By Rob Davis, Head of Technology, Sage UK and Ireland’s Small & Medium Business Segment

Small business owners pride themselves on knowing their industry inside out. Knowledge and insight are the key ingredients of effective business decision-making, in any industry, at any level. But how do you compete in a market where you’re up against large, resource-rich competitors with the same levels of insight?

By becoming agile.

The ability to respond quickly to any business opportunity is key, and those companies that aren’t able to move fast could miss out on chances that could have a significant impact on the bottom line.

Smaller organisations have the advantage here, as they’re more readily able to out-manoeuvre their larger rivals. However, this agility is underpinned by having access to the right information at the right time, and this means unifying and updating your IT so that it works in harmony.

Pockets of insight

Having added new software and systems as and when the need arises, growing firms often have several different products looking after various aspects of a business – dedicated pieces of software that provide insight into specific areas. While these tools may well be useful, as the business continues to grow you’ll find that you’re creating separate pockets of information. There will be siloes in different areas of your business, each containing useful insight, and you may even be entering the same information in more than one place. It’s an unnecessary waste of time and resources.

Some companies talk about Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), others refer to integrated business management - what they mean is unifying and simplifying your IT so it works to your advantage. As a business grows, the complexity and number of systems in place as well as the volume of data involved, will only increase. Investing in the right system early on means that your business will have a ‘backbone’, optimising processes and ensuring your business remains agile as you grow.

The benefits for small and growing businesses:

• Conserving resources – with one system unifying your entire business lifecycle and automating complex business processes, your staff won’t need to spend as much time entering information or matching up insights from different systems. This then means that they’re able to spend their time on more impactful, revenue-generating activity
• Deeper insight, quicker – as your business information now lives within one system, you and your staff will be able to more readily identify trends in areas such as customer purchasing cycles. Using this insight you’ll then be able to proactively adapt your business strategy to make it as effective as possible
• Better customer service – straightforward insight into client information will allow your sales team to provide better service to existing and potential customers. If you’ve invested in mobile devices and the right ERP solution, then they’ll be able to do this remotely and immediately if needed
• Growing data – having an ERP system in place means that you are able to easily assimilate more and more data into your planning, ensuring you have deep insight into your business’s health as it grows.

Underpinning company operations, a unified IT system such as an ERP solution can manage everything from employee expenses all the way through to sales records. Having one in place from the beginning means that you’re able to take advantage of its benefits immediately and build a business that remains agile and insight-driven.

So for small and growing businesses starting to scale, it’s worth finding a business partner who can give your business a heath check and helping guide you through the process of making your business IT backbone strong enough to sustain your next round of growth.