Information technology may not be the sexiest part of your small or midsize business (SMB), but it’s one of the most critical engines for success. There are many different ways it can be harnessed to increase efficiency, manage (and lower) costs, and boost performance. How many of the following are you using?
Information is the lifeblood of many businesses, and exchanging it is easier than ever thanks to e-mail, conferencing tools, and VoIP technology. E-mail continues to rule as a primary tool for internal and external communications. The use of IMAP (internet message access protocol) instead of POP (post office protocol) now means it’s easy to sync email across multiple devices. Email is also a major tool for marketing to customers, both through email “blasts” and highly personalized messages.
Businesses use conferencing tools like Skype, GoToMeeting, and WebEx make it possible to hold real-time video conferences. Each meeting can include multiple participants using their devices of preference at very little expense. This makes having a conference with a vendor or development team much easier.
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is another tremendous development that has allowed many businesses to cut the phone cord and pull the plug on major telephone expenses. With VoIP technology and equipment, voice communication can be transmitted over existing network infrastructure. Sending voice over the internet doesn’t incur any extra charges beyond the price of the internet connection.
One of the hottest trends at the moment is the move to cloud computing. By moving equipment and applications to the cloud, companies are able to reduce the amount they’re spending on computing infrastructure. They also gain universal access to those resources. A cloud version of Microsoft Office 365, for example, allows employees to work from anywhere, anytime, on any device. It removes the requirement to purchase, install, and maintain local copies.
Business intelligence (BI) means the collection, analysis, and presentation of business data. BI tools can be used to track and analyze sales, financial, and operational functions. Past, present, and predictive views of business performance are all possible, and can help with both strategic and operational planning. Previously the domain of large enterprises, BI is now within reach of SMB’s as well.
Customer Relationship Management
Customer relationship management (CRM) technology facilitates the process of acquiring, serving, and retaining clients. CRM systems track relationships so you know which clients are where in your sales and service pipeline – who just received a proposal, who called in with a complaint yesterday, and much more. They are used to compile detailed information about each client, including buying preferences, purchase history, and personal information. Having all of this information at your fingertips when dealing with a client is invaluable.
Marketing automation tools and technology make it possible to automate many marketing tasks that used to require individual, hands-on action. This is especially crucial in the age of social media, when companies have the opportunity to promote their message through multiple channels. For example, instead of notifying customers of a new blog post by creating and sending out a separate email, let your marketing automation software handle the task for you. It can send out the email, post to your Facebook and Twitter account, and more, all at the same time (or at intervals if you’d prefer). It will also tell you how many people opened the notification and ultimately clicked on the link to view the post.
Workflow management is the process of defining and tracking a series of steps for specific processes. Each step of the workflow can be assigned to a specific person, and the system ushers projects through the steps. In a very simple example, one person might be responsible for writing a report, another editing it, a third formatting it and incorporating it into a newsletter; a fourth person sends out the newsletter. With workflow management, as each person completes their task, the system will mark it as complete and automatically notify the next person in the chain that a new task is ready.
Tracking and managing inventory has been a worthwhile use of technology from the day the first POS (point of sale) terminal went online. Today, inventory management software not only tracks sales, it also helps predict how much you need to re-order when. It can also be used to help pinpoint the best sales price of your goods. With the use of bar code scanners and RFID chips, the movement of goods can be tracked as closely as desired.
Willingness to embrace new technologies is an important characteristic of successful businesses of all sizes. If you’re not taking advantage of technologies available, you’re missing out on some great opportunities. Isn’t it time you put more of this technological wizardry to work for you?