There is a Chinese proverb that goes like this: “If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” It’s a simple but profound idea that is valuable in thinking about growing a business and gaining new efficiencies through change and innovation.
A small company is survival oriented, with much of the energy of the owner and employees directed at creating products, finding customers and ensuring its viability. Over time, a successful company matures and develops proficiency in maintaining its market share and using strategic planning to pursue its future goals. It also finds it necessary to change its structure, such as reducing the hands-on control of the founder; creating formal communication structures among functional departments that are getting bigger, more defined, and more distributed; and perhaps most importantly, asserting “the routine nature of succession” – policies, responsibilities and processes that are less entrepreneurial, more consistent, and aligned with business goals. Sure, a growing company can think small but, by definition, it simply can’t stay small.
Technology Helps Blaze the Trail of Change
How do you know you are headed in the wrong direction? Sales overpromises. Product under-delivers. Customer satisfaction declines. Supply chains become inefficient. Financial forecasts aren’t realized. Employees complain of “communication problems.”
Fortunately, technology systems can help you to support a structure that enables consistent business practices, improves communication internally and with customers, and provides the company with better visibility into and insight about valuable business data. All it takes to shift the balance is a move away from individual user-centered software that keeps data fragmented and localized to enterprise software solutions, which serve the needs of the whole company.
A single database. A single view. A single point of administration and security. Enterprise software solutions let you roll out business functionality to everybody who needs it, wherever they are located, with greater opportunity for collaboration and control than ever before. Whether you set up a company network or choose to work in a cloud-based environment, you’ll benefit from the flexibility, scalability and easier software distribution that enterprise solutions offer for departments as diverse as accounting, human resources, procurement, operations, sales and marketing.
Advantages of Enterprise Solutions
It’s not easy to keep track of single-user licenses for every member of your staff, for every piece of software that they use. But many businesses start that way. Employees need to upgrade their software on their own, even if they lack technical knowledge. Data is stored on their local hard drive. Communication is often via a flurry of fast-paced e-mails with huge attachments and huge risks of loss, misinterpretation and versioning issues.
Doesn’t this sound better:
- Easy Information Sharing. A single database for each application – and perhaps across multiple applications – keeps data and documents in one place. This save time and reduces mistakes as employees look for business files.
- Agility. Better access to data means that analysts and decision-makers can assess business performance and jump on potential opportunities more quickly.
- Automated Processes. Enterprise software often provides employees with rules-based procedures that automate and streamline work. Consistent workflows also ensure compliance with internal and external policies and regulations.
- Simplifying IT. Enterprise software gives every member of the company access to the software and information they need using a single user-friendly interface. While enterprise architectures may be more complex, many aspects of software use, including training, support, maintenance and auditing are greatly simplified. This allows IT staff to focus on creating strong, stable and secure environments rather than troubleshooting standalone user configurations and issues.
Some Great Places to Start Implementing Enterprise Solutions
As with any major business initiative, it’s smart to start small. Implementing too many enterprise-level applications too fast can impact your work culture and processes, so it is better to introduce one or two and carefully evaluate the success of the software adoption among users and any technical issues that might arise. Businesses that begin using enterprise solutions usually have more than one – in fact, they have an average of six – so as you become more comfortable with them, you’ll likely look for more.
Here’s a few types of enterprise solutions to consider if you’re ready to start centralizing your software technology strategy. As noted earlier, the value of enterprise applications can extend deep into the operations of your company; however, some systems can be quite complex. The solutions listed below are relatively easy to implement within the organization.
- Google Apps for Work. Many companies use Google e-mail and work collaboration tools. It’s a subscription-based, cloud-based service that is especially popular with marketing and education related organizations.
- Microsoft 365. Businesses can gravitate to the familiar interfaces of Microsoft® word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. Microsoft 365 is subscription-based and provides online and offline access on virtually any device.
- Adobe Creative Cloud for Teams. This well-known suite of design and digital marketing tools is worth mentioning, offering creative apps, asset sharing, easy version control, and simple license management.
- Videoconferencing. From employee and sales meetings to customer training, you can build better relationships by using online meeting technology. WebEx®, GoToMeeting™, join.me, and Zoom are just a few of the many videoconferencing services that let you close the distance gap and open new business opportunities.
- Project management/team collaboration. Let’s face it, email is so yesterday. Dozens of online collaboration tools are competing to organize work teams through messaging, file sharing, concepting and enterprise social networking. Asana, Basecamp, Slack, Igloo and WorkFront are examples of project management and collaboration apps that give marketers, project teams and others a creative new spin on company communication.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
How well do you communicate with your customers? As you grow, your sales team may begin to let certain relationships slip – often based on current revenue potential. Low-hanging fruit may provide short-term results, but if you’re not nurturing smaller customers or cultivating new ones, your business will ultimately suffer. CRM software supports sales efforts with data management, customer communication tools, contact management and the automation of your best practice sales processes. Research showed that a CRM has bottom-line benefits: it can return about $5.60 for every dollar in system investment, and customers engaged using a CRM tend to spend 20-40% more on purchases with the company. And reaching out to all your customers promotes a positive customer experience. That means higher rates of customer loyalty and a greater potential for referral business. Examples of popular CRM applications include Salesforce.com, Zoho, Insightly and Infusionsoft.
Whether you have an eCommerce channel or not, a website continues to be an integral part of a company’s sales and marketing strategy. Content is still king – for the support it offers customers when making purchase considerations to providing search engine optimization (SEO) advantages that enables prospects to find you in the first place. To create a web site, you could hire a web developer, self-host your site with a content management system (CMS), or use a website builder.
Custom web development may be practical for complex websites or small businesses with no resources available to manage a site’s design and technology requirements. But more companies than ever are opting to use CMS-based systems like the open-source solutions WordPress and Odoo, or commercially available, fully automated web builders. CMS systems typically require some assembly, but often provide templates and plug-ins that result in rich functionality at a fraction of the effort or cost of custom implementations. Fully automated web builders are even easier to use. They may have drag and drop interfaces that give you great control and require no knowledge of code. Many give you mobile-responsive sites – a must-have in today’s device-laden landscape. There are many examples of website builders, but some of the more popular providers include Wix, Weebly and Squarespace.
Social Media/Customer Communication
Social media creates headaches for many companies as either they try to cover too much social ground or ignore the benefits social networking offers. Two types of social media tools can help your business make dollars and sense out of social media.
- Enterprise communication features found in individual social media platforms let you reach out to customers and prospects. Facetime, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, and Skype allow your company to congregate, communicate individually and in groups, and use social media to generate new business.
- Social media management tools unite the social media properties across your enterprise and provide better monitoring and control over content. These solutions may help you create content, schedule content, engage with followers, repurpose content across channels, share others’ content and help you manage communities of interest. Services like HootSuite and Sprout Social are a couple of examples of platforms that will help you streamline your social media content strategy.
Finally, it’s mission-critical to have a firm grasp of the documents and data your business produces, and to ensure your business processes are managed effectively throughout the organization. The business records you create are the lifeblood of the company. An Electronic Content Management (ECM) solution like Contentverse gives employees the confidence that their work is consistent, compliant and easily retrievable. Customer service organizations will enjoy quickly finding the information they need to help customers resolve issues and questions. Legal teams will appreciate the ease of document archiving and enforcing retention policies. Managers will welcome automated approval processes that keeps work moving – and gets it in the hands of the right people at the right time.
They don’t call it a business “organization” for nothing. As you grow the business, organizing your resources and processes becomes more difficult and inefficiencies become magnified, resulting in employee frustration, internal confusion and customer dissatisfaction. Enterprise solutions are one way to reconnect and reunite the way your business behaves. Keep yourself headed in the right direction: use technology to help guide your people and processes toward greater efficiency and increased productivity.