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
Accessing and sharing information is vital, but there are other tools that can help your business become more agile – such as apps to help your business become more mobile, increase cash flow, optimise ecommerce initiatives and complete projects on time.
Mobile and sales come together in platforms like Square which have enabled even the smallest of businesses to grow and prosper on the move. The ability to easily and inexpensively accept payments anywhere in Australia has fuelled small business growth.
Don't believe it? Have you never walked away from an imminent impulse purchase because the merchant didn't accept cards? Or avoided a cafe because of the 'cash only' sign on the door?
“We're committed to bringing Australian business owners the best in payment innovation. Whether they're running a market stall, mobile business or a franchise, we want to empower them with all the tools they need to start, run and grow,” said Square country manager Ben Pfisterer.
“Our research shows up to 80 percent of Square sellers in Australia had not accepted credit or debit cards before using Square. Our tools are helping to rapidly grow the market for card acceptance in one of the world's most innovative and increasingly cashless economies.”
Square is more than just a card reader. Its in-built reporting functionalities, such as sales figures, customer information and inventory lists make life easier for business owners. The simplicity of this system and its integrations with accounting, POS, ecommerce and other software means often outsourced tasks such as bookkeeping and administration may be done internally.
Cash flow improvements don't of themselves make a business more agile, but a lack of cash can inhibit innovation. And chasing debtors can take up a lot of a small business owner's time, especially when it hasn't grown to the size needed to support an admin person. So automating the process of following-up invoices can be a smart move.
That's where ezyCollect comes in. This web-based solution can help automate and streamline the management of customer accounts, including polite, personalised and persistent reminders.
Within 60 seconds, ezyCollect can be easily integrated into MYOB and Xero.
It allows businesses to automatically send personalised overdue invoice reminders and statements to customers, prompting them to pay their bills. SME owners can set up their own schedule for personalised reminders using email, SMS and post. ezyCollect includes the option of a Pay Now button in invoices, statements and emailed reminders, making it easier – and therefore more likely – for customers to pay.
“Small business owners can't afford to lose a day chasing money that is owed to them. ezyCollect gives small businesses an affordable solution that delivers what is most important to them, time and money,” said ezyCollect managing director AJ Singh.
“On average, businesses using ezyCollect are automating 110 reminders each month, realising a 60 percent reduction in staff management time and significant improvements in working capital as customers pay overdue invoices.”
Alternatives to ezyCollect include Chaser and the admittedly simpler automated and escalating reminders provided by accounting systems such as Xero.
Google once tested the use of 40-odd shades of blue for advertising links and found that “a slightly purpler shade of blue” attracted more clicks. Switching to that colour improved ad revenue by $US200 million a year.
Few companies have the scale that allows tiny changes to yield big results, but if you had redesigned your ecommerce site or taken new product photos wouldn't it make sense to test the change on a small percentage of visitors to make sure it results in more rather than less revenue?
Conducting such experiments manually isn't as simple as it sounds, but Optimizely makes it possible to conduct experiments with purpose on websites, mobile apps and connected devices, hopefully resulting in better and faster decisions.
Optimizely encourages businesses to implement a culture of innovation. Experimentation means that they don't depend on the opinion of the ‘hippo’ – the highest paid person – but can instead test ideas from anywhere in the organisation.
“Today’s fast-changing climate and increased digital economy requires SMEs to adapt more quickly and become more agile. The advantage of a smaller business is their nimbleness; instilling this culture throughout every aspect of their business will enable faster growth,” said Optimizely ANZ managing director Dan Ross.
“Digital optimisation technologies will be paramount to driving innovation at speed while staying ahead of the competition. Testing and experimentation generates data-driven decisions for smaller companies to achieve high growth and develop a better customer experience to effectively prepare for impending digital disruption from giants like Amazon.”
Project management is paramount to the efficiency of any business, whether that's a global corporation or a small business of ten people. Trello’s boards, lists, and cards enable you to organise and prioritise your projects in a fun, flexible and rewarding way, according to Didier Elzinga, CEO and co-founder of Culture Amp.
Like the other services mentioned here, Trello has democratised its field by giving everyone the opportunity to become efficient project managers and run their teams and businesses with flair and precision.