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Guide

An introduction to making sure your technology is robust enough for growth

Technology is key to driving efficiency and unlocking innovation. If you don’t have the systems in place to support growth, building the business is going to be impossible.

Get the investment right and the results can be powerful.

A 2020 study by Forrester Consulting found companies see a five-time return on investment in technology, which is driven by increased productivity, organisational agility and customer satisfaction.

So, how do you know if your technology can drive and meet the demands of business growth?

This guide will help you understand how to stress test the technology your business uses and make sure you have the ability to grow, including quick wins you can start thinking about today.

What factors affect technology when a business is growing?

Technology and growth are inextricably linked. Understanding how your tools and processes need to evolve helps remove any barriers to growth and identifies opportunities.

Moving from scrappy processes to scalable technology

Being scrappy works when you’re a small team with few resources, but these approaches aren’t normally robust enough to scale.

A classic example is managing stock. Using a spreadsheet works at low volumes, but when orders and product numbers increase, the supply chain becomes too complicated to track that way.

Processes tend to get formalised and improved as a company grows. Being proactive and improving technology before it breaks reduces risk and drives efficiency.

People’s preferences for new tools

Technology is often implemented based on people’s preferences. A new marketing manager might want to switch email clients or a developer implement a new web shop.

Constantly changing your apps, tools and working processes hinders growth. It’s important to consolidate tools and aim for a more holistic approach.

That doesn’t mean you should stop listening to your employees’ ideas. It’s about using that feedback to develop a solution that works for the whole business.

Recognising when old technology is no longer fit for purpose

Changes are often made when problems happen. An order might be delayed or a customer enquiry gets lost, which increases people’s willingness to consider a new solution. These kinds of reactive changes are a natural part of growth.

The key is to recognise when old technology is no longer fit for purpose and to try to get ahead of the curve. Stress testing your technology will help you identify potential pain points before they have a negative impact on your business and its customers.

Tom Simmonds

Tom Simmonds makes a list of the company's main pain points before looking for software

“You intrinsically know if you're running a business where your pain points are, the things that niggle you. Write down a list of all the things that take you away from what you do best and then see what software you can buy to address that.”

Tom Simmonds, CEO of AllSaved

The cold hard facts

Top companies that sustain a comprehensive focus on the customer (in addition to operational and IT improvements) can generate economic gains ranging from 20 to 50 per cent of the cost base.

Common mistakes companies make with new technology

Starting with the tool rather than the goal

It’s common for companies to get excited about shiny new tools, particularly when they’re being eulogised by the media. But this can be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

New technology needs to be chosen based on your company’s goals, including being robust enough for growth.

Failing to train people effectively

Implementing technology that’s robust enough for growth often means bringing in more complex and specialist tools. Spreadsheets turn into database software. Basic tills are replaced with POS systems.

That evolution impacts team members’ job roles, so it’s important to make sure they have the right training and support to use tools properly.

Similarly, it’s great to give people and teams autonomy, but technology implemented by one department needs to work for the rest of the business – solutions need to be company-wide to be robust enough to sustain growth.

Lack of long-term planning

Bolt-on solutions can leave your business with a technology stack reminiscent of the cars from the Mad Max film series; you’re moving at a rate of knots, but it’s not sustainable.

Instead, business owners need to take a long-term view and consider how systems will be used in two or three years' time, or when significant milestones are reached.

Hannah Barlow (second right) advocates implementing new technology, providing it's the right fit for your business

“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, director of Dunsters Farm

The cold hard facts

McKinsey & Company’s research shows that only about a third of the digital transformations brought about the benefits companies were expecting.

However, small businesses perform significantly better. Organisations with fewer than 100 employees are nearly three times more likely to report a successful digital transformation than those from organisations with more than 50,000 employees.

Quick wins for getting your technology ready for growth

Look for tools with multiple functions

Connectivity breeds efficiency. If information is seamlessly shared between tools it avoids duplication, reduces administration and makes it easier to get data and insight.

That often means looking for a tool that combines the functionality of several tools you’re currently using. Switching multiple systems at once is more onerous, but will pay dividends.

It’s also important that tools are used for the purpose they are intended. Some customisation may be necessary, but pushing a tool away from its main remit makes it less robust. This may mean reconsidering how you do things, rather than simply looking for a tool that can replicate an existing process at scale.

Make sure you and your team are working on high-value tasks

Each of your team members has a valuable skill set and costs the business a certain amount. If they are completing tasks that are below their pay grade, such as admin intensive or repetitive processes, it’s an indication that the technology isn’t fit for purpose.

Common examples include copying information from one system to another, manual reporting and data entry. At some level, these tasks are unavoidable, but look for inefficiencies and think about what will happen when the business – and the waste of resources – grows.

Look at industry trends and what customers expect

The way people buy and use products is constantly evolving, so it’s important to think about how technology can meet their changing needs.

It’s not always about identifying trends that mean you need to pivot your offering. Often, small improvements can make a big difference.

For example, a new booking system might allow you to send an SMS to remind a customer their equipment needs servicing or give people the opportunity to book services online.

Get external help when you need it

Knowing what tools bigger businesses use is a great way to understand what operating at that level involves. You can find out by asking peers or consultants, or looking at case studies and reviews.

Consultants have the benefit of working with a variety of companies. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get that experience – and it would be costly to learn through trial and error. Don’t be afraid to invest in getting advice about technology because it can more than pay for itself if done correctly.

Think about how technology could provide opportunities

New technology creates different ways of working that strengthen your USP. Perhaps you could deliver a service faster or to a higher quality. It might also create entirely new revenue streams, such as adding new products.

Pick tools that are going to last

Look at your long-term goals and forecasts and think about the implications for the technology you’re using.

If you plan to increase sales by 30 per cent, what does that mean for the number of employees that will be using a system? Can it take the pressure? Could upgrading early empower that growth?

Too often tools are replaced to solve an immediate need. By thinking long-term you can make life easier for you and your team, and ensure the systems you have are robust enough for growth.

Mark Holden - Inn Cornwall

Adapting his technology helped Mark Holden move quickly when lockdowns hit

“We’ve had to move quickly. We couldn’t have done that without good systems in place and adapting our technology.”

Mark Holden, director of Inn Cornwall

The cold hard facts

Gaining digital maturity has a significant impact on a company’s ability to innovate.

Research by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte found that 81 per cent of respondents from digitally mature companies cite innovation as a strength of the organisation, compared with only ten per cent from early-stage companies.