07/06/2011

By Bryan Richter, UK Country Manager at Mamut

'Firms can adopt a one-stop-shop approach to technology that will benefit their businesses', says Bryan Richter.

The invention of the wheel, the discovery of gunpowder, the designing of the printing press, the formation of the internet - for thousands of years we have reaped the benefits of technology in a myriad of forms. Today we are inundated with a proliferation of devices, applications and widgets. And therein lies the problem for businesses - an abundance of choice, and those who have to make the choice remain confused over what to buy, who to source it from and the best way to install it.

It takes time to buy, implement and successfully use technology. This is a particular problem for small to medium-sized enterprises that are not dedicated IT practitioners and need answers and quick-to-use solutions that can save them time. As a result they may not have the luxury of strategically planning their company's IT beyond immediate requirements on a day-to-day basis.

The value of technology

Technology is increasingly the spine that runs through every business. It provides a wealth of benefits for SMEs (Small and medium enterprises): improved productivity and efficiency as well as enabling flexible and responsive customer service. Most importantly, it can deliver a positive impact on a business' bottom line. But to achieve these things it has to be implemented, planned and delivered in a smart way for the company to experience benefits. If not introduced properly or deployed in the wrong scenario, technology can cause real headaches to a business. A small company can easily select a suite of technologies that are ill-suited for the intended activity or not fit for purpose. This can prove costly, time-consuming and a firm can lose clients and revenue.

Where SMEs struggle: The e-commerce battle ground

There are several areas that often cause small firms problems on their technology journey, but e-commerce has proven to be an especially challenging environment. Customers have been conditioned by their experiences with cutting-edge retailers like Amazon. As a result they are used to e-commerce retailers being able to provide a single, up to date view of the customer in real-time.

However, integrating separate IT systems so that they can provide an up to date online real-time view of the customer's status is easier said than done. Effective e-commerce and customer service is not viable if a company cannot track fundamental data, such as customer orders and payment processing. Many SMEs use multiple software solutions across their sales, e-commerce and back room warehouse functions. If the various pieces of software are unable to communicate freely with each other, effective e-commerce remains a pipe dream for small businesses. However, it can be expensive, time consuming and sometimes impossible to piece software together in this fashion.

The solution to this dilemma is the one-stop-shop model of software. This approach marries customer data, employee data and billing data into an integrated system, drawing together information from across the business. It ensures consistency of information, a single view of each customer in real-time as well as quick and easy access for staff using the software. Once front and back ends of web sales are aligned, a company can begin to generate accurate business insights about the interplay between its product portfolio and its customers' purchasing habits.

One small business that has benefited from the one-stop-shop approach is OsteoTech. As a growing business, OsteoTech wanted a customer relationship management (CRM) solution to support their expanding customer database and provide an accurate overview of their customer data.

OsteoTech considered keeping their original accounting software and purchasing a bolt-on CRM module. However, after extensive researching and testing a host of possible solutions, they discovered most CRM programs were not compatible with their existing accounting package despite it being a well-known name. OsteoTech decided to address the issue by adopting Mamut One to integrate its sales processes across the company.

"We have a status page on Mamut which has everything at your fingertips, which is absolutely crucial to our business," says Jayne King, the company's Internal Operations Manager. "It tells me what our best selling product is and who our biggest customer is. We can see what our cash flow position is and what our back order situation is. You can actually see the gross profit margin for all of our products as individuals or as a group. It is just so simple."

Smart approaches to IT

Businesses can keep data consistent across all areas - customer service, e-commerce, payroll and accounting - by adopting a one-stop-shop solution. This ensures that a company does not have to pay for an IT specialist to perform expensive integration or configuration downtime. To ensure the solution is able to scale with business requirements the solution should include customer relationship management (CRM), business intelligence (BI), accounts and payroll as well as e-commerce functionality.

Business intelligence is particularly useful for managers. Through a dashboard interface they can view a real-time snapshot of the company's financial position and its revenue streams. BI can also alert a manager to any discrepancies within the system and highlight accounting anomalies, enabling a manager and their accountant to proactively troubleshoot issues before they occur.

Automation is another area to look for in a system. Through automated processes a company can boost productivity, agility and competitive advantage. By taking away the need for manual intervention it enables staff to focus their efforts on adding value, rather than on laborious data entry.

Which model is best for a business depends on specific requirements. Before deciding, managers should grill the potential supplier on their service level guarantees and check that they have a back-up solution should internet connection be disrupted.

For more information and advice for small business please visit www.mamut.co.uk


Watch the video below featuring Gill Le Fevre, IW Online Services Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft UK, explaining how Office 365 addresses the challenges that small businesses face.

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