Kids are heading back to school and uni, so a huge array of “back to school” specials are everywhere. If you have kids, you have no doubt outfitted them everything from shoes and uniforms to IPads or tablets. But what about your business? Are sales tempting you to buy? If you ask yourself the right questions before you shop, you are much more likely to make the right choice. And now, the top question to ask.
Does it solve a problem for me?
Being tempted by the latest shiny new thing is very understandable but you won’t find it helpful in your business unless you know how you are going to use what it does. I’m lucky being in IT because I can sometimes get around this by claiming I need to research and understand a new thing. Before you buy something for your business, know how it will work in your business. Think as if you were interviewing an employee. Will this electronic “staff member” be a good fit?
A final tip, if you aren’t sure, ask an independent expert. We can help if you need advice.
We have covered the broad topics that occupy corporate and government IT departments and shown what small business can learn from them. In a netshell, small business can be more agile than a large organisation but also needs to be more wary of costs. We have less support and backup but more ability to make quick decisions.
Now we would like to hear from you. How do you deal with technology? Do you outsource>
Are there things you feel you need help with and what would make it easier for you?
Many government departments created IT project offices, which existed to help non IT business units within the department in IT projects. A small business wouldn’t be able to justify the large investment in such an office but if you don’t plan your technology projects, your life can be like the storytelling game in the picture above, where you don’t know what will pop up!
Some tips for a suceess with a technology upgrade, big or small
– plan , plan , plan ! Know exactly what you want to achieve and how you will do it. Discuss it with your suppliers and know how they plan to achieve it.
– write you plan down to make sure everyone is on the same page. You don’t always need complex, specialist software to do this. Just have a plan and write it down.
– make sure your agreements with your suppliers are clear and everyone stays on time. Replan if a delay can’t be avoided.
– know if you need help and seek it. Like trying to manage a building project as an owner builder, managing an IT project, especially a large and complex one, is not for everyone. We can help if this is the case.
I have talked about business process improvement before, so I’ll be brief here. Large organisations may chose to have a huge effort to document and improve business processes, and hire (expensive) consultants. You don’t need to do this unless you have a large or complex business but you do need to
– clearly understand what you do and why
– have it documented clearly
Think about outsourcing or holidays? What would a manager need to know to fill in for you if you were to be away for a while? Can you productize something so well that you can expand by franchising? The secret to the large multinational franchase chains is detailed and comprehensive documentation. Love McDonalds or hate them, it is clear that they do the same thing, the same way in most countries of the world.
Diagrams can help you document things but they are not essential. If you ever drew flow charts at school, you might find they do help. Similarly, complex measurements can be taken to understand if a process is working well. However if you are hands-on running a small business, you most likely already know what is and isn’t working well for you. Just take time to think about how to change what isn’t. Do you spend time searching for information? Do your staff have to enter the same thing twice? Is technology being clunky and holding you back?
If you want a hand with diagrams or any other other aspect of process improvement, drop us a line. Technology issues holding you back? We can help with that too.
Government departments have reams of rules and regulations about purchasing, as controls need to cover the probity of the purchasing process as well as ensuring value for money. For a small business, the rules don’t have to be the same. For us, dealing with suppliers we have a great professional relationship with and trust can be a saver of time, money and sanity. We are not responsible to the taxpayer – so we can be more agile and have less red tape – , only to ourselves and our business partners if any. So our purchasing policy can be simpler. However, it pays to obtain more than one quote for a big project and to have independent advice if you feel out of your depth or it is a huge project. For us, purchasing rules are more around what we allow staff and virtual assistants to do. Do you have a special debit card for them? What should the limit be on it (I would recommend a low one?)
The most important hint for purchasing is to make sure you understand and are comfortable with the choices you make and you understand how the technology will work in your business.
If you are a small or solo business, you might think this is not for you. However, if you ever hire staff or even outsource tasks to a vertical assistant, having ” the way you always do it” documented can save time and hassles. What happens when you have an unexpected peak in workload and want to outsource quickly? Or what if you are ill?
If you are a small business, you don’t have to act as if you are a government department and document every aspect immediately . Start with the things you are most likely to want an employee or virtual assistant to do. For many of us, a staff member would not make IT purchases but may do social media posts on your behalf.
A social media policy might be a good place to start. What platforms do you use? What rules do you want to follow? I would strongly recommend one saying you abide by the law of the country in which you are based, including protecting client privacy and saying you treat all people with respect. Reserve the right to delete public comments that do not comply and then if some person comments on your post advocating violence or hate or publishing illegal material, you are well within your rights to delete their content. What about confidentiality within your business? What do you want to share and what is ” commercial in confidence” ? Can you think of anything else you would tell a virtual assistant or new staff member if they were looking after your social media? What are you going to allow to do what?
If you have answered these questions, you have a social media policy! Congratulations! What other aspects of your business would it be helpful to document?
In this series, we will show you some of the things the big end of town do. Their practices and procedures are not always fitted for small business, but there is a lot you can learn. each week, we will look at a feature of large corporate and government IT departments and how it applies to small business. If you have ever wished you had a corporate IT department, read on. It may turn out you can have most of the benefits, with only a fraction of the costs.
The things that the big end of town do, which can be adapted to any business include strategic planning, business continuity planning, standards and procedures including security and social media policy, purchasing guideline and standards , business process improvement and rigorous project management. Sometimes these are collected under the umbrella of Organisational or technology architecture. In future posts we will discuss each of these areas.
In business and the rest of our lives, we sometimes need to step outside our comfort zone. Sometimes, people tell you that you can’t do something because you haven’t got the right training or experience, or it will never make money and so on. Has anyone ever told you you were a fish out of water? Or you told yourself that? Well, there’s a fish in tropical Northern Australia who can walk and breathe on land. He’s called a mudskipper. His secret – special breathing apparatus built in and keeping himself moist. The moral of his story – step outside your comfort zone but look after yourself and make sure you prepare as well as you can. Remember, it is ok to take a break. The mudskipper goes into a cool and wet or muddy place from time to time. Thanks to Amazing Animals for the video. This weird fish is especially close to my heart because I kept fish as a child, including medskipper’s slightly less extreme cousins, blennies and gobies. But that’s another story. ..
In information technology research, there is a field called “interoperability”. Its all about making databases, devices and organisations that are different able to communicate and exchange information effectively. There are standards (e.g XML, Meta-Object-Facility), programming languages and techniques, translations tables and so on.
But none of this can help unless you have an understanding of who you need to communicate with and how they want to receive the information. It’s not much use sending a MMS message to a technophobic client with an old fashioned phone that can’t open it. It’s worth thinking about how your business could communicate better and what technology could help in doing this. Sometimes a simple solution like an email or SMS message can be the answer. Also, do you have multiple devices and have trouble with them working together? If so, it is worth thinking how you would like them to work and then looking at how it can be done. We have technologies that can help but they help best when you know the business aim you want to achieve.
Do you feel as if your business technology is not quite as effective as it should be? Want to streamline things?
1) Know your processes and how the serve you
Write down what you do as if you were writing instructions for a new employee. Draw flow charts or pictures if you want. Now, think about what you would like to do better. Does anything take too long? Do you want anything to change? Use this information as a basis for deciding if a new technology purchase will help or if something else should be done. If there is a problem area for you, start there. You don’t have to do it all at once.
2) Explore the hidden talents of your devices
Consider any “gaps” you identified above that you feel technology can help to close. Do you know if your existing devices can fill those gaps?
Smart phones can run a huge variety of apps and it is quite probably that your phone can do much more than you think. A number of very useful apps for business are free or low cost. It is worth investing some time in browsing around the app store to see if you want to give something new a try. Can you use less devices if you have some of them doing more?
3) Know the settings
Also, know the settings on your devices and how to customise them as you wish. Sometimes a simple change can make a big difference, An IPad which persistently showed a time ten minutes fast was a perfect example. This was fixed by changing a setting to set the time automatically from the cellular network and the IPad now keeps perfect time. Consider using YouTube for free tutorials on aspects of your device and asking a friend if you have questions. Web sites such as www.whirlpool.net.au are also a valuable source of information but look for the independent user run sites where possible. Be wary of web sites with disguised sales pitches.
4) Get them talking together
Consider using cloud storage to enable you to access information from all your devices and all your locations. Make sure you password protect anything highly confidential and keep a local copy of anything important.
5) Build resilience in
Know the risks to your business and try to mitigate them as you go along. Design your processes and solutions so that they adapt to the likely situations which could interfere with your business. Some examples include a local supermarket with a generator in case of power interruption and a flood-prone cafe designed in a modular way so it can all be packed up, taken away and then brought back after a flood. Technology related examples including having a battery based charging dock or external battery for your phone.
6) Build security in
Keep your devices up to date. Make sure you have them set up to receive the regular security updates that most suppliers release and if you have security software, keep it up to date as well. Make sure your access point to the internet is secure – if you use wi-fi, set it up with a password.
7) Take advantage of the features of software
If there are things you want to do that are talking up a lot of time, it is worth checking if software and make them easier. For example, if you don’t like having to monitor two email accounts, you can usually forward one to the other. Be aware that your replies will come from the main account.
8) Keep up to date
Technology is ever changing. Check up on the latest developments in case something has changed that significantly benefits you. If you don’t have time to do this, keep in contact with some geeks or school age children, who spend ages researching this stuff
9) Know what you want
Don’t allow a store or provider to upsell you to something you don’t want and need keep things simple and always choose the simplest solution that meets your needs. However, this is not always the cheapest solutions as you may have a need for future proofing, which justifies a little extra effort and expense at the beginning.
10) Don’t be afraid to seek help.
If something is worrying you, discuss it with your friends or a trusted IT professional. If possible, make sure that he or she is independent, not acting on behalf of a vendor or solution provider. Don’t rely exclusively on advice from stores or vendor web sites.
Post a message on this site or find us on Facebook if there is anything you want to know, big or small. Check back later if you want to know more, as we regularly post tips and hints.