Leveraging technology to provide maximum benefits

Today's business climate demands that business owners use technology to a competitive advantage. In order to achieve maximum benefit from technology, owners must first have a plan that will serve as their roadmap to success. Too often companies implement technological solutions without a plan and they create islands of automation which often leads to inefficiencies. For example, a company that decides to implement a web site to sell their products on the Internet may not think about how the new web site fits into their company's existing technology environment. They failed to ask the question, does the web site have the ability to integrate into my existing ERP software?

This does not require an elaborate written plan, but rather a clear understanding of how technology can be used to support your company's business objectives. For example, if one of your goals is to provide same day shipping, then any technology that supports that objective might be beneficial. An example might be an investment in software/hardware that would allow the downloading of customer order information into your shipping software so as to eliminate the double entry of customer ship to address. This would eliminate time to re-enter data as well as any errors that may occur from double entry. Another possibility that could support same-day shipping might be the integration of your website into order fulfillment software, so that orders placed online can be transferred to existing order fulfillment software without reentering data. Once again, time and errors are reduced.

Another business objective might be to become the preferred supplier for your customers. This could be achieved by emailing shipping notices to your customers when their order leaves your warehouse. The technology to accomplish this might be to configure your existing shipping software to receive the order information including email address from your order fulfillment system.

Another business objective might be to increase cash flow. An example of a technology solution would be the electronic delivery of customer invoices. Paperless billing would also reduce your costs for paper, storage, printer toner and postage. Implementation might not be expensive since many of the software packages today already have this feature built in. Another benefit of paperless billing is that if you store a copy of the invoice, you could quickly retrieve a copy if a customer calls with questions, allowing you to answer their question in a single phone call or you easily resend a copy of the invoice. A different solution is a collection management system that notifies management each business day of customers who are past due and provides information needed to make collection phone calls and follow-up notes.

The examples in this article have each been successfully implemented by local companies. The solutions have allowed these companies to remain competitive providing their products faster, reducing cost and increasing customer service.

To get started using technology to a competitive advantage, start by asking the following questions:

1) Which areas of my business can I

streamline? This question might

involve you tracing the flow of a

customer order through your existing

system from the time the customer

places the order to the time that the

order ships.

2) Does the proposed new technology

support my business objectives? This

question might involve you

reexamining what your key business

objectives are.

3) What is the financial payback period

for the proposed solution? What are

the cost savings with the new solution

and what is the total cost for the new

solution. Be sure you know all of the

costs: software, hardware, training and

consulting services.

4) What are the intangible benefits of

the proposed solution? Will I increase

the level of customer satisfaction

which will lead to additional business?

5) What features of my existing software

am I not utilizing? Often companies

have the capabilities but are not aware

that they do.

By examining your existing environment and your business objective you, too, can make successful decisions regarding implementing technology to a competitive advantage.

Gregory D. Harrand, MBA is the Manager for Technology Consulting at Dennis, Gartland & Niergarth in Traverse City where he provides a broad range of IT services to industries throughout northern Michigan. For more information, contact Greg at (231) 946-1722 or gharrand@dgncpa.com or visit www.dgncpa.com.