Efficiency and productivity rank as high priorities for businesses in the modern economy. Still, doing more with less while improving quality endures as the noblest of goals and the hallmark of every successful firm. Although the elusiveness of such achievements has frustrated companies in the past, technology makes them more accessible now than ever before.
A business creates synergy by assembling teams of people who can create more than they could individually produce. Working within the framework of the organization, team members engage in activities that contribute to the goals of the firm. Such business processes contribute incrementally to the delivery of goods and services to customers.
Without competitive pressures and the need for profits, efficiency would have little or no bearing on the firm. After all, customers would have no choice but to buy products whenever and wherever they became available. In reality, however, companies pit themselves against one another trying to differentiate themselves in ways that give them an advantage in the marketplace.
As part of the pursuit of advantage, companies hope to achieve efficiency. By eliminating waste and accomplishing more from their financial, material and human resources, firms can slash the costs of operation and production and supply goods and services at a lower price than other producers.
Anyone attempting to boost organizational efficiency might instinctively turn to technology for solutions. Unfortunately, moving to new IT solutions without first thoroughly understanding the problems and challenges faced by the firm can lead to additional problems. When used in conjunction with sound business process management, however, the use of software can enhance the performance of practically every activity.
Software tools can automate repetitive processes and eliminate redundant processes. As a result, software allows team members to focus on activities that contribute to the creation of value. Also, by eliminating manual actions, automation can eliminate errors and prevent actionable information from falling through organizational cracks.
This guide provides an in-depth look into how software can contribute to the streamlining of business processes.
- The first chapter will define business processes and introduce you to the concepts of business management.
- Following this information, chapter two will focus on the methodologies used to streamline processes and introduce the use of business software in support of those methodologies.
- The third chapter will instruct you how to use software to streamline accounting and other activities that pertain to business finance.
- Chapter four will shed light on the importance of customer resource management and how software can manage and optimize the entire customer lifecycle.
- The fifth chapter will focus on the fundamentals of project management and how project managers can accomplish more while meeting deadlines and budgets.
- Chapter six will help business owners and managers looking to use HR software to create and sustain a satisfied, productive workforce.
- Chapter seven will reveal the principles that underlie enterprise resource planning and how ERP software can unify disparate departments within the firm.
- Finally, the eighth chapter will explain the difference between off-the-shelf and custom software products and offer useful advice on hiring the right software developer company.
If you are a business owner, entrepreneur, or a manager, use the vital insights provided in this guide to leverage software into a valuable competitive advantage.
Chapter 1: Understanding Business Processes
Business owners and managers have a natural desire to improve the performance of their company. In response, they often look for quick solutions that promise immediate results. Despite short-term gains, however, organizational inefficiencies inevitably lead to long-term frustration.
By taking the time to learn about business processes and how they interact, you can resolve systemic problems in your organization. Additionally, you can setup systems for communicating and monitoring the performance of each process so that your organization can easily react to its evolving environment.
1.1. What Is a Business Process?
Business processes consist of a collection of wide-ranging responsibilities and accomplishments that the firm requires to achieve its goals. Every company relies on numerous business processes, as they supply products and services to customers. In fact, business processes affect every level of an organization, regardless of their visibility to customers. Still, they all have a significant effect on the customer experience as well as overall organizational performance.
1.2. Different Types
The multifaceted nature of most companies invokes the use of many business processes. As a result, the job of streamlining usually begins with identifying and categorizing them into three general groups: operations, support, and management. Keep in mind, however, that each category, though distinct, needs to interact as the firm pursues its objectives.
Essential business tasks that have a direct connection to revenue generation are classified as operational. For example, sales and marketing activities are operational processes as are manufacturing and purchasing. In other words, operational processes include the essential tasks that enable the firm to supply products and services.
Some activities performed by a business while important are of indirect supply value to the marketplace. The IT and accounting departments, for example, ensure that a business can operate, yet their activities do not generate revenue. Likewise, recruiting activities also fall into this category. The efficiency, effectiveness, and cost of supporting business processes directly affect the profitability and the quality of outputs supplied by an organization.
This category of business processes contributes to organizational performance but does not directly generate revenue. Processes such as communications and planning, for example, comprise parts of this category. When management processes fail, however, operational processes suffer, causing critical issues for the firm.
1.3. The Importance of Efficient Processes
Although business processes exist in every firm, they might not be efficient. Knowing this, companies must prioritize efficiency to ensure the delivery of high-quality goods and services at the lowest possible cost.
The importance of efficiency should encourage an objective view of the firm. For example, a manager who wants to improve sales performance might focus on operational business processes to make more products and services available to customers. Such a narrow view, however, might fail to take into account some important factors such as poor communication and an unhealthy corporate culture that all contribute to the poor quality of outputs and the low productivity of the labor force.
In spite of the tendency of some companies to look for a “quick fix” to their problems, only by recognizing the importance of efficient processes in every category can they invoke the type of change that will create a solid foundation for a streamlining effort.
1.4. Business Process Management
A discipline known as business process management (BPM) combines many activities that affect the flow of operations in the firm in support of its goals. The practice of BPM spans internal and external entities such as systems, customers, and employees. Regardless of whether a firm focuses on automation, control or optimization, process management seeks to efficiently and, by implication, profitably deliver value to customers.
Although many companies have subscribed to particular approaches to BPM, the practice can encompass any combination of methodologies that aim to create and synchronize business tasks in ways that accomplish well-defined objectives. At the same time, BPM differs from function-based business models that seek to independently tweak internal functions. In other words, BPM recognizes the interrelated nature of workflows within the organization and hopes to manage them as a system.
BPM jargon includes some new twists to familiar words:
- Modeling is the representation and definition of a process in an effort to promote effective communication concerning it.
- Automation refers to advance work done to facilitate the completion of business processes. In addition to building machines to speed work and increase productivity, automation also includes the creation and deployment of software.
- Execution refers to the timing of a process to ensure that it can complete in time to allow subsequent processes to start.
- Optimization requires a continual process that looks for ways to improve controls in ways that result in efficiency gains.
- The enterprise or firm represents any business that incorporates the efforts of many people to accomplish a mission. Either term can refer to a company of any size and describes both for-profit and non-profit entities.
- Goals refer to the objectives of the entire firm, not those of a single department or its subsections.
BPM involves internal and external activities. In the light of that fact, business owners and managers should always recognize that customers, partners, and suppliers play a vital role in the efficiency of business processes.
Aside from generally improving customer satisfaction and profitability, BPM can help solve related problems including customer and employee retention. BPM also helps firms achieve compliance with industry standards as well as applicable laws and regulations.
1.5. Mapping Out Business Processes
As time passes, customers’ needs change as do market conditions and business objectives. In the same fashion, the requirements and specifications of goods and services can change. Additionally, technology changes can make some processes obsolete. As a result, business processes must evolve for the firm to stay efficient and competitive over the long run. In other words, a process that was optimized yesterday might require further attention today.
Companies must map out business processes as a part of their effort to deal with this change. For one thing, companies need to understand and document every process, including its purpose, and how it interacts with the rest of the organization. This first step can sometimes become challenging if the people and technologies present at the inception of a process are no longer accessible.
Diagrams such as flow charts can facilitate communications regarding business processes. Additionally, the firm must document the way to complete every particular task. For the purpose of defining processes and communicating their details, diagrams can become vital for visualizing, understanding and streamlining business processes.
In addition to illustrating processes and how they interact within the organization, business process mapping also helps to define how human resources interact with the processes that they affect. In like manner, the business process map helps people within the organization understand how they should interact with each other.
Now that you have a basic understanding of business processes and the importance of a comprehensive approach toward their management, you can begin thinking about streamlining them. The next chapter looks at the various methods companies use for optimizing their processes.
At the same time, the chapter will introduce business software and the role it plays in cost cutting, time management, and productivity enhancement. Additionally, you will receive an introduction to the criteria used to evaluate the particular software needs of your firm.
Chapter 2: Streamline for Maximum Efficiency
Now that you understand business processes and their management, you can consider different ways to streamline them. As a matter of fact, if you have already started with the mapping process, you probably have a clearer idea of how to boost efficiency.
What does it actually mean to streamline business processes?
Streamlining is an act of eliminating redundancy and reducing the number of steps required for achieving the desired outcome.
As a result of streamlining, fewer errors and delays occur during the course of work. Ultimately, by streamlining their business processes companies attain increased levels of customer satisfaction.
2.1. Different Ways to Streamline
Although available technologies play a significant role in streamlining, there are also some simple methods you can employ to improve business processes. An approach that is both multifaceted and holistic can deliver results that surpass the use of a single philosophy, so make sure that you understand them all.
Reducing Inefficiencies and Errors
A process is inefficient when it costs more than necessary in terms of time, money and effort. In contrast, an efficient process will produce either identical or superior outcome using fewer resources. Moreover, efficient processes avoid unnecessary activities and steps while minimizing the number of operations. In many settings, reducing operational inefficiencies can dramatically improve the performance of a business.
As the firm eliminates inefficiency, the number of errors should decrease. For example, when it comes to complicated processes, which employees have difficulty understanding, errors are more likely to occur. In order to streamline such processes, companies should identify ways in which these can be simplified and separated into parts that are easier to understand. This way, employees would have a better sense of what to do at any given time.
The reduction of inefficiencies and errors should begin with the identification of the three most elaborate processes in the firm. By first streamlining the most complicated activities, organizations can quickly realize measurable gains.
Although reducing inefficiencies and errors can decrease the amount of time it takes to complete a particular activity, a lot of companies still perform a number of manual tasks that require significant time to complete. Additionally, by simply accelerating manual processes, the number of errors is more likely to increase.
You can begin by analyzing the most time-consuming manual tasks in your business and find ways to perform them faster and with more accuracy. For example, automation gives firms the ability to quickly and repeatedly perform tasks with perfection. For this reason, investments in machinery and IT systems can quickly pay off.
Establishing The Rules
Ineffective and confusing policies and procedures can lead to just as many problems as do inefficiencies and time-consuming tasks. In fact, without good communication and easy to understand rules, even optimized and automated processes can become hopelessly bogged down. Knowing this, the firm can achieve substantial efficiency gains by clearly defining work and communicating responsibilities to employees.
Consider a business environment where different employees have developed different ways to do things, sometimes in an effort to generate the same results. To begin with, training will be a problem because no one knows exactly how a process should be performed. Similarly, documentation becomes a problem especially when it attempts to include every possible way to do a particular job.
Eliminate process dysfunction from your organization by creating policies and procedures for every task in every department. This type of streamlining will eliminate confusion while simplifying training and employee onboarding. Additionally, the guidelines you create will contribute to the stability of your organization and the consistency of your products and services.
2.2. Why Business Software?
Companies have different needs than individuals, so it makes sense for developers to create software specifically designed for the business world. The purpose of using business software is to help organizations perform certain tasks and achieve particular goals.
Over the past two decades, the role of business software has increased along with the capabilities of available IT systems. As a result, businesses have also become more capable. To say nothing of the way software has enabled small companies to compete against their larger counterparts.
Business software can accurately perform tasks at amazing speeds and dramatically improve the productivity of organizations. As a result, companies can focus their attention on important areas of their business rather than on mundane tasks. Furthermore, modern technologies such as digital storage and cloud computing have enabled businesses to efficiently share information and serve customers while controlling costs.
2.3. How to Evaluate Your Software Needs
Finding the right software might at first seem easy. Catchy titles, smooth sales pitches and amazing claims can attract the attention of business professionals, causing them to buy software based on assumptions and promises rather than on the ability to meet the needs of the firm. Knowing this, every organization should conduct a thorough assessment to determine how software can help them streamline their processes.
Needless to say, the evaluation process might at first seem daunting. After all, managers might have a mental picture of what they want their software to do but articulating those requirements and aligning them with the objectives of the firm can require much deliberation.
Use the following questions as guidelines for assessing the software needs of your firm. The answers that you and your team provide can help you improve your chance of choosing software that fits well into your company.
What Your Business Does and How?
After thoroughly assessing your business processes, you should have a good idea of what your firm does and, generally, how it supplies value to customers. In addition to helping you precisely define the purpose and operational model of the firm, your flow chart and BPM strategy should also help you identify specific problems that you want your software to address.
Start by asking your team members about the problems that affect them and how they think software could make their jobs better and improve the quality of their work. In addition to listening to the problems that software needs to solve, make a list of features and capabilities that your firm would like to have available for future use.
The information you collect while asking this question will help you precisely define your needs and guide you towards appropriate software solutions. Some information, such as the size of your firm can instantly narrow your options because many packages are designed with a specific number or range of users in mind.
Who Will Use It?
Even the best software solution in the world will be useless if the people who need to use it don’t understand it. For the purpose of evaluating your software needs, therefore, you must consider how well the users can adapt to the new product. From that information, you can assess the training needs associated with the new software and include the expected learning curve while calculating the cost of possible products.
Needless to say, the firm should choose software that requires a minimal amount of training before it can become actively used in the organization. Knowing this, you should look for products that have a familiar interface. Remember that not everyone on your team is a computer wizard so make sure to consider software that your users can easily navigate.
Single-Purpose or Multi-Purpose?
Software can come in the form of a suite of applications that perform more than one function. Also, you will find products on the market that perform a very focused role with a limited scope. The firm must decide which type of software to pursue.
Software that attempts to do too many things can provide broad coverage for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, such packages sometime offer mediocre capabilities in each of its functions. On the other hand, specialized software can be extremely good at performing a limited set of tasks at a higher price point.
As you evaluate your software needs, remember that there are integration options that give users access to other applications without having to change windows or screens. Such options can help blend the use of multiple applications throughout the firm. When you consider integrating other applications, make sure you inquire about the ability to exchange data between them.
How Much Are You Willing to Spend?
Expensive price tags do not guarantee a good software solution. Likewise, buying cheap software can also disappoint. Before you begin shopping for business software, create a budget so you would know exactly how much you could afford to spend. As you shop, pay careful attention to all the bells and whistles the various applications have to offer but make sure that you only choose the features that your firm can put to use.
Exercise caution while considering applications with below average price tags. Some developers deliberately create a low upfront cost and make up for that with above average charges for maintenance and support. In other words, as time passes, an inexpensive solution can improve to be unaffordable.
By carefully choosing your business software, you can make sure it will fit well in your organization. When properly implemented even the most expensive titles can pay for themselves through the efficiency improvements made in your business processes.
Now that you understand the methodologies used to streamline business processes, you have a good idea of how software can benefit your organization. Also, the above questions will help you narrow your software choices as you shop. Stay mindful of the general principles that you have learned because the next chapter will build on it. In fact, you will learn about accounting and invoicing software, a specialized group of applications that can help your company manage its financial resources.
Chapter 3: Managing Your Accounts and Invoices with Accounting Software
Business owners often feel as though they spend more time tracking and managing their finances than they do planning and growing their business. Part of the problem stems from the fact that many entrepreneurs are innovators, not accountants. Additionally, businesses that start small often fail to develop their accounting processes as they grow.
Regardless of the cause, if you feel frustrated with financial record-keeping, now might be a good time to think about implementing a dedicated, specialized system. Despite the time-intensive nature of accounting, you can streamline many tasks while making your firm more stable and profitable.
3.1. The Importance of Keeping Track of Your Business Finances
All businesses, regardless of size, handle money as they sell, invest and borrow. Additionally, money changes hands as the firm pays bills such as rent, utilities, and supplies. For the purpose of management and accountability, the firm must record each and every transaction.
The availability of accurate financial data ensures that vendors and suppliers get paid on time. Additionally, the firm can track inventory as well as outstanding customer invoices. All things considered, accounting data provides information that portrays the health of the firm and guides daily and long-term decision-making.
If the firm has a reliable and accurate system for tracking the number and cost of inventoried goods, it can make efficient purchasing decisions. Such information also helps the firm price finished goods to generate a profit. Also, a functioning purchase order system supports the accurate receipt of goods into inventory.
Another example that illustrates the importance of tracking business finances is cash flow. Without proper forecasting, the firm can get caught with insufficient resources when bills come due or unexpected expenses arise. In such a case, the firm jeopardizes its well-being despite having sufficient assets and receivables.
Ultimately, reporting tools tie together every accounting function and provide a comprehensive financial overview of the firm. Reports take mountains of transactions and other financial data and present the information in ways that help business owners spot trends and detect problems. For example, a cash flow report can help ensure that the firm has sufficient cash on hand to meet its obligations and serve customers.
In the past, businesses depended on manual bookkeeping with paper ledgers and pencils. The task was both laborious and time-consuming. The digital age has changed that.
Now, the smallest of businesses can use business accounting software to streamline their financial record-keeping and reporting. Many products now exist on the market that can give business owners the information they need to make wise decisions and successful plans.
In the light of the importance of keeping track of your business finances, implementing an effective accounting system should rank near the top of your priorities as a business owner.
3.2. How Your Business Can Benefit from Accounting Software
Despite understanding the importance of managing business finances, some business owners either lack the will or the know-how to produce the reports and accountability necessary to understand the fiscal status of their business. This is where accounting software can make a difference.
Accounting software provides a cost-effective system for collecting, managing and reporting on business finances. Consequently, companies that have a system in place can avoid common financial blunders that could jeopardize their existence. Additionally, an accounting application can provide for the efficient use of available resources.
As much as accounting software can protect companies from tragic mistakes and support efficient processes, it also improves accuracy. By automating financial calculations and minimizing the need for human input, accounting software can improve and secure the trustworthiness of information at the data entry level.
Accounting software can standardize the entry of transactions throughout the year and thereby simplify compliance with the tax code. In fact, just a few reports can generate all the needed information to complete relevant tax forms.
Finally, the right accounting software can benefit the firm by eliminating the need to pay for outside keeping, accounting and tax services. From this perspective alone, an accounting solution can save the firm a substantial amount of money. By the same token, an accounting system can provide other important benefits.
Automate Invoicing and Payrolls
Software systems can ensure that you have enough money available to cover payroll and other regular expenses. Additionally, accounting software can manage the entire billing process and thereby promptly collect outstanding balances from customers. As a result, automatic invoicing functions can eliminate cash flow issues and improve efficiency.
Additionally, automated invoicing can ensure that customers are consistently and accurately billed for all products and services at every stage. Meanwhile, the software can improve the speed and accuracy of payroll processing and reduce the amount of required paper.
Track Profit and Data
Accounting software can help you track the cost of practically every process within your organization including those associated with acquiring new customers and developing new products and services.
Routine profit and loss statements can support decision-making and provide advance warning of organizational and operational problems. Furthermore, accounting software can help you project sales and expenses as part of an efficient budgeting process.
Accounting software can also reduce data entry requirements by directly downloading and syncing bank, credit card, loan and vendor accounts.
Monitor Your Cash Flow
Accounting software can put vital financial reports including statements of cash flow at your fingertips so that you can plan to have sufficient funds available when bills and loan payments come due. Additionally, the system can help you identify the source of persistent cash flow issues.
Design Budgets for Upcoming Projects
Accounting software can draw data from completed work to create projections and budgets for upcoming projects. As a result, the firm can enjoy the benefits of having an accurate master budget that predicts cost for labor, production, and materials.
Over time, the accuracy of budgets can improve as accounting software compares projected versus actual financial performance. The ongoing analysis can serve as a solid foundation for the continued streamlining of business processes.
3.3. Existing Solutions
The market is filled with off-the-shelf accounting solutions designed for particular types of businesses. Rapid deployment and affordable price tags often make them appealing to most firms. Also, existing solutions benefit from having a large user base that can report bugs and suggest useful features to developers.
A desktop solution requires the installation of software on one or more computer workstations. Such configurations usually store data in a central location such as a server stored securely in the IT department. As the firm grows, the purchase of additional licenses can allow more people to access the system.
Although desktop applications can synchronize financial data across the Internet, cloud-based solutions can perform the task automatically and in real time. Additionally, these applications have the advantage of working through web browsers installed on desktop computers and mobile devices. As a result, business owners and managers can access the data regardless of their location.
Some accounting packages include specially designed mobile applications that improve the user experience by making menus and features easier to access than they would be in a browser-based application. Software accounting solutions can also supply data-recovery options that allow the firm to recover important data in the event of hardware failure and virus infections as well as from the accidental deletion or alteration of data.
3.4. Factors to Consider When Choosing Accounting Software
Before shopping for accounting software, the firm should perform a thorough needs assessment that involves the users and managers in addition to any special accounting and reporting needs.
Next, the firm should consider any industry-specific accounting requirements and look for software packages developed with those needs in mind. For example, manufacturers should pay careful attention to the inventory control capabilities of available software products. Other special requirements may include software to manage the dispatch and activities of employees who work at customer sites.
On the other hand, professional organizations, such as medical practices, would require a high degree of specialization and security to conform to the requirements of insurance companies and government regulations.
Of course, pricing is one of the factors in the process of selecting accounting software. As you shop, make sure that you pay careful attention to the pricing in terms of each software package. For example, some programs sell for a one-time fee, but others are sold on a subscription model that requires ongoing payments.
Additionally, some software products sell at a low price but with a bare-bones feature set. Getting the features you need might require expensive feature upgrades that make the solution cost more than a package deal that at first seemed too expensive. While assessing the cost of software products try to break down the pricing in ways that allow an equitable comparison of available options.
Other options to look for in accounting software include payroll modules and support in training. Additionally, you should consider software that has additional modules for managing contacts, processing payroll and preparing taxes.
Thanks to the Internet, much product information is available at your fingertips. As you shop, read available product reviews to get a better idea of how well the software performs as well as the quality of service and support offered by the developer.
Now that you understand the importance of accurate financial accounting to the firm, you also have a sense of the benefits that an accurate accounting system can offer to your business. As you shop, base your decisions on a thorough assessment of your present and future needs.
In the next chapter, you will learn about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and how software can simplify the collection and processing of leads and prioritize customer engagement to maximize profitability. Additionally, the next chapter will introduce CRM software and how your firm can benefit from it.
Chapter 4: CRM for Customer Service, Marketing, and Sales
When modern consumers interact with brands throughout the day, they expect an individualized and customized approach. As a result, companies look for ways to accommodate customers’ demands by leveraging mountains of data to create personalized experiences.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) involves the practice of understanding customers and prospects and making each one feel valued as an individual. Ultimately, it helps to establish long-lasting and profitable relationships.
Of course, since competitors have similar opportunities, companies that hemorrhage customers should re-evaluate their perception of customers and improve their CRM strategy.
4.1. What Is CRM?
CRM methodologies are used to track and control the entire customer lifecycle. The CRM system coordinates those business processes that attempt to convert new leads into prospects and, subsequently, prospects into customers. By organizing leads, contacts and other information, CRM software provides tools that automate repetitive tasks and streamline decision-making. Moreover, the centralization of data means that every employee that interacts with customers can access their entire contact and sales histories. Consequently, employees engage in more productive and profitable activities.
Additionally, CRM supplies managers with data and analytics tools that help track organizational performance, refine marketing strategies and improve customer service. CRM software empowers companies and their employees to create custom, personalized experiences and develop them into profitable relationships and a competitive advantage.
4.2. How CRM Helps Facilitate Business Processes?
Already, you might have a sense of the way CRM software can support and streamline business processes. In fact, software does this by coordinating employee activities that include marketing, sales and customer service. By tracking all customer interactions and providing centralized access to information, CRM provides the framework needed to shrink sales cycles and prioritize activities.
Tasks supported by CRM include the provision of sales quotes and the closing of deals. Coupled with tools for forecasting sales and identifying opportunities, CRM also facilitates the automation and precision of routine tasks so that team members have more time to focus on revenue-producing activities.
Ideally, CRM software integrates with other software applications within the firm such as those for accounting, email, and scheduling. By connecting with the existing infrastructure, CRM can increase the efficiency of other systems while helping employees quickly access the information they need to serve customers.
Particularly, CRM systems can benefit the firm in several key ways.
Better File Management
CRM software stores information about leads, prospects, customers, suppliers and other contacts in a central location so every team member can quickly access phone numbers, email addresses and other information as needed. For example, employees can access the record of every interaction between the company and a customer from a single screen.
As time passes, the CRM system can automatically associate new records with other content, so that employees always have access to up-to-date information. Of course, the quality of file management depends on the degree to which team members use the software. For instance, if sales personnel continue recording information on notepads or sticky notes, the system can become unreliable and, ultimately fail.
On the other hand, when everyone in the organization enters information into the CRM system, everyone can work together to follow-up on leads and provide prompt customer service. Furthermore, CRM applications can automatically integrate with multiple communication channels such as social media, email and voice calls. In other words, if the common CRM platform is used throughout the organization it can help retain and leverage information to achieve business goals.
Simplifying Lead Management
CRM software can also optimize the way the firm handles leads. After all, companies must recruit new customers on an ongoing basis in order to grow revenues and profits. CRM can help by minimizing the cost of acquiring new customers.
As leads enter the CRM system, the software can score them based on their potential profitability. Afterward, the sales team can interact with leads to convince them into buying a particular product or service. The software continues to manage leads until they place orders. After the sale, CRM manages customer support and promotes loyalty and ongoing marketing and sales efforts. All things considered, CRM can reduce overall selling costs to both new and existing customers by simplifying lead management.
Handling Higher Demands
What if your business could accomplish more with fewer resources while increasing quality and customer satisfaction? With CRM software, such results are possible because of the way the system can unify multiple databases and applications into a single interface. Additionally, CRM can prepare the firm to handle periods of increased demand as well as long-term growth. Although this may be true, CRM performance depends much on the organization using it.
As has been noted, employees who bypass the CRM system by keeping manual notes or working from memory can prevent the firm from reaping the benefits made possible by the software. On the other hand, the choice of CRM can also affect its results. For example, if a firm buys a package that barely accommodates its current needs, it could soon overload the system and become unmanageable.
So, choosing a CRM product that can expand with your business and adapt to changing market conditions can help you handle seasonal spikes in demand as well as steady long-term growth.
Enables You to Focus on The Human Aspect of Your Business
Computers have capabilities that make them suitable for particular roles. For example, they can acquire, organize, store and present data much faster and with greater accuracy than humans can. On the contrary, computers may seem inadequate for the development of high-quality interpersonal relations. For that task, humans usually do better.
Thanks to CRM solutions, the firm can enjoy the strengths that computers and people bring to the table. Working together, they complement each other to increase the capabilities of the organization. As the software manages data-intensive tasks, it equips team members with the information and available time needed to create exceptional customer experiences.
Improving Internal Communications
CRM platforms can adapt to modern employment arrangements that include flexible scheduling as well as mobile and remote workforces. The Internet, mobile devices and the cloud all combine to deliver information to team members on-demand and facilitate communication and collaboration.
4.3. How to Market More Effectively and Boost Sales
As a business owner, you naturally want to expand the reach of your brand and connect with customers who can benefit from your products and services. With this in mind, the ability of CRM software to improve your marketing effort will appeal to you. To begin with, the system can analyze your business data and alert you to positive and negative trends that you can either exploit or remedy.
Additionally, CRM systems can monitor the behavior of every lead and identify selling and relationship-building opportunities that your marketing team can exploit. As new leads become available, the software tracks their source and measures results to determine the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Also, using CRM, marketers can develop targeted, personalized campaigns that appeal to particular sets of leads and customers.
4.4. How to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service
A thorough understanding of the customer underlies every effective customer service operation. In most settings, however, team members have a hard time remembering important customer details. With the introduction of CRM, however, the firm has a central interface that team members use to record every detail about customers as they interact. As a result, everyone from the marketing department to the customer service call center can refer to CRM records to provide relevant and customized responses to inquiries.
A sense of urgency can also help the firm provide exceptional customer service. CRM can help the firm quickly respond to a customer inquiry with relevant information and definitive action. For example, the system can send automated acknowledgment emails to customers so that they can have confidence that the firm is in process of addressing their issue. Furthermore, CRM simplifies access to customer and business information, helping employees to quickly answer questions and provide solutions.
In the final analysis, customer service excellence depends on the human element. CRM allows the firm to build quality relationships by revealing personal and historical customer data to customer service agents. As a result, the firm can make customers feel valued as individuals and develop high-quality bonds.
4.5. How to Choose and Implement the Best CRM for Your Business
The answers to a few vital questions can guide your search for a CRM system.
What do you intend to achieve with your CRM system?
In addition to supplying robust contact management, CRM systems also provide automated tools that can increase sales. Some of the roles CRM can fill as the firm pursues sales growth include:
- Generating leads
- Developing prospects
- Automating email marketing
- Creating quotes and invoicing customers
- Tracking orders
- Forecasting sales
- Monitoring employee and company performance
- Keeping tabs on competitors
What features do you need?
Important features that you should look for while shopping for a CRM product include:
1. Ease of use
Look for a system that has an intuitive interface that users can quickly learn to navigate. Doing so will minimize the time spent in training and quickly start generating returns on your investment. Of course, many CRM developers claim ease-of-use as a marketing tool. Knowing this, you should fully utilize opportunities such as free trials and demo versions to determine how easy the software is to use in your environment.
For the most part, no CRM solution will accommodate your business right “off the shelf.” In order to make an application fit, you will need to have ways to customize the software to your internal business processes. For example, if your needs extend beyond the standard features of a product, find out if you can add features. Other customization features might include templates, plugins, extensions, and themes.
3. Integrations and compatibility
Different CRM software products have varying degrees to which they can interact with your other business systems and access existing company data. For example, you should find out beforehand whether a CRM can provide seamless access to accounting, email and business management applications.
4. Niche specialization
Developers produce specialized products for companies that operate in the finance, hospitality, real estate or other industries, so look for CRM software that is designed with your industry or market niche in mind.
5. Security and privacy
Shop for a CRM product that comes with tools that have robust tools for controlling access to your data. In addition to user-level permissions, also look for built-in encryption that protects your information as it travels through the Internet. Also, CRM systems should have built-in redundancies that can prevent data loss via hardware failure and viruses.
What price can you afford to pay?
Remember that you can choose from either a fixed-price or subscription-based pricing model. Also, pay careful attention to pricing because some low-cost CRM applications might at first seem affordable, but the added features and services can elevate the final price above that of feature-inclusive packages. As you shop, try to assemble pricing data in ways that make an objective comparison possible.
A smooth CRM implementation depends on a well-defined plan. To begin with, you and your staff must know what to expect during every part of the process. Also, before starting the implementation, make sure you create and verify data backups from your current systems. After all, you want to avoid losing data as you transition to your new CRM system.
Introduce the CRM application to your team in manageable stages to avoid overwhelming your employees. Such an approach can also help you identify and correct errors before they become ingrained in the system.
Additionally, allow your team enough time to learn how to use the new software before it goes live. When everyone understands how the system works and how to use it, fewer complications will arise once you start using the application for real-world tasks.
As your CRM implementation progresses, actively solicit feedback from your team. Find ways to address any concerns so that everyone feels comfortable using the new system. In some cases, you might need to ask the software developer for assistance.
Your understanding of CRM and how CRM software can benefit your company will help you implement it to streamline many of your business processes.
In the next chapter, we will introduce the fundamentals of project management and explain how project management software can increase the efficiency and accuracy of your projects.
Chapter 5: Stay on Top of Your Projects with Project Management Software
Every business needs to ensure the prompt delivery of products and services to customers. To do this, companies organize work into projects that have clear objectives. As a result, the discipline of project management plays a vital role as the firm attempts to deliver value to customers.
In order to succeed, a project must have a good leader, dependable team members, well-defined tasks and effective tools. Additionally, the firm also needs to promote a creative and innovative mindset to stay relevant and competitive in modern markets.
Generally, project management is a discipline that ensures that the right resources, processes, and tools come together at the right time to meet customer requirements. When properly implemented, project management can control costs while improving the efficiency and productivity of the firm.
In the past, project management was a laborious process that involved manual paperwork and tedious planning. Now, however, technology automates much of that minutiae and makes project management affordable and practical for businesses.
5.1. Project Management Fundamentals
Before implementing project management in your firm, you first must understand how it relates to your organization and how it contributes to growth as it plans, organizes and manages team efforts to achieve desired outcomes.
The term project management encompasses the use of information, capabilities, tools, and tactics to ensure that the requirements of a project are met. Additionally, project management invokes five distinct phases that define project lifecycles: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closing.
In contrast with a program, which is a continual process such as quality assurance or the oversight of numerous concurrent projects, a project is a one-time affair. Managing a project begins with the development of a plan that defines overarching goals and the path toward their achievement. Also, the project plan defines the activities, resources, finances, and the amount of time required to complete the project.
5.2. Types of Project Management Software
Special software can help project managers create efficient plans, organize activities and monitor performance as teams execute projects. For the most part, project management software has enough versatility to adapt to various methodologies and conform to practically any type of endeavor. For example, the software can facilitate the design of a website just as easily as it can support the design of a building.
When properly implemented, project management software will unify the efforts of team members and minimize the need to switch between multiple applications. To achieve this, the software usually uses a single interface for file sharing, communication, monitoring, and reporting.
The best project management environments will automatically reschedule work when delays and resource conflicts occur. Moreover, the software will also enforce dependencies to make sure the completion of tasks in their proper order. Of course, some project management tools emphasize simplicity and expedience and therefore might have fewer features than the top-of-the-line project management solutions.
Some project management software packages may include extra capabilities such as invoicing, task management, collaboration and resource management. Also, business owners can choose between software that resides either in the cloud, on vendor servers, or on company servers and computers. Additionally, there are some hybrid solutions that support both deployment models.
The variety of available project management solutions includes open-source and free products as well as packages that are designed to meet the needs of corporate enterprises. Additionally, some product designs cater to particular sizes of firms while other software packages have been crafted to suit particular industries such as software development and construction. With so many variations to choose from, you can most certainly find one that fits the needs of your business.
5.3. Benefits of Using Project Management Software
Some of the most common functions of project management software illustrate how the firm can benefit from having the right application:
- Cost management features give you the means to track the expenses associated with a project and compare them to budgeted amounts.
- Task management features allow project managers and team members to create and assign tasks with deadlines in mind.
- Resource allocation features ensure the availability of the people and equipment needed to complete tasks at the right time and location.
- Gantt charts offer a visual representation of a project and give managers the ability to detect progress and discrepancies at a glance.
- The time management features built into project management applications can help team members understand what they should be doing at any given time.
- Some software products provide features that facilitate document sharing so team members can always find the files that pertain to a project.
- Reporting features help managers evaluate and share the status of a project.
In short, software technology saves time and improves efficiency. Below, you will see some of the primary benefits of project management software.
Easier Project Planning and Tracking
Using project management software, the firm can improve the accuracy of their plans and closely monitor project progress. Additionally, by using the software managers can closely track expenses to avoid cost overruns.
Team members can eliminate redundancy and work together to solve problems using the collaborative features of project management software. Additionally, within the application, team members can share documents and share details about their status, location, and current activities
Better Organization and Future Planning
Companies can standardize their processes for creating project plans by creating reusable project templates, rather than building every project from scratch. Additionally, the centralized storage of documents, communications, and other information improves organization within the firm. Furthermore, the data collected from completed projects can help managers plan more effectively for subsequent projects.
5.4. Things to Consider Before Choosing
Before you begin shopping for your project management solution, you should accept the fact that the software works best for projects that depend on time and teamwork for completion. In other words, available applications have a level of complexity that makes them ill-suited for routine tasks. For example, the software can help you design and set up a data network, but trying to maintain that network via a project management application might not make sense.
Before investing time and money looking for the right software package, conduct a needs assessment. To get started, see if any of the following symptoms are present in your current operation:
- project delays caused by communication roadblocks such as overflowing email inboxes
- uncertainty caused by confusing and complex spreadsheets
- problems meeting task deadlines and promptly delivering goods and services to customers
- unclear statuses of projects, tasks, and team members
- duplicate work and other redundancies that result from poorly defined individual responsibilities
If your organization experiences any of the above challenges, project management software might help you achieve better results. Of course, available products differ, so you must find the one that works best in your environment. The following list summarizes the considerations that can help you make the right choice.
Make sure the software you consider can accommodate your operation. If you operate a large enterprise, you will likely have different requirements than if you owned a small startup.
If your team has no need for collaboration features, that can narrow your search. Of course, most teams do, so you will want to evaluate the collaboration tools that come with each product.
If your company uses remote and mobile workers, you might need to focus on cloud-based solutions as you shop. If your employees work inside your facilities, you can expand your search to include on-premises software.
Software should make your business more efficient, productive and easier to manage than it would be without it. Look for software products that have simple, logical and intuitive interfaces that can minimize the learning curve. Also, while assessing the cost of a software package, be sure to include projected training expenses.
Make sure you choose a project management solution that can grow with your firm and adapt to evolving conditions. If you choose a product that can only meet your present needs, you might save money now, but later, when you must migrate to a different platform, such a decision could prove to be unwise. Instead, choose a software product that allows you to add users and features as your company grows.
Even the most intuitive, easy-to-learn software package can run into unexpected hiccups that can result in expensive downtime. You need to know that you can call someone to get help when you need it. Before you buy, make sure you understand how much support you will receive as you implement and use the system. Some developers, for example, might charge for support after the first year. Regardless, make sure you add support charges when you compare the price of different products.
Check to see if the product you consider comes with a service-level guarantee. Also, make sure that provisions are available for making backups that can survive hardware failure and virus attacks.
Your project management system will house confidential information about your business, trade secrets and employees. Make sure that it has cutting-edge access controls that can control the information each user can see. Additionally, make sure the software supports encrypted connections (such as SSL) when mobile and remote users connect to the Internet.
Over time, a software package can accumulate a large number of users who report bugs and suggest new features. As a result, mature products tend to have more stability and capabilities than ones that have just entered the market.
All things considered, project management software can help your company plan projects, manage resources and achieve desirable outcomes. With the right product installed, you can dramatically improve efficiency, profitability and customer satisfaction.
In the next chapter, we will discuss how software can streamline the efficiency of your human resource. From recruiting to training and development HR software can help you build a satisfied labor force while controlling costs.
Chapter 6: Manage Your Most Valuable Assets with HR Software
Any discussion of business processes eventually involves the people who do the work. With this in mind, you should understand that your employees comprise the most valuable asset of your business. In fact, a company that has the best facilities and equipment has little chance of success without having the right people working efficiently and effectively on its behalf. Ultimately, any path to growth must include making better use of your human resources.
Unfortunately, the demands of managing a business can distract owners from the processes needed to assemble, train and develop a world-class team. As a result, the inefficient use of human resources can snowball into a major challenge that can go unnoticed for a long time.
A business that uses its employees as the foundation of its strategy can easily gain a competitive advantage over businesses that emphasize other assets. After all, creativity and innovation come from people. Of course, human resources management also requires creativity and innovation. It also requires time and effort. For this reason, HR software can make a substantial difference.
6.1. The Function of HR Software
Software for managing human resources can come labeled as an HR system, human resources information system (HRIS), human resources management system (HRMS), or human capital management system (HCM). Although each of those titles has a similar meaning, not every HR management product has the same capabilities.
HR software may have either targeted or diverse capabilities. For example, some software specializes in HR administration and can facilitate the creation of policies and the maintenance of records. Also, some HR products can streamline the processes used for recruiting, hiring, training and evaluating team members. In brief, HR software can support practically every role of the human resources manager.
The results generated by HR software can resonate throughout the firm. For example, it can boost the productivity of the HR department and, by extension, improve the quality and capability of the entire labor force. The right software can also boost morale, eliminate errors, and ensure legal and regulatory compliance. In the end, however, the most important benefit is the way it can help streamline business processes.
6.2. Different Areas of HR
For the most part, HR solutions support human resources administration, strategy and labor force management. Although some products have modules that support all three aspects of HR, others may focus on either one or two of those areas.
Use the below summaries to get a feel for the three areas software supports human resources management.
HR personnel spend most of its time on administrative tasks. Administrative HR software aims to automate those common tasks to improve efficiency.
For the most part, this type of software tracks attendance and hours worked and can, therefore, streamline payroll processing. The software also manages payroll deductions for benefits programs.
This type of software commonly includes the following features:
- A searchable compendium of employee records that contains contact information, position within the firm, start date and other vital data about every employee.
- Document archiving that provides for long-term storage of contracts, policies, and official correspondence.
- Automatic and manual data fields used to process wages and salaries along with associated taxes and payroll deductions.
- Benefit management functions that track non-monetary compensation such as health and life insurance and paid vacation.
- Asset tracking for cars, computers, phones, and fixtures used by employees to do their work.
- Administrative reports that summarize assets, payroll, and other data.
As an extension of administrative functions, workforce management features facilitate scheduling and staffing to ensure the firm can at all times perform its mission and meet its obligations to customers.
The following list includes some of the features to expect in this type of HR software:
- Management for holidays and absences and other attendance-related matters.
- Time sheets and rosters for scheduling and tracking the work of individuals, teams, and departments.
- Settings that alter languages, time zones, and currencies to match the geographic location of team members.
- Organizational charts that show the organizational hierarchy.
- A framework for guiding the progress of disciplinary hearings and other HR-related processes.
- Automated time clock functions that calculate hours worked from manual and sensor-based data entries.
Every company should have a strategy for leveraging human resources for growth and profitability. Software can help define and manage these goals. For example, increasing employee retention can reduce recruiting and training expenses while building the knowledge and capabilities of the firm. Software can also facilitate activities that reduce turnover in support of that goal.
Also known as talent management system (TMS), strategic HR software can come in the form of a discreet application or embedded in a software suite. A TMS can assist with the development and execution of performance reviews and support a vibrant workplace culture. By keeping tabs on numerous performance metrics, the software can dramatically increase employee satisfaction levels and optimize recruiting.
Features of strategic HR software include:
- Training plans and records.
- Manual task lists and those automatically generated from HR data.
- Tools for optimizing the performance review process.
- Graphic reports that provide a visual representation of workforce metrics.
- Employee portals that allow team members to access and update information on a self-serve basis.
- An applicant tracking system (ATS) that manages recruiting and hiring processes.
6.3. Deciding What You Need
Before rushing to buy an HR software solution, spend time assessing the requirements of your business. Just as every company has different needs, variations exist in the HR software market. Finding the right software for your business should be your ultimate goal.
To begin with, think about the characteristics of your business and how it might fit into one of the following six groups.
A small startup with a handful of employees might save money by manually managing its HR, especially if it has no plans for immediate expansion. Still, trying some available software products on a trial basis can give small startups valuable insights that can affect planning. Meanwhile, startups that plan on adding employees should shop for the software product that can help them convert their human resources into a competitive advantage.
Small, growing firms should look for packages that supply essential HR administration functions rather than getting bogged down with applications that have fancy features that are intended for larger companies. The ability to add employee records in batches can increase efficiency and accuracy, as can integrations between HR data and payroll.
Businesses that expect rapid growth should look for HR software that can easily scale with the firm. After all, the demands on HR staff will quickly intensify, requiring features such as ATS to improve the efficiency of the hiring process. With a growing number of employees to manage, a growing company will also need software that manages schedules, attendance, benefits and holidays.
Established mid-sized firms have numerous systems already in place, which often do not interact well with each other, if at all. Accordingly, they can benefit from a single application suite that furnishes a single interface to manage every aspect of HR. This type of firm will need all the essentials for HR administration as well as ATS and shift management. At this level, a self-service portal can also become practical.
Large companies with multiple sites will have extensive needs that only a robust HR package can accommodate. Aside from all the essential tools, the firm will also need modules that support training and development, performance appraisals and disciplinary processes. Also, large firms will need features that support remote access and centralized HR management.
The HR management task becomes challenging for international companies because of the multiple time zones and languages involved. Also, the varying legal and regulatory requirements of different countries will require a high level of accommodation and automation.
6.4. Current Trends
After considering the basics of your organization, you should next consider whether a cloud-based or on-premises software model will make the best fit.
As previously noted, cloud-based software operates across the Internet and loads via a desktop web browser or dedicated mobile app. These software solutions usually follow a subscription model that requires either monthly or annual payments. On-premises software requires installation on servers and workstations located within your facility. Buying this type of software usually requires a single up-front payment.
Although both application models usually come with technical support, cloud-based software often appeals to firms that have cash flow considerations because they can include the monthly charge for software as a budgeted line item. Additionally, cloud-based applications run on practically any computer or device and therefore require only a minimal investment in IT infrastructure.
Software that runs on your in-house servers can give you more control over your data, but also requires more equipment. For example, if you use on-premises solutions, you will have to backup and secure your data. In the cloud-based model, vendors normally assume that responsibility. Also, the high price tag for on-site HR software can make it unattractive for small firms.
6.5. Key Points to Consider When Purchasing HR Software
As you shop for HR software, keep your budget in mind. To control costs, make sure that you only pay for features that can benefit your firm both now and in the future. Also, remember that the right software can convert your HR department into a profit center, so only consider those options that seem likely to offer a substantial return on investment.
The different ways vendors package and price their products can complicate comparisons, so carefully assess the pros and cons of each package and try to make objective comparisons. Also, involve your HR team in the decision-making process. After all, you will need the support of the software users to maximize the benefit of your investment.
Finally, always keep scalability in mind. You should choose an HR package that can adapt with your firm, as it requires additional features and users.
Business HR software can optimize the use of your employees and thereby substantially reduce management costs while improving employee satisfaction and organizational performance.
The next chapter will explore the unification of all the essential business activities via enterprise resource planning (ERP). By bringing data from multiple sources into a single unified application, the firm can automate many core processes and create a framework for responsible planning and decision-making.
Chapter 7: Automating and Linking Your Key Business Processes with ERP
One of the biggest and, perhaps, most rewarding projects you can undertake is the implementation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software in your business. This class of software integrates information from all the processes in your firm and makes it available to you for reporting and planning.
Using ERP, accounting, HR, inventory, project management and inventory data come together as a whole while preserving the independence of each department.
In other words, ERP replaces the discrete systems in every department with an interconnected system that unifies data under a single interface.
7.1. Why ERP?
Aside from the general goal of cost-cutting, firms should consider ERP as a means to improve communications and the availability of real-time data. Generally, using ERP results in fewer errors and reduces the need for redundant data entry. The simplification produces an efficient structure that has a short learning curve.
Ultimately, ERP benefits business owners and managers who need to have an accurate view of their business in order to make good decisions. A single search interface enables them to query the system-wide database and get easy access to important information. Simultaneously, user-access controls ensure that users can only access the information they need.
7.2. What Is ERP Used for?
ERP can boost productivity and efficiency in two primary ways. First, the software automates business processes in ways that save time and improve accuracy. As a result, employees and their teams and departments can accomplish more.
Second, ERP unifies the data generated by the firm and makes it accessible to decision-makers throughout the organization. In the past, the existence of disparate systems created barriers that made the sharing of data among departments difficult. The universal data formats used by ERP systems, however, ensure that everyone can quickly access the information they need.
Automation and integration
Firms achieve numerous benefits from the combined power of automation and integration made possible via ERP. Generally, these benefits center on reducing expenses, increasing revenue and saving time. For example, ERP systems can track inventory stored at multiple locations. As a result, firms can trim excesses and reduce shortages more efficiently.
Enhanced inventory management naturally appeals to manufacturing businesses that need to have parts and supplies available to meet production goals. In these settings, ERP can go beyond simple stock levels and supply managers with information about expiration dates that can help prioritize inventory usage. Even retailers can benefit from such functionality when they sell perishable items such as dairy products.
ERP ensures the universal accessibility of information throughout the enterprise and, thereby, eliminates redundancy. For example, the accounting department can have instant access to customer data entered by the marketing department. As a result, the firm can reduce administrative errors that can lead to refunds, penalties, misunderstandings and other dilemmas.
Call center agents equipped with access to an ERP system can quickly track the status of orders and repairs throughout the company rather than making inquiries via telephone to the various locations and departments.
Additionally, everyone from order takers to support specialists can instantly check the availability of finished goods. In other words, by using ERP, companies can service customers faster and with greater accuracy than ever before.
Managers can access sales and profitability data from across the enterprise rather than manually cobbling together reports from multiple locations and systems. ERP provides a global view of the firm and therefore can simplify the identification and resolution of bottlenecks while monitoring the success of operational strategies.
7.3. Choosing the Best ERP Solution
Each available solution has its strengths and weaknesses, so spend some time researching ERP packages before moving forward. Additionally, no one-size-fits-all application exists, so you need to make sure that the solution you choose works well in your environment. After all, ERP represents a long-term investment and an ambitious step forward for most businesses. The following considerations can guide you as you shop.
In order to be successful, businesses need to continually evolve along with the needs of customers and the technological landscape. With this in mind, choosing an ERP package that can grow and adapt with your company will preserve the value of your investment over the long run.
Business owners and managers can anticipate some changes that accompany growth such as an increasing number of employees, vendors, products, and locations. Additionally, enterprises often expand into new regions and markets. Make sure that the ERP that you buy can adapt to such changes by adding features, users, and locations as necessary.
The software should also have user-based configuration options that can customize the software for your business. To that end, you should look for ERP products that are specifically designed for your industry. The better you can customize ERP to fit your particular needs, the better your results.
Ease of use
Even if you find ERP software with sufficient flexibility and capability, its degree of usability can dramatically affect its impact on the firm. The best product will have simple, user configurable dashboards.
Make sure the ERP software that you consider can generate reports for every part of your business. The firm should have the ability to quickly create detailed reports on everything from sales projections to customer behavior.
Maintenance and Updates
Companies can choose how much they wish to customize their ERP platform. For example, they can assemble their software from the ground up or purchase a standardized off-the-shelf configuration. Additional options include on-premises and cloud-based packages.
For many firms, the complex nature of ERP affects their results. Approximately two-thirds of medium-sized companies use outdated versions of their ERP software.
This happens because the installation of maintenance updates, bug fixes, and version upgrades requires too much time and effort. In the light of that fact, businesses should emphasize ease of maintenance and the availability of support while choosing an ERP product.
The complexity of maintaining an on-premises solution has driven the availability of vendor-maintained cloud-based alternatives. Such options give the firm important advantages including automatic software updates. Additionally, cloud-based options eliminate the need for expensive on-site servers and workstations because the ERP software runs through practically any web browser. As a result, using this type of application requires less in-house technical expertise and labor.
The downside of cloud-based software is that the firm loses complete control over its data. Vendors have the responsibility of backing up data and ensuring system integrity. Such an arrangement can cause business owners and managers to worry, especially when aware of how often confidential business information gets stolen. Of course, the security concerns alone are enough to warrant careful consideration of the vendor. Always check their references and online reviews to verify their trustworthiness.
The success of an ERP implementation depends on how well people can use the system. Knowing this, make sure to investigate the training options available from a particular vendor. Regardless of whether training comes free with your purchase or if it incurs additional charges, be sure to factor this into your total cost. Additionally, find out if training is available only initially or if it is an ongoing service which new employees can use as they come on board.
ERP software should come with user level permissions, which ensures that people can only access the information they need to do their job. Additionally, the software must encrypt data when sent over the Internet. This becomes especially important for firms that have multiple offices as well as remote employees. Also, companies should choose software that has built-in password policies to ensure the highest level of security.
Before buying an ERP package, you should evaluate the operational cost of your current systems as well as how much you can afford to spend. When comparing the prices of available products, be sure to include projections for cost savings while determining affordability.
7.4. Ensuring Smooth Implementation
Despite the desire to quickly begin reaping the rewards from such a major investment, you should pursue a deliberate, methodical approach to ERP implementation. This will require verification at the end of every step to ensure that the system operates as desired. Companies that fail to dedicate adequate resources to the implementation process risk building an environment characterized by overworked and dissatisfied employees as well as lackluster system performance.
Get the best possible results by appointing a project manager who will oversee the team that implements ERP in your organization. While doing this, all system users should have a chance to participate.
The implementation process provides a natural framework for assessing and optimizing all internal business processes.
As the ERP installation proceeds, make sure that everyone feels comfortable providing feedback that can help to tweak and customize the software to meet the needs of the firm.
Data migration is also essential to a smooth ERP implementation. The migration process should be carefully monitored to ensure that data is being copied into the proper fields in the new system. Additionally, managers must evaluate which data has ongoing value to the firm and which data should be left behind. Doing so will help preserve the value of historical information while eliminating irrelevant information.
As has been noted, the move to ERP is a monumental undertaking that will require extensive initial and ongoing training as well as a commitment to use the system for all business processes.
You have now learned about the major categories of business software and how each one can support the streamlining of your business processes. Before wrapping up this topic, however, the next chapter will discuss custom software solutions designed to meet the exact needs of an organization.
Chapter 8: Custom Software Solutions for Your Specific Needs
Different software solutions represent a noble effort to standardize data within the firm to enable seamless management of business processes at every level. Some companies, however, require a degree of specialization, which exceeds the capabilities of commercially available products, and business owners are urged to explore customization options.
Although some businesses opt to force their business processes to conform to available management platforms, they do so at their peril.
Having incapable software can lead to substantial losses in terms of sales and profitability because of the inefficiencies it introduces. Managers should recognize this challenge and do everything possible to find software that properly supports their mission.
Fortunately, in cases when the customization of commercial products seems inadequate, companies have another option. Software developers can create custom software to meet the precise needs of an organization. Also known as bespoke software, this software is designed from the ground up to support a particular set of business processes and therefore an astounding degree of optimization is possible.
8.1. Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf
For the most part, no off-the-shelf solution will completely meet the requirements of any firm. In fact, the greatest degree of compliance with requirements one can expect, even when considering custom settings and options, is about 80%. Notwithstanding, the commercial software leaves an astounding one-fifth of the needs of the typical business unaddressed.
Of course, recognizing that most businesses choose a commercial solution and do their best to make it work can represent an opportunity for you. Provided that you have software that meets 100% of your operational needs, you can achieve a substantial competitive advantage in your industry.
An attractive feature of ready-packaged systems is that they can be available almost instantly. On the flip side, however, configuring such software and training can require much time. Custom software can take a long time to develop but often has a shorter learning curve and fewer training requirements.
When considering the choice between custom and off-the-shelf software, like in many decisions, cost considerations can become relevant. Although commercial software products often sell at a relatively lower initial price when compared to custom solutions, they often require outside help from professional consultants and trainers to make the system functional. Therefore, the cost of a package solution can be similar to that of a custom product that has a higher initial cost but can be implemented without outside talent.
A typical software package comes with a bundled set of features, which may or may not be useful to the firm. Additionally, off-the-shelf packages might lack vital features on which a business depends. On the contrary, a specially developed software platform can contain all the features needed for efficient business operations. Moreover, if new needs arise, upon request, the developer can add additional features.
Other considerations when comparing custom developed and commercially available software products include licensing. When you buy an off-the-shelf package, you buy rights to use the software according to the terms of the developer. On the other hand, if you choose to order a custom solution, you can often own the software or at least have the right to have it transferred to another developer if necessary.
In the volatile world of technology, software firms often dissolve or simply go out of business. What happens when your commercial software vendor goes bust? The answer to that question can be complicated especially if the demise of the supplier is sudden and the software is based in the cloud. After all, how can you access servers that are no longer connected to the Internet?
Although custom software developers can go out of business just like any other company, the risk to you is minimal, because you own the software and have complete access to the code. In such case, finding another developer to take over the project can preserve your investment as well as the continuity of your business.
Finally, businesses that choose custom software can enjoy personalized service and support, whereas customers of commercial packages can struggle to get the attention of a vendor, especially when larger or more lucrative clients get priority service.
Certainly, not every company can benefit from custom software development. Similarly not every business process can benefit from the precision of such a product. For example, companies that need a simple word processor would get better results from a commercial product in terms of cost and expediency when compared to a custom-developed word processor solution.
Regardless, every firm that can benefit from business software should remember to consider custom development if commercial solutions do not seem to meet its needs.
8.2. Signs Your Off-the-Shelf Software Needs Customization
Businesses that use off-the-shelf software often incur additional cost for adding users, licenses, and upgrades. When the firm constantly needs to change its internal processes to conform to the software, they have indications that customization is necessary.
Other conditions, such as infrastructure incompatibilities, security issues, and obsolescence can also motivate business owners and managers to consider hiring a developer to design customizations without going to the original vendor. In fact, the option to modify off-the-shelf applications has been used by an increasing number of businesses.
Software developers can provide services that help alleviate the shortcomings of commercial products without going to the extent and expense of creating a new application from scratch. As a result of this strategy, companies might have an affordable way to keep their customers satisfied, streamline their business processes, and update their capabilities. However, keep in mind that the possibilities and the associated costs of customization can dramatically vary.
8.3. How to Evaluate Whether Your Business Needs Custom Software
Before investing in custom software, you should carefully consider the needs of your business. If you face unique circumstances, which manual processes or software tools cannot address, you might need to contact a software developer. If, however, you face a relatively standard predicament, you might be able to cobble together one or more software applications or utilities to overcome the obstacle posed by your off-the-shelf product.
Of course, despite the limitations of your software or the special needs of your company, the decision to choose custom software might seem unclear. In that case, the following steps can help you understand whether your business needs custom software.
Assess Your Needs
If you have general requirements for your software and your business processes are fairly routine, you probably can get by with commercially available software. On the other hand, if your firm provides innovative products and services or if you simply need to get a leg up on the competition, custom software can help.
Determine Pros and Cons
Software development requires lengthy design and development processes and can often require a substantial upfront investment. Still, off-the-shelf products also have drawbacks. Despite the lower upfront cost and speedy acquisition of prepackaged products, they can cripple business operations and require ongoing expenditures that can bring the total cost of ownership to the same level as that of custom software.
Just as no two commercial software applications are exactly the same, every custom software design is unique. Knowing this, you can expect to have a difficult time comparing the costs of ownership of the various available options. Still, businesses are by nature cost-conscious and must, therefore, attempt to accurately calculate expenses.
Generally, factors that influence the price of a software solution include its size and scope, complexity, compatibility with other systems and data formats. Additionally, the cost of finding a solution dramatically increases if the purchase of an off-the-shelf product fails to address the needs of the firm. In such a case, the company must pay for the failed solution as well as a custom developed replacement.
After getting a feel for the associated costs of the available off-the-shelf solutions, start connecting with software developers to get and an idea of the potential cost of a custom solution. A good development team can create a design based on your ideas and budget and then add and remove features to achieve a balance between cost and functionality.
8.4. A Variety of Benefits
Consult the following list to find out how a customized software solution might benefit your business:
- Custom software eliminates the need to pay for the superfluous features included in boxed applications.
- Custom designs fit the internal processes of the organization and thereby enable higher levels of productivity and efficiency.
- Companies that invest in custom software designs own the intellectual property and use it as an asset as well as a competitive advantage.
- Unlike prepackaged solutions that often require expensive and unwieldy transitions to larger service plans, custom software developers can scale their applications dynamically as the needs of the firm change.
- Custom software providers have the time and personnel needed to provide high levels of support to their clients.
- Custom solutions minimize the risk of obsolescence because developers can always update and revise their code to meet the demands of new technology.
8.5. Hiring the Right Software Development Company
Your choice of a software development company can have a direct impact on the success and suitability of your custom application. Unlike a single transaction at a single point of time required to buy boxed software, the process of software development is both lengthy and ongoing. In fact, in many ways, it is more like a journey than a transaction.
Avoid the temptation to either choose the first developer you encounter or the one with the lowest price. Instead, consider the background and accomplishments of each firm that you consider as well as customer reviews. Also, the following considerations can help you hire the right software developer for your business application.
Look for a firm that has served similarly sized businesses in similar industries. Stay away from development firms who want you to pay for them to learn “on-the-job” as they develop your software.
Visit the websites of developers to see their client portfolio and examples of their work. You can also directly ask for this information. Remember that your job is unique. A firm might fit well even if it has developed applications that substantially differ from the one that you need.
The right developer will have a disciplined approach to version control, testing, and bug tracking. Choose from developers who run continuous and exhaustive integration tests.
Communication is Key
Open and honest communications are essential, so determine the frequency of meetings and the channels to be used. Get details, such as price, ownership of the code and service terms, in writing. Avoid making verbal agreements or doing business with a handshake.
The right developer will act as a partner and provide candid advice for your business and the design of your new software.
Putting the Plan Together
Avoid the frustrations that some businesses have while working with a software developer by making sure that you and the firm have a clear understanding of expectations, responsibilities, and terms. Also, be specific about what you want your application to do and how it should look.
As work begins on your software, insist on regular communications so that your team and the developer can evaluate progress and ensure compliance with software and scheduling requirements. In other words, stay actively involved in the development process.
At the onset of the project, you might not have a definite budget. As development progresses, however, you should get a good idea about the cost of your application in terms of time and money. As a result, you will get a better idea of what features you can and cannot afford to include in the initial product. In fact, by the end of the design phase of the project, you should have a fairly reliable estimate of its total cost.
In fact, the end of the design period provides an opportunity to reassess the project as a whole. At his juncture, you should take your plans and specifications and move to a different developer if communication and progress up to this point have left you dissatisfied. Otherwise, proceed with the signing of the contract.
What to Expect While Your Application Is Being Developed?
After signing a contract to complete the project, you will still need to actively participate in the work, mostly by supplying the developer with feedback that can lead to refinements in the specifications of the application.
At the end of the development phase, you will have the software available for installation and testing at your facility.
The lifecycle of the new custom application has only begun when your company takes possession of it. You will likely have a chance to enter into a maintenance agreement with the software firm that will specify the role of the developer in resolving bugs and tweaking performance. Additionally, you should have a rate schedule that will apply for the development of new features and add-ons.
The goal of maintenance is to sustain the value of the software after its implementation. This includes backups, performance improvements, bug fixes and other roles of the developer as specified in the contract. The maintenance phase can also include training and support options.
At first, the prospect of hiring a developer to create custom software might seem daunting. After assessing the relative total costs of ownership of off-the-shelf software vs. custom applications, however, the latter option seems more practical. Although out-of-box-solutions have their advantages and, therefore, a place in some businesses, custom software can supply companies with a valuable competitive edge in the marketplace.
In this guide, you have taken a journey that began with the introduction of the principles of process management and ended by exploring the amazing opportunities that custom software developers offer. In every department and at every organizational level, software can contribute to business efficiency, productivity, and quality.
Although in some companies and in some settings, the manual streamlining of business processes can suffice, the majority of firms can make impressive achievements in practically every category by choosing and successfully implementing the right software. By automating tasks, improving communications, coordinating efforts and analyzing data, business software can reduce costs while improving organizational performance. In summary, software has an enormous potential for streamlining business processes.
Now is the time to act. Simply realizing the benefits of businesses software will never improve the position of your company in the marketplace. On the contrary, inaction will result in your firm falling behind competitors who might pounce upon the opportunity to create an advantage by streamlining their business processes. Simply put, you cannot afford to leave your business in its present state.
Practically every step of optimizing your business begins with a needs assessment and the creation of a plan. After understanding what processes you want to improve and the outcomes you desire to achieve, you can begin evaluating the various available software products. Regardless of whether you begin by streamlining your accounting, invoicing and inventory processes or by boosting your marketing, sales and customer service strategies, software can help.
Similarly, the right software package can transform your human resources into a profit center from its current status as a financial black hole. Also, project managers can benefit from having the right tools at their disposal for coordinating team activities in ways that optimize resources, meet deadlines and conform to budgetary restraints. Of course, the ultimate business software solution, ERP, can provide impressive returns on investment by unifying and streamlining data collection and analysis throughout the firm.
Most importantly, the advice in this guide applies to businesses of every size that operate in any industry serving any market. In fact, the decision to invest in custom software can by itself create a competitive advantage by providing a framework that conforms to 100-percent of your business processes and requirements while other firms limp along with pre-packaged solutions that leave a substantial amount of needs unmet.
By embarking on a continuous effort to improve business processes, companies can create a foundation for long-term sustainable growth that can deliver substantial rewards to business owners, entrepreneurs, and managers who are willing to invest the time and effort to put software to use in their firm.
In other words, the streamlining of business processes presents unlimited possibilities for building a wonderful, successful future. From accounting to CRM to project management and ERP, software, combined with your leadership and management, will help your company grow and achieve its goals.