by Gregory D. Harrand, Manager of Technology Consulting
Today’s business climate demands that business owners use technology to a competitive advantage. In order to achieve maximum benefit from technology, owners must first have a plan that will serve as their roadmap to success. Too often companies implement technological solutions without a plan and they create islands of automation which often leads to inefficiencies. For example, a company that decides to implement a website to sell their products on the internet may not think about how the new website fits into their company’s existing technology environment. They failed to ask the question, does the website have the ability to integrate into my existing ERP software?
This does not require an elaborate written plan, but rather a clear understanding of how technology can be used to support your company’s business objectives. For example, if one of your goals is to provide same day shipping, then any technology that supports that objective might be beneficial. An example might be an investment in software/hardware that would allow the downloading of customer order information into your shipping software so as to eliminate the double entry of customer ship to address. This would eliminate time to reenter data as well as any errors that may occur from double entry. Another possibility that could support same day shipping might be the integration of your website into order fulfillment software, so that orders placed online can be transferred to existing order fulfillment software without reentering data. Once again, time and errors are reduced.
Another business objective might be to become the preferred supplier for your customers. This could be achieved by emailing shipping notices to your customers when their order leaves your warehouse. The technology to accomplish this might be to configure your existing shipping software to receive the order information including email address from your order fulfillment system.
Another business objective might be to increase cash flow. An example of a technology solution would be the electronic delivery of customer invoices. Paperless billing would also reduce your costs for paper, storage, printer toner and postage. Implementation might not be expensive since many of the software packages today already have this feature built in. Another benefit of paperless billing is that if you store a copy of the invoice, you could quickly retrieve a copy if a customer calls with questions, allowing you to answer their question in a single phone call or you easily resend a copy of the invoice. A different solution is a collection management system that notifies management each business day of customers who are past due and provides information needed to make collection phone calls and follow-up notes.
The examples in this article have each been successfully implemented by local companies. The solutions have allowed these companies to remain competitive providing their products faster, reducing cost and increasing customer service.
To get started using technology to a competitive advantage, start by asking the following questions:
- Which areas of my business can I streamline? This question might involve you tracing the flow of a customer order through your existing system from the time the customer places the order to the time that the order ships.
- Does the proposed new technology support my business objectives? This question might involve you reexamining what your key business objectives are.
- What is the financial payback period for the proposed solution? What are the cost savings with the new solution and what is the total cost for the new solution. Be sure you know all of the costs software, hardware, training and consulting services.
- What are the intangible benefits of the proposed solution? Will I increase the level of customer satisfaction which will lead to additional business?
- What features of my existing software am I not utilizing? Often companies have the capabilities but are not aware that they do.
By examining your existing environment and your business objective you too can make successful decisions regarding implementing technology to a competitive advantage.
Gregory D. Harrand, MBA provides a broad range of IT services to industries throughout northern Michigan including manufacturing, automotive, distribution, oil and gas, professional offices, agriculture, small business and retail. Greg’s expertise spans a 30-year career in the information technology field, with positions for large manufacturers in Chicago and Traverse City prior to joining Dennis, Gartland & Niergarth in 1998. He holds certifications in Sage 100 ERP and Microsoft Dynamics GP systems.