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Technology – the key to SME improvement

Dear <<First Name>>,

Business owners don’t sit still.  They’re always looking for ways to improve their business.  Having researched SMEs for the past 24 years, we’re of the view that they are more open to using technology to improve their business now than they have ever been before. 

Going back a decade, many business owners felt intimidated by developments in technology.  They had been accustomed to doing things a certain way and felt uncomfortable changing this.  But their attitude has shifted – they now see technology as an enabler – a way to make their business more efficient … provide a better customer experience … and ultimately, reduce their costs.

Underpinning this technological change is greater use of mobility … and the cloud.  These have been steam-roller trends in the SME arena.  Take cloud for example – for those operating larger SMEs, it provides them with the efficiency benefits they seek.  For those running smaller businesses, it facilitates greater work/life balance and control – the two key drivers of their behaviour. 

“Reliability and certainty are the reasons for doing cloud.  But there are other benefits too – like now you can be working from anywhere.  So our guys will go out on the road and if they’re not busy they can be processing some work on their laptop whereas before none of that was possible … But cloud’s the way to go.  And it works.  It’s actually a lot safer than managing the hardware in our office which is the old system and structure.  Now you’ve got professionals to do it for you who guarantee that it will be working.  It increases certainty – that’s the biggest benefit.” (Salary Packaging, 50 FTEs)
“The cloud’s fantastic, it’s beneficial on every level.  The old server days are gone and that’s fantastic, it saves space, it’s better for cash flow, it’s more nimble.” (Physio, 40 FTEs)  
“My office is remote.  I could be anywhere and be able to work.  I’ve got access to my online library anywhere in the world whenever I want.  My documents – precedents – are available anytime anywhere.  And if I’m not near my normal computer, I can access Dropbox on my iPhone.” (Barrister, Sole Trader)
“The big thing is e-records, which just goes from strength to strength.  So of the three hospitals where I consult, Box Hill and Western are both e-records and I can access the records from anywhere – within the hospital, from my car, from home, anywhere … And with digitisation of radiology and now pathology, it just means that I can almost consult from anywhere.  It’s an incredible change.” (Surgeon, 1 FTE)  
“When we were first setting up the business, we did research around what’s available in the market, what are our different options.  Quite a few people were pointing us in the cloud direction, saying this is the future, this is the way.  Flexibility was really important because we all have young children, we all wanted everyone to be able to work anywhere so we definitely wanted to go down the Mac route … and also cost – we didn’t have to invest in any big systems, we could just pay licensing fees for everything that we signed up for and with the intention that if we didn’t like it, we could change it.  So through all that research, cloud was clearly the path to go down.  And it’s worked!”  (Recruitment, 16 FTEs)
In line with greater use of the cloud, SMEs are forever taking up particular software or apps that apply to their business …
“Xero is like a breath of fresh air.  It’s intuitive, it integrates, it’s always doing deals with relevant third parties, it’s transformed how we operate.  Even just bank reconciliations where we simply have to click a button, rather than manually tracking each transaction.  Sensational.” (Travel guide publishing, 8 FTEs)
“We’ve got a few mobile forms and they’re fantastic … One of them is computerised timesheets, and the other is a safety check app … So in the old days, every day every guy onsite would have to sign in on paper, we’d have the daily toolbox meeting and agree all the safety issues onsite, the guys would have to sign to say they understand, and we’d have to keep that paper – every day … Now that’s all computerised … They do it onsite, the guys sign the tablet or whatever, they hit send and comes to us and is stored in the cloud … In fact there’s a program called JCA – Job Cost Analysis – and that incorporates all the time sheets, costings, everything, so they hit send, it comes back to the office, all the costs for that job are immediately inputted, all the times, all the labour, all the safety checks and it updates the costings immediately.  It is sensational.” (Construction, 9 FTEs)
“We use Trello for all pending jobs – all the Gen Ys love Trello, they all use it – it’s simple and visual and intuitive.  We used to use excel and keep it on Dropbox but sometimes there would be three people working on the one file and you’d see a new file pop up when you’re working on the old one! … So instead of excel we use Google Sheets which you can all use at the same time in real time – that’s what we use for the tracking sheet for each job – it’s like your classic excel except it’s in real time.” (Workplace Health Partnership, 2 FTEs)  
Clearly SMEs see technology as a way to streamline work processes thereby generating significant benefits that impact directly on their bottom line …
“We’ve basically computerised all of our maintenance.  We’re scheduling it properly, proactively.  In the past if it broke down you’d fix it.  Now electronically we have lists of every part that goes into the processing plant and every piece of equipment, when it’s been changed, when its effective life should be up, you bring it back three months, put in a flag and this part needs to be changed!  And everything is changed proactively rather than reactively.  And where that has a massive effect is in downtime and productivity.  It’s huge.  To give you an example, we used to run at 50% down-time on the plant – because there was so much reactive maintenance going on. We’ve bought that back to 25% in 2 years and we should sit at around 10%.  That’s the difference between running two shifts and one shift.  It’s massive.” (Quarries, 90 FTEs)
“We’re evolving to a more seamless interface so you can cut out redundant data-entry stuff.  That reduces head-count, reduces office-space needs, you can send it overseas if you want, you can send it interstate, so it’s more about the automation of it.  And it also then allows a more flexible environment, the hot-desking environment.” (Property Funds Management, 6 FTEs)
Business owners are no longer intimidated by technological change.  They embrace it.  They realise it is the means by which they can run their business better – which in the case of larger SMEs is taken to mean operating more efficiently, more productively and with higher quality – and in the case of smaller SMEs is seen as meaning greater control and better work/life balance.  But all see technology as a way to improve the customer experience and to reduce their costs.  And given the high level of pressure on costs – and the firepower that will be available via the NBN – technological change will continue to be embraced by SME business owners.  
Next month : The pain of growth – transitioning from a small to a mid-market business.
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