Access and share data quickly, and become more agile in strategic ways, with these business tools.
The business environment keeps changing, but technology can help businesses keep up by streamlining procedures, supporting new ways of working, providing important information more quickly and freeing up time to deal with the things that really matter.
Small and mid-sized businesses should be agile as they don't have the layers of bureaucracy that can hobble large organisations, and technology can make the most of agility.
It's significant that recent research from Commonwealth Bank reveals small businesses that are early adopters of technology are the most likely to expect revenue growth.
“What we're seeing is a shift in certain attitudes and behaviours around technology investment – particularly in mobile and cloud technology – and planning across the board,” said Commonwealth Bank general manager for small business Karen Last.
While those early adopters are more likely to invest in mobile technologies and sales and marketing software than their peers, it seems wise to look for additional ways that technology can accelerate everyday tasks to leave more time for developing and executing growth strategies.
Note that we’re not talking about the new style of agile project management, which we’ve covered in a previous feature. Here we’re looking at some of the tools that can help the business, as a whole, become more agile – starting with apps to help you access and share information quickly and efficiently.
In years gone by, companies would have to wait to get information that they really needed in real time – that could be marketing metrics such as customer engagement, or financial information like sales forecasts.
Now, business intelligence data visualisation platforms such as Tableau allow that critical yet previously retrospective information to be gathered, interpreted and acted upon in a matter of minutes – an important step in enabling the business to become more agile.
In addition, Tableau can be connected to Xero, QuickBooks and other applications via CData.
“As businesses strive to embrace data-driven decision-making, it's become more important than ever to ensure that data is accurate and up-to-date,” said Tableau Software's global market intelligence manager Dustin Smith.
“By creating data-driven alerts, Tableau users receive instant notifications when the metrics on certain data points reach pre-set limits. These automatic alerts ensure users never miss a critical update and are able to react and respond to changes across their business in real time.”
The most recent Tableau update added database table and join recommendations powered by machine learning to enable users to spend more time analysing and less time organising data. Using your existing data sources, Tableau performs smart joins to easily connect your data sources for analysis.
Collaborating efficiently with colleagues and partners is more important than ever, but businesses and workforces are becoming increasingly mobile. Technology solves the problem with file-sharing and real-time content collaboration services such as Dropbox Business.
Its newest feature, Dropbox Paper, which enables you to collaborate on documents in real-time - has really changed the game for anyone wanting to create visually appealing work in partnership with others inside or outside the business.
“The idea for Dropbox Paper came from observing the way most of us work today – switching between tools, creating content in one place and discussing in another. We're so used to this way of working even though it's not at all conducive to bringing good ideas to life,” said Dropbox APAC head of solution architecture Daniel Iversen.
“When creating Paper, we wanted to design a completely new type of doc for teams to create and collaborate together on. And one that people would actually love using.
“Today, Paper is a beautiful, lightweight and intuitive work tool that brings the entire creative process together, from brainstorming to content creation to task management to final presentation. It embeds and displays a broad range of content — from text and images to videos, animations, even code. And, Paper is accessible on any platform.”
Other cloud storage services – which we have compared recently – also offer content collaboration tools to varying degrees.
A workplace collaboration study found that Australian professionals are spending more time in meetings than ever and 66% of those meetings are of no value. Time wasted in unnecessary meetings is a killer for small businesses. The Slack messaging system brings all of business's communication together in one place, providing real-time messaging, archiving and search for modern teams.
So before scheduling a company-wide meeting ask yourself whether the topic could be discussed over Slack. The ability to separate conversations in channels will mean that only relevant personnel will be notified on specific tasks. Slack is a great tool to ensure that productivity is maximised by avoiding time wasted in unnecessary meetings.
There's also the problem of meetings failing to start on time and the resulting loss of productivity (an average of three hours per executive per week, according to that study). As recruiter Greg Savage once put it: “In recent years it seems that a meeting set to start at 9 am, for some people means in the general vicinity of any time which starts with the numeral '9'. Like 9.30 for example.
“People drift in at 9.10 or 9.20, or even later. And they smile warmly at the waiting group, as they unwrap their bacon sandwich, apparently totally unconcerned that others have been there since five to nine, prepared and ready to start.
“Ten people kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, while some selfish pratt [sic] who idles his way via the coffee shop, is actually 20 minutes times 10, which is 200 minutes wasted - while you keep us waiting because you did not catch the earlier bus. That is over 3 hours wasted.”"
Some of that time can be recovered by replacing meetings (where appropriate) with the asynchronous conversations enabled by Slack.
Last year BIT reported restaurant and online wine merchant Nomad's use of Slack. Director Rebecca Yazbek described Slack as “a great tool” for internal communication that's “brought the team closer together” and helped the business work more seamlessly across departments.
Other software in this category includes Atlassian's HipChat, Google Hangouts (part of G Suite), Microsoft Teams (part of Office 365). But an area where Slack excels is the wide range of integrations with other software.
Next: four more apps to help your business become agile