August 21, 2017

Your Ever-Expanding Information System

Running your own business comes with all sorts of challenges. One problem I end up spending a lot of my consulting time on is creating, defining, and controlling the information flow in a business. The challenge we all face is picking the right tools for the task, implementing them correctly, training the team to use them appropriately, and then sticking to tools sufficiently long enough for the tool to be effective.

Additionally, information systems are often thrown into a mix when a need is identified. Tools are pieced together in a hodgepodge soup of technology which results in a cluttered mess.

Disorganization kills productivity. Using the wrong tools in a disorganized mess doubly so. Finding the perfect tool for the job is also an incomprehensibly difficult task. However, creating an ideal solution is possible, as long as you’re prepared to put in some work.

Define Your Needs

The first step is to identify all your technology needs. I mean all of them. Write out your list of items you believe needs to be resolved by some automated feature. Here is an example list:

  • Bank Reconciliations
  • Check writing
  • Invoicing
  • Payroll
  • Online Advertisements
  • Social Media Posting
  • Blog Writing
  • Tracking employee hours
  • Point of Sale
  • Online Store
  • Tracking customer information
  • Tracking customer buying behavior
  • etc.

Write it all out. Just keep going until you feel you have covered all possible technology needs.

Identify Potential Solutions

In order for your business to keep pace with the ever changing world, you will want to make sure you outline some criteria for your technology solutions:

  1. The software is cloud-based
  2. The software is affordable
  3. The software has wide-adoption and good reviews
  4. The software plays well with other solutions

This is where it starts to really get tricky. In some instances, your use-case might not have affordable, well used, integrated, cloud based software available… but you need to look for the software anyway. Additionally, you may need to look a bit outside your intended use case to find a solution which would work with a bit of tweaking or manipulation. Remember, no single solution exists for your business. I have dozens of companies in the same industry, with a similar process, similar product/service, and yet the technology stack wouldn’t work for both companies exactly the same. Different workflows and solutions were needed.

You will also need to pick your priorities. Is it more important to have a Customer Management Solution integrated into your Email System or is it more important to have your Customer Management Solution integrated into your Accounting System?

I would suggest diagramming your solution as you go and using arrows for how all the software is supposed to connect.

Implement Your Solution

You will need to rip off the bandage with reliance to your old system. Attempting to use both the old system and the new system will result in duplicate work, your employees will hate the new system (regardless of the problems it solves), and they will be reluctant to switch. Don’t give anyone (including yourself) the option to keep using the old system. Switch it off, lock it up, and throw away the key. You will need to trust yourself and your team to overcome any problems which arise (there will always be problems), by finding solutions to the shortcomings of the new solution. Remember the reasons why you picked the solution in the first place. It will save you time, save your money, and improve your business. If you imagine there is no turning back, you will save yourself a mountain of troubles and headache. Trust me on this.

Stick to the Solution.

I’ve seen multiple softwares implemented within short succession. The problem with switching rapidly between systems is time, cost, and training. Your employees will not have the time to get good at using the new software. Additionally, you’ll end up spending a large amount of money by making that switch. Remember time is money. No single solution will have it all. You’ll need to create workflows to match your needs and maybe even a few “bubblegum and sticky tape” solutions to fill the gaps.

Provide Feedback to the Provider

Often getting what you need is as simple as asking for it. Most technology companies listen to the feedback they are provided. They may not all be able to react quickly to the feedback and implement your needed solution on a short schedule, however, they usually try make an effort to improve. If you have picked a solution that doesn’t have every one of the 4 points listed above — you may have picked wrong. Technology will continue to improve and adapt to the changing market place. Make sure you’re part of the squeaky wheel getting greased.

Work with Someone who Knows

Lastly, if this is way over your head, too time intensive, or too distracting from your laser focus of growing your revenue streams, then work with people who know what you need and have done it all before. I love doing this stuff at ProvenCFO and always welcome a challenge. What are some of the missing pieces in your technology stack?