarking is an example. You can now use the massive data stored in the cloud to compare your performance with others in your industry and your region. You’ll be able to fine-tune your organisation to maximise effectiveness and profitability.

What does it mean for your business?

Having your information on hand and knowing your position lets you work ‘in the moment’.

Your team is more efficient. You speed up your processes by eliminating paper and rework.

You can become easier to deal with than your competitors. Better processes remove customer pain points and speed up your delivery. Word gets around, and your business starts to grow.

Most importantly, you release the potential of your people. If your team are happier, more productive and more effective, your customers will benefit just as much as you.

It’s all in the starting

Taking advantage of these benefits does mean change. That can be intimidating. But you don’t need to make a total transformation.

Just take one step. Pick the most irritating, time-consuming or unpopular task in your day. Can you replace it with a technology solution?

If you can, try it. Bring your people with you on the trial. If it doesn’t work you can always go back to your old way. If it does work, you add something else.

Soon you have momentum, the change becomes positive, and your people, your customers and your bottom line benefit.

ASB Business Ventures creates growth for New Zealand business through partnerships and development. For more information, contact David Bell on david.bell@asb.co.nz


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