Like many business owners, you probably spend a lot of time looking to attract more customers and gain momentum over the competition. Your obsession is to win new customers and keep them. Your technology plays an essential role in this, helping you deliver best-in-class products, services and customer experience.
Using technology effectively is one of the best ways to generate the competitive advantage you seek. But constant technology innovations make it difficult to identify the best solutions to adopt. That why it’s important to have a plan for assessing your business’s technology and enhancing it to achieve priority business goals. This will help you stand out from the competition, and grow your business.
Technology can be a double-edged sword, and many small businesses face challenges in getting the full benefit. Quite often businesses are merely happy so long as the technology is up and running and not causing headaches. That’s understandable, and if that sounds like your business you’re not alone. But it doesn’t have to be this way, your technology should be working for your business. If you haven’t reviewed where you’re at, now is a good time to up the ante, because SMBs locally and globally are making massive increases in IT spending in the next several years. You need to keep up to protect your business. The move to enhance customer experience through technology will add extra competitive pressures in the SMB sector. If you move now you can get ahead of the curve.
Where to start? Like anything, it starts with a structured technology plan (just like you have a finance plan and a marketing plan) to identify goals, priorities and timelines. You can kick-start this process with a technology audit, reviewing all aspects of your technology and highlighting what is up to scratch as well as what is outmoded or uncompetitive and requires urgent action.
Why bother with a technology audit?
When you are so focused on your business you are often not aware of obsolete technology.
The technology audit gives you a starting point to review, build from and execute your business’s technology plan. It gets into the detail of what you have now and what you need to implement to get to where you want to be with your business.
Following the audit, as you start to implement components of the plan, you can realise direct business benefits such as:
- improved customer experience from technologies like mobile apps, e-signature and e-invoicing
- increased productivity and teamwork through collaboration tools and shared data
- more efficient processes, allowing you more time to focus on your people and customers
- strengthened security protecting your business and customer data
- improved employee experience, a happy team is a productive team
- reduced technology costs from migrating to more modern and more cost-effective cloud and internet services.
Looking at the bigger picture, the audit will help you build a modern, responsive technology platform that’s adaptable in the face of changing business conditions. As we’ve seen with COVID-19 over the past months, robust and adaptable technology is key in reacting to unforeseen events and reshaping the way businesses work. Beyond this, it shows your customers that you are dedicated to providing long-term value.
How often should you audit?
Given the pace of change in the technology sector, it’s wise to review where you are at with your technology platform against what is now in market every 2 or 3 years, and refresh where necessary. If you don’t have the resources to follow a 2 to 3-year cycle that’s OK – but at least do the audit once. Given the frantic rate of change in technology over the past few years the time to act is now.
Regular technology assessments help you stay competitive. If you have the right tech partner, they stay on top of it for you. They help ensure you have the best digital services for your customer experience, the most cost-effective cloud services and internet infrastructure, and effective collaboration apps to support customer and employee experience.
A 2 or 3-year assessment cycle may appear ambitious, but it is important to regularly take stock of your technology and benchmark it against competitors and what is new with respect to technology products coming onto the market. A lot can change over the course of a couple of years, and a technology platform that was state-of-the-art when purchased can quickly become outmoded and uncompetitive.
Factors affecting your technology’s competitive impact are now beyond just hardware. Services and solutions play a far bigger role, with cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and subscriptions now the norm. Increasing security threats, viruses, industry compliance, data management and privacy are all areas that must be managed and regularly addressed as part of your technology platform.
At the same time, changes in your specific market, the heightened customer expectations digital has created, regulatory changes, sharper competition, and shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic add pressure on your technology platform. Pressure, you must react to by auditing, enhancing and refreshing your technology.
So what’s involved in a technology audit?
It all starts with your business goals. The audit is about reviewing your goals and the processes and technologies that help achieve them. It’s a structured approach to understanding your business, your current technology, identifying pain points and gaps. This sets a starting point for building and executing your technology plan.
The scope of the audit may vary according to your needs. You may decide to audit your entire technology platform, or just focus on specific aspects, such as whether your communications system has the right balance between on-premises technology and cloud-based tech, or whether your IT security is up to scratch. But irrespective of the scope, the process and goals are the same.
An essential goal of the audit, as agreed in the scope, is to review and document the technology components you use in your business, including software, hardware, configuration settings, email, data policies, internet, telephone and communications, operating systems, cloud based vs local and more. You can then assess the components according to their impact on your business processes, which apps support the selling process, customer service process and the value they provide to your business.
Following that, those conducting the audit have a look at the technology market to understand what the most modern and effective alternatives are, and the potential benefits and costs if you deployed these alternatives. If requested they will research major competitors and explore which technology they use, as well as the business impact your decisions will have as your review the components and prioritise for a refresh.
Consider expert advice to help you move faster
If you have technology and consulting skills in your business you may be able to handle the audit in-house, but many small businesses typically don’t have such skills to spare. That’s when it makes sense to engage an expert service provider to manage the audit, working in conjunction with you and your team. The service provider will provide the process, methodology and experience to ensure the audit is comprehensive and objective. You can also work with the provider to prioritise enhancements according to potential impact on business results.
The type of provider you select is also important. Ideally, a partner that can be with you from the start, stay with you, execute any required technology changes and work with you as your business grows. As a small business owner, time is a commodity that you cannot spare. Having a long-term technology partner just a phone call away saves you time and money.
Which questions should your technology audit address?
At the very least it should focus on these broad themes:
- does it adequately protect your business and your customers’ data?
- is it agile and responsive, and capable of adapting to shocks like COVID-19?
- is it at minimum as good as your competitors’?
- is your technology at least as good – if not better – than industry best practise?
- are you getting sufficient return on investment (ROI) and benefit from your technology investments?
The answers to these questions will help you focus on your priority technology refresh actions.
The bottom line – insight and action
Time and cash constraints may mean you can’t refresh all your priority tech components at once, but you can make a start on the highest priorities and stay competitive. After the technology audit you’ll know whether your business’s technology is up to the job – and which actions you must prioritise to keep growing your business and gain advantage over the competition. If you cannot manage this in-house, engage a single source technology partner to work with you and ensure your audit outcomes are actioned both against budget and need.
The tsunami of SMB IT investments predicted over the next few years – “US$93 Billion by the year 2027” in APAC alone – indicates an increasingly tough battle to win and keep customers. Competitors will wield technology to keep improving customer experience. SMBs that take action on technology now can get ahead and stay ahead of the pack.
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