An introduction to assessing and choosing the right technology to improve business operations
Digital project management tools, for instance, have seen huge uptake in recent years – especially since the start of the pandemic – allowing more people to work flexibly and collaborate.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done. Project.co’s State of Project Management report found that 94 per cent of workers think being able to stay updated with what their teammates are working on improves productivity. Yet, 92 per cent thought that there was room for improvement in terms of inter-team collaboration.
That’s just one example of why it’s so important to choose the right tech solutions.
The path to finding the best tools for your business can be a long and winding one. This is because there is no magical, one-size-fits-all package that can solve the problems and improve the processes of every team. Each company is unique and nuanced in its operational needs, so there’s no other way to find the best candidate than trying a few on to see how they fit – like higher-stakes shoe shopping.
This guide will help you assess new technology, including avoiding common mistakes, and share quick wins you can start implementing today.
What to consider when assessing and choosing new technology
Pre-built vs bespoke programmes
Why use several off-the-shelf tools when you could get one, tailored piece of software to take care of everything?
This is the thinking that many SMEs are guided by when looking to implement new technology. And for many, consolidation works. Having one service provider to liaise with and knowing that all the different elements of your company’s operations are streamlined and able to interact with each other is the ideal scenario.
Others, though, soon realise that this means they’ve tied themselves into expensive long-term contracts for tools that start to reveal themselves as creaky and inflexible as the company grows and evolves.
So some real thought is needed as to whether you go with one package that attempts to do everything or piece together different tools that you can swap out as your needs change.
Who will take charge of managing the systems you put in place? Will it be a dedicated staff member or team? Will the responsibility be assimilated into existing roles or is this something you’ll outsource?
Either way, it’s important to make sure that the people overseeing the new tech are properly aligned with your brand values and business goals, so that these objectives inform the ways tech is used and maintained.
“I don't think we'd have gotten to where we are so quickly without using these carefully selected bits of tech, because we would have ended up bogged down in more day-to-day tasks.”
Luke Douglas, co-founder of Outdoor Provisions
The cold hard facts
It can be challenging for businesses to stay relevant in an ever-changing market. Tech goes hand in hand with maintaining a dynamic approach: research by Deloitte found that companies who are more digitally mature have significantly better rates of innovation than those that are less developed. This improves everything from the confidence of leaders in the company’s future to the successful partnerships they cultivate with other brands.
Common mistakes when choosing technology
Selecting tools which don’t integrate
If your company is still relatively small, it’s easy to understand why integration might not be high up (or even feature at all) on your list of priorities. So long as they work for a particular use case, they don’t need to interact with each other because it’s easy to keep a handle on everything.
The thing is that your business will grow – and as it does you may find that the tools you have in place start to slow things down and create inefficiencies. Perhaps you’re having to make up for the lack of connection between your systems manually with data entry, comms, extra meetings and other efforts – all of which use up valuable manpower.
Not only will choosing tools that can slot together save you and your staff time and effort, but they could also result in improving things like the quality of your data, speed of service and efficiency of production.
Failing to review and measure
Once you’ve settled on a particular tool to implement, that doesn’t mean all the work is done and you can put this project to one side. Remember that your business is a living, growing system, meaning the tech you use to help it evolve and improve should be under continuous review.
Our research suggests that many SME leaders don’t sustain their engagement with digital tools once they’ve been put into action, so they don’t notice how effectively (or not, as the case may be) they serve their purpose as time goes on. This means that businesses continue working with tech that has been outgrown or could be surpassed by new, more cost effective tools on the market, simply through habit.
It’s easy for a company’s digital architecture to become stilted and ineffective over time. So be sure to continuously review your tech to stay dynamic and open to opportunities for growth.
“We’d class ourselves as advocates for implementing tech, but we’re very strict on what we’ll implement. People see it as the answer to all their prayers but it’s not necessarily unless it works for your business.”
Hannah Barlow, managing director of Dunsters Farm
The cold hard facts
Tech presents some really exciting opportunities for business evolution and growth, but it’s never as simple as pressing a button and letting the machine take over while you turn to look elsewhere. Statista recently reported that in a 2019 survey of marketers around the world, only five per cent said their automated email marketing programmes were “very successful”, with 38 per cent reporting they flopped.
Quick wins for choosing technology to help improve operations
Talk to staff
To really get to the bottom of the processes and niggles that need to be ironed out by your new tools, it’s important that you get a holistic view of how things are working.
If you’re a very small business with few employees, this will be relatively simple, but for those who have more staff members, gathering this data and feedback will be a bit more of an undertaking.
It’s well worth the effort though, so that you can be sure the tech you invest in does a thorough job and works as effectively as possible for everyone in the business.
Define your key needs
It might be that you have a pretty lengthy list of needs and desires that you want your new tech solutions to work their magic on. But, realistically, you won’t be able to address them all – at least not at once.
So, organise your list by priority – be that automating your marketing to bring in more leads, organising your invoicing to improve cash flow or introducing online project management tools to support long-term remote working.
Working out which ones are most important to your business depends on your goals. But, once you have your top three, you’ll have established your core needs and can be steered by this during your search.
Business needs evolve – and so should the technology that supports them. Make sure the time and effort you put into your search for tech solutions pays off by referring to your plan for growth.
As your business changes and expands in the future, your tech needs to be flexible enough that it can adapt and mould itself to your needs or be easily swapped out for alternative solutions.
This need for flexibility means you should be cautious about getting tied into bespoke tools for the long-term – you could end up shelling out a small fortune for a solution that is no longer working for you.
If you choose to use multiple packages, look for ones that are aligned with your current and future needs to a degree of 80-90 per cent – they can likely be improved further with some tweaks from the vendor.
“We're on our third CRM system and that has taken up a lot of time and money, but I think we've got it right this time. We needed something quite basic and we were getting sold a big tool that was for big organisations.”
Jane Vincent, director at Fortem People
The cold hard facts
With consumer demands getting more overwhelming, automating some of your customer service operations could be really beneficial. Chatbots allow existing and potential customers to interact with your business at a time that suits them, taking hold of the opportunity to begin sales, support or marketing processes while your staff sleep. Forbes reported in 2019 that bots had increased sales for businesses by 67 per cent, even though customers prefer talking to humans.