Organisations that have survived the past three years have done so by cutting operational costs to the bone. But as it becomes clear that business is now operating in a new economic world, not just surviving a short term downturn, it is essential to accept that business practices are changing fast. Wholesale replacement of core technologies is still not an option. So how can companies implement new business practices and improve operations within the existing technology framework? By making the most of (and in some instances customising) existing systems organisations can achieve better control over purchasing, implement customer facing web applications and transform payment and credit control processes. As Tim Nolan, CEO of Nolan Business Solutions, explains, companies cannot wait for an upturn; future business success now depends upon squeezing additional value from existing systems through custom development and support.
For the past three years organisations have taken extraordinary lengths to drive down costs, sweat the assets and minimise any unnecessary IT expenditure. But as the economy continues to make new customer acquisitions tough and place ever greater pressure on margins, organisations simply cannot persist with the status quo. It is apparent that this is no longer a blip but the new economic reality and organisations need to respond, fast. Throughout this time technology has continued to evolve despite a downturn in investment. Web based technologies have transformed the ease with which organisations can interact with both customers and staff; while processes that may appear to work as effectively as they have always done are now inherently out of date – such as any paper based payment process, customer quotations and anarchic purchasing. Yet many organisations appear completely unaware of the changes that have occurred in standard business practice. With individuals unwilling to change jobs in this economy, too many companies are starved of the new impetus, experience and input that fresh talent should deliver. And with the vast majority understandably unwilling to embark upon any major IT project – such as a new finance or ERP solution – the result is endemic inertia, and a slowly devaluing business model.
In many ways the introspection of the past few years has delivered benefits. With a lack of value from new sales initiatives, organisations have been forced to look at core operational processes. Yet far too many are still hanging on to outdated processes, arguing that any change to a proven process will simply result in business disruption. There is no excuse or justification in 2011 to be manually paying suppliers. Producing paper based cheques and remittance advice is time consuming and administratively intensive, taking two days every month for a job that takes just two hours if handled electronically. And, in a world of joined up supply chains and close collaboration, this model undermines business relationships. Adopting electronic processes for both payment – via BACS – and remittance is simple, quick and highly effective. Critically, it can be achieved very quickly. Nor should businesses waste days manually creating customer quotations, sharing information on projects or painstakingly managing stock. There are so many better ways of handling these processes, adding new tools and techniques to the existing systems to drive significant improvements.
So why are organisations persisting with expensive, dated and frankly uncompetitive practices? Misconception is a big issue. Understandably, organisations do not want to invest in new, expensive technologies that need complex, business disrupting investment. But in today’s marketplace there is no need. Companies do not have to buy an all singing all dancing warehouse solution, for example; the existing solution can be customised with a barcode add on to do the job quickly and effectively. There is now a clear opportunity to leverage the raft of add on tools now available to deliver incremental value with minimal expense and within a short time frame. Purchasing can be transformed using cost effective requisition tools; many finance solutions include credit control tools that organisations have simply failed to implement; while web based CRM tools enable companies to transform sales processes through better contact management, reporting and customer interaction and through the provision of real time insight into order status or project progress, sharing project plans or financial transactions. There has also been an evolution in web based purchasing, with service based organisations increasingly looking at driving down the cost associated with telephone based bookings for courses, for example, by offering online bookings. These projects have huge appeal because they enable an organisation to leverage the existing investment in core software through effective customisation. Project scope and objectives are clearly defined and typically delivered within three or four months and can offer a return on investment (ROI) within 12 to 24 months and sometimes less.
It may still not be time to embark upon a wholesale replacement of big finance or ERP systems – unless there is an overarching change in corporate strategy. But nor is there a need to invest in additional stand alone solutions and hope to successfully achieve business integration. There are many ways that existing systems - and processes – can be customised, enhanced and improved to derive significant value. It is those organisations that look to exploit new web tools, improve integration and extend core functionality to streamline processes that will steal a march on competitors still hanging on for an upturn. By squeezing additional value from existing investment organisations can generate new business, cut operating costs and build momentum in a slowly improving marketplace.