How to Run a Business Office Using Technology
Technology can make your business more efficient, improve productivity, and help you compete against much larger competitors. Yet, many small businesses struggle to properly leverage technology.
1. Choose On-Premise or Cloud Based Solutions
The first step in building a business office is to decide what kind of software you actually want to use - on-premise or SaaS cloud-based solutions.
"On-premise" basically means software that is installed on local computers and all data stored on servers and drives locally. This is the kind of software you're already familiar with. Windows, MS Office, iTunes, many existing CRM tools built by SAP and Oracle, etc. are a few examples of on-premise software.
Cloud-based or SaaS software is essentially accessed through a web browser or mobile app. This software resides and runs in the "cloud", i.e. no data is stored on local computers. Most businesses and consumers already use tons of cloud-based software, even if they don't know it. Facebook, Gmail, Pandora are all examples of cloud-based software.
On-premise software is outdated and has been replaced by cloud-based software in most forward-thinking businesses. Cloud based software is easier to setup and maintain. It also eliminates a lot of hardware requirements and helps businesses run leaner, more efficient organizations. While you may still use some on-premise software (MS Office is one popular example), consider switching to as many SaaS tools as possible.
2. Ensure Proper Record Keeping
A key issue many new businesses struggle with is record keeping. Keeping track of expenses, income, supplies, inventory, etc. is not only necessary for running a business, it is also crucial for complying with local tax laws. As per the HMRC, every business is liable to keep certain records (this varies depending on your business structure). HMRC may even fine a business or impose stiff penalties for irregular or inadequate record keeping.
Technology can help in this respect as well. Instead of keeping paper records, consider making your records entirely digital. You don't even need complicated software to get started - Microsoft Excel is a good enough tool to keep most records. For a free alternative, consider using Google Spreadsheets (cloud based tool). For accounting specific records, use tools like Quickbooks or XERO, which are available in both on-premise and cloud-based avatars.
3. Use Project Management Tools to Stay on Top of Projects
Any business dealing with complicated projects and large teams will soon run into management and productivity issues unless it already has a robust project management plan in place. Large projects have a number of deliverables and multiple teams working on separate parts of the project. Bringing these disparate elements together in close collaboration can unlock massive productivity gains and help deliver projects more efficiently.
This is where project management tools step in. These tools, such as Basecamp.com, offer a comprehensive solution to keep track of projects and the teams building them. You can collaborate with others in a single window, monitor project progress, and communicate across teams and team members seamlessly. Tools like Basecamp run entirely in the cloud, which means they require zero hassle to set up and get running. Little wonder why organizations as big as Nike and NASA regularly turn to Basecamp to monitor their huge projects.
4. Create a Long-Term Technology Implementation Plan
This is one step a lot of businesses tend to skip. By creating a long-term technology implementation and investment plan, you'll not only ensure that you get the most out of your current technology stack, but also help create a roadmap for future incorporating alternative and upcoming technology in your workflow.
As an example, consider the case for open-source content management systems (CMS). A lot of businesses turned to proprietary solutions by Adobe, Sitecore, Microsoft, OpenText, etc. to power their websites in the early stages of the internet. Open source solutions, if they even existed at this stage, were weak and lacked most features.
Today, however, open-source CMS solutions stack right up there with the best proprietary software. Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, etc. have as many, if not more, features than Sitecore and Adobe solutions.
Therefore, a company looking to implement a technological solution such as a CMS must take the long-term prospects of the technology into account. Moving from one solution to another is extremely time consuming and expensive. Thus, before hedging your bets with a particular solution, make sure that you take a long-term view of the technology's prospects and calculate the total implementation costs of the technology, both for now, and for later.
5. Go Mobile First Whenever Possible
Finally, incorporating technology in a business office today requires a lot more than simply buying computers and installing some software. The technological needs of the modern business (and its employees) are drastically different from those of businesses even five years ago. More and more employees demand access to their work on the go. This means investing in technological solutions that give a high priority to mobile-first applications.
Doing this should unlock even greater productivity in your business as it will give employees complete access to all their documents and tools wherever they are. Whether it is a client email or a project report, when employees can access their work from anywhere, productivity gains are pretty much guaranteed - a crucial competitive advantage for any business.
Incorporating technology into a business office is neither as complicated nor as costly as it used to be. With a few SaaS tools and only a few dollars per employee, per month, you can get up and running and unlock the true potential of your enterprise.