90% of SMEs Have No IT Strategy

I’m going to retract my previous assertion that 50% of business have no IT strategy.

Instead, I’m going to suggest that the true number is probably closer to 90%!

According to research by HLB Mann Judd, only 20% of SMEs have a business plan, and if management and owners haven’t formulated a policy for the whole business, what chance is there that they’ve given any real thought as to how their IT funds are best deployed.

As ever, this begs the question as to why?

“The research suggests it is not for a lack of wanting, or a shortage of ideas – 98 per cent of the businesses surveyed believe they have opportunities for growth, and most have ideas of how to achieve it.”

“Instead, it seems knowing how to create a plan that is meaningful and workable is the primary roadblock.”


Today’s Top Takeaway

Succeed with a plan and learn from your mistakes. Succeed without one and remain ignorant.


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Improving Customer Lifetime Value

It used to be that marketing and business strategy were regarded as separate streams, but modern thinking tends to regard them as co-contributors: members of the same team working towards a common goal. And that seems to make a lot of sense. An objective viewer might reasonably assume (eek!) that these facets of the same organisation would be contributing to the greater good in some way.

Following this same reasoning, we might also conclude that an IT strategy would be there to lend a hand, driving innovation and delivering systems that support the needs of the business.

Reality though, as ever, is well placed to remind us that all is not necessarily as it should be. There are still a great many SMEs for whom the penny simply hasn’t dropped, and if it has, it’s fallen behind the cushions on the couch along with a couple of pen lids and something sticky that’s best left as is because ignorance is undoubtedly bliss.

But what if you could combine the three and use their collective might to deliver a better customer experience, reduce customer churn, and improve customer lifetime value?

Wouldn’t that be something?!

Lightbulb

However, for many SMEs, the reality is that they simply don’t know what they don’t know. IT is X. It is the unknown and the result is that many respond to the challenges of the day by reaching for their metaphorical mallet and bludgeoning the first small rodent they see.

And as The Bard once wrote, “ay, there’s the rub”.

When confronted with an opportunity, the response is often somewhat of a knee jerk reaction, and even if there is a moment of inspiration, a glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s typically followed by the realisation that the light belongs to a train and one’s serenity is only going to be short lived.

Three legged stool

Given what’s at stake, it seems odd that such a short term, tactical approach would be taken. After all, a business has a far better chance of remaining upright if its 3 major strategic areas are working together, so this begs the question as to why more care isn’t taken when it comes to IT decision making.

The reasons are of course many and varied and there’s rarely a simple explanation, which means that trying to address the fear, prejudice, ignorance, other other motivators is very a difficult challenge…if not next to impossible.

So how then to move forward?

Learning from history

As ever, we can offer the carrot or the stick, and there’s little doubt that just about everyone responds better to the offer of a treat than they do to the threat of punishment. So what we need to do is to find something nice and sweet that will motivate a CEO or business owner.

We might then perhaps learn a quick lesson from our friends in the world of marketing. Their strategy used to be separate too, and was doubtless kept so for many of the same reasons that IT is left to languish today. However, CMOs found a means to demonstrate their worth by the simple use of metrics, both quantitative and qualitative, and good old fashioned maths.

Put simply, when it comes to grabbing a fair share of corporate funds, “The CMO’s best tool to convince the CEO is ROI,” 

And it follows then that spending on IT should follow similar rationale.

The X factor

Business today is all about differentiating your brand and delivering exceptional value to the customer, both in terms of price and service. By having coordinated and strategically aligned IT systems, your business is more able to effectively engage with your customers in a conversation rather than just trying to selling them something.

So whether it be your website, social media, CRM software, internal order systems or any of the many other uses for IT within your organisation, the simpler and smoother the interaction with the customer, and the better the experience, the more likely the customer is to return.

And given that keeping a customer is at least 5 times as easy as finding a new one, and that improving customer retention by 5% increases profit by at least 25%, you would be well advised to make sure your IT helps extend your customer lifetime value.


Today’s Top Takeaway

Everyone is glued to their mobile device. How can you put your business front and centre?


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5 Reasons For IT ROI Failures

Alongside yesterday’s post about a under-spending on IT by SMEs, there’s another interesting take away from the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) with regards to IT return on investment, and this is an invaluable check list for anyone planning their next IT project.

Ongoing maintenance costs/fees [41%]

Unlike assets such as fleet vehicles, software doesn’t physically degrade and hardware should be protected by a maintenance contract. So it’s really only the software portion of a system that is subject to any real change, and this ought to be fairly predictable when assessing it as part of a cost benefit analysis.

If it’s not, business should be extremely wary of the rationale and practices being applied to the purchase.

Required upgrades/built-in obsolescence [37%]

As with the maintenance costs, upgrade schedules and their associated costs should be predictable. They certainly shouldn’t account for over one third of ROI failures.

Staff time needed to operate/maintain [37%] and Complexity / poor user experience [32%]

No IT system should ever be so expensive to use that it defeats its own purpose. How then does a business find itself in a situation where system usability and/or poor training combine to make it economically nonviable?!

Regardless of whether it was built in house or purchased, these were factors that the business should have been able to control.

Upfront cost/too expensive for what you get [36%]

There are many lessons that SMEs can learn from the bigger end of town, particularly when it comes to something like an ERP rollout. But regardless of whether you’re spending millions or $25/month for basic online accounting, make sure you know what you need and what you’re actually buying.

 

It’s easy to blame technology when a system doesn’t live up to expectation, but computers only do what they’re told. More often than not, it’s the business itself that sows the seeds of failure. Inflated expectations, a lack of planning, misguided purchasing decisions and poor implementations conspire to ensure that the business simply shoots itself in the foot.


Today’s Top Takeaway

IT should be an asset. The only time it should be a cost to a business is when it’s poorly implemented.


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40% of SMEs Aren’t Investing Enough in IT?

In Australia, SMEs represent 97% of all businesses, produce about 33% of the total GDP, employ somewhere close to 5,000,000 of us, and are responsible for 88% of exports.

This means that if you’re an SME, you are without doubt in a very competitive and very busy market place.

This might lead you to think that SMEs would be looking for opportunities to streamline their businesses, embrace digital transformation and adopt technology solutions to help them to stand out from the crowd and improve their profit per person…and close to half of them half of them are.

However, according to research by Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), “40% of SMBs acknowledge their investment level in technology is lower than it should be”.

And as I’ve written before, what you spend on IT isn’t what it costs.


Today’s Top Takeaway

A failure to invest in IT is an investment in failure.


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The Why of Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation is a thing, and an increasingly popular thing at that. Businesses of all sizes are beginning to embrace the opportunities that the modern XaaS (X as a service) technologies present, yet only about 1 in 3 has any real strategy in place to help them move forward.

Disturbingly, there seems to be a level of reticence or reluctance, particularly for SMEs, to make the effort to get properly involved.

Some will be “set and forgetters” who spent big some years ago and are happy with their IT solutions, and some just aren’t in a position to do anything today. But the rest have no real excuse, so perhaps what they lack is a little motivation.

And what better to motivate a business than a big pile of cash from customers new and old and an improved profit per person?

Again and again, the needs and wants of consumers is being shown to be the single biggest driver behind digital initiatives, and it’s all about attracting new customers, retaining the existing ones, delivering exceptional service, and maximising customer lifetime value.

Find out more


Today’s Top Takeaway

Digital transformation is like teenage sex. It leaves those who are doing it wanting so much more.


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The Right Answer, Not The First

I am buoyed this morning by a rather excellent commentary on the subject of thinking, and for those who can’t be bothered to read it, the basic premise is adequately summed up in the opening paragraph.

“Shane, most people don’t actually think. They just take their first thought and go.”

Ain’t that the case! All too often we see half baked solutions and design ideas that doubtless resolved issues A, B and C, but left D through Z wondering why nobody bothered to pay them any attention, something that is particularly prevalent in the world of IT.

Take for instance, a well known nameless manufacturing company. Its website sends orders via email to a very nice lady who then keys them in to their system. She costs n thousand dollars every year, and because she’s human and makes the occasional mistake, she costs the company n thousand more.

Their internal systems and website are, as is commonly the case, maintained by separate entities, and no one gave any thought as to how the two might work together. Instead, the all too frequent whack-a-mole approach was applied and only some of the problem was solved.

Perhaps, as I’m wont to say, they should have looked for the right answer and not just the first one.


Today’s Top Takeaway

Finding yourself without time to think is a sure sign that your business systems and processes aren’t working for you.


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Back to Basics

The new data security laws are coming in to effect in a few days’ time and many SMEs have done absolutely nothing to ensure that they’ll have procedures in place to manage a breach. But then, that’s not really that surprising given that a great may will have only taken the most basic of precautions to protect their data in the first place, so expecting them to be Johnny on the Spot when it comes to a data security incident does seem to be a little optimistic.

This is not to be critical of SMEs though. Small and medium sized businesses battle constantly with tight budgets, difficult time frames and relatively few staff. Having someone on hand to manage a specialised facet of IT is a luxury many simply can’t afford or choose to give a lower priority than other revenue generating initiatives.

If SMEs are going to spend their resources on cyber security, they would be wise to learn a lesson from the hapless team down at Fedex. It managed to allow 119,000 files to be accessed on an Amazon server exposing “thousands of FedEx customer records, including civilian and military ID cards, resumes, bills, and more”because nobody bothered to set up a password.

Before you spend big on IT security systems and other technological marvels to protect your data from evil hackers, you should perhaps make sure you’re getting your security basics right.

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Today’s Top Takeaway

If you can’t even look your windows and doors, what chance do you have of keeping a burglar out?


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The 1 or 2 Step Guide to Digital Transformation

It seems that yesterday’s post on digital transformation was far too middle of the road for some.

4, 5, 6 and 7 step processes are well and good, but what if you want a more detailed path?

You might try the 8 success factors of digital transformation, or perhaps the nine elements of digital transformation, and for the truly enthusiastic, there’s even a 10 step process.

Or, if less is more, how about just 3 steps?

But what about 1 and 2 steps?

1 is of course the Nike principle: Just Do It!

But the 2 step guide is the one that most SMEs should be looking into.

  1. Accept that your business should be embracing technology
  2. Hire a professional to solve your problems

Today’s Top Takeaway

Digital transformation is like teenage sex: once you’ve done it, you know what all the fuss is about.


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Digital Transformation in 4, 5, 6 or Possibly 7 Steps

When I started high school in 1980 the first IBM PC was still 11 months away from being released and we had one phone in the house. Today, every student has a laptop or Mac and a mobile phone of their own.

Education it seems is embracing technology and the classroom has already been transformed.

However, SMEs can be a little slow to catch on to these things. Large corporations have always adopted the latest technology in their efforts to stay a step ahead of the competition, but SMEs have often found it more difficult, typically citing the relatively large entry costs. But SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and all the other aas’s now make complex software and technology solutions affordable and available to even the smallest of enterprises and there’s no excuse for not joining the digital revolution.

As scary as this sounds though, it’s really no different to managing change in any part of your business.

  • You make sure that you’re working towards your business goals
  • You manage the stakeholders and get buy in to ensure as smooth a transition as possible
  • You take it step by step, adjusting your plans whenever necessary
  • You partner and collaborate to solve the problems outside your own expertise

Still, that’s just a very simple overview, so here a few more thoughts on the n steps of the stairway to digital heaven

4 key ingredients

5 steps

6 steps

7 essential steps


Today’s Top Takeaway

Digital transformation is like teenage sex: There’s a lot of talk, not enough action, and a lot of instructional videos.


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Money Makes The World…More Secure?

Money undoubtedly makes the world go around, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that it’s also a significant motivator when it comes to cyber security. Indeed, for those of us old enough to remember the birth of online banking, today’s cyber security conversation bears more than a passing resemblance to the FUD of the late 1990s.

Doubtless we’ll have a similar conversation in a few years from now about something similar.

What is perhaps a little more encouraging is that an IBM study has shown for the first time that the user experience and ease of use now rank second to security, particularly when it comes to finance systems. It seems consumers are happy to jump through a couple of extra hoops if it means that their hard earned lucre is kept safe and sound.

But what if we turn the tables on them? What if we fine users every time they compromise system safety? Would that encourage employees to adopt best practices?

Apparently so!

The love of money may well be the root of all evil, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reap a reward from it.


Today’s Top Takeaway

It’s hard to over state the value of encouraging best security practices.


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Protective Policies and Procedures

Are you ready for the Notifiable Data Breach amendments?

As I write, we’re just 10 days away from them coming in to force and apparently only around half of the SMEs affected have prepared in anyway. The other half, one supposes, remain blissfully ignorant of their obligations or have chosen not to do anything for the moment.

So, kudos to those who’ve taken the time to sort out some policies and procedures to protect themselves, and a slap on the wrist and stern talking to for the rest.

More seriously though, these changes to the Privacy Act put the onus on organisations to make sure they are proactive in protecting their customers’ data, and this is something that can’t be resolved simply by buying a new firewall or virus software. This requires that you ensure best practice when using your information technology.

Here’s a lawyer’s perspective. Scroll down to the bottom for a handy checklist.


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Know Your Customers

I wrote recently about the difference between the money spent on IT and what it ultimately can cost a business, and this touched on the notion of customer lifetime value (CLV) and delivering an exceptional customer experience.

And then I stumbled upon a blog article from the UK talking about the need for integrated ERP/CRM software.

Now, I have a suspicion that the writer is trying to sell his wares, but that aside he has a valid point. Unless you’re actually recording data about your customers, how can you possibly offer anything other than entirely generic and really rather bland service?

To maximise your profit per person, you need an efficient, motivated team and an engaged customer base, and you don’t get the latter by offering a customer experience best described as “meh”.


Today’s Top Tip

If you think it: INK IT! If there’s data that can be recorded, record it. You never know what it might tell you.


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Do You Understand Cyber Security?

It’s OK. You’re not alone. Most businesses have minimal understanding of the subject, and many IT guys are little better.

There are the basics, such as having a strong password and changing it regularly; using a firewall, anti-virus and malware tools; not clicking on things in emails that you know nothing about. But beyond these very simplistic measures for keeping a PC upright and the data secure, there is a myriad of other considerations.

Happily, your friendly, neighbourhood cyber security consultant will, for a very reasonable fee, help you set up your systems and work practices, so that the risks are minimised. All you need to do is “get round to it”, a phrase that will haunt you once you become one of the 59% of small businesses affected by a cyber attack, and have you telling your business friends how you wished you’d done it sooner.

Still, in the meantime, here are a few solid tips from the Australian Tax Office on ways you can start to mitigate the risks.

Find out more


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Is Your Website Costing You Sales?

How important is the speed of your website?

“40% per cent of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load”

“The average time it takes to fully load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds”

If your site is your primary sales vehicle, addressing these issues is paramount for the simple reason that the digital market place is here to stay and demand is going to increase.

So, ignore your slow website at your peril.


Todays’ Top Takeaway

Tolerance is declining and “good enough” today, won’t be tomorrow.


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Digitisation Is Nothing To Fear

So many SMEs fear the perceived cost and chaos of adopting digital solutions, yet the value proposition is one they should embrace.

Digital solutions can simplify processes, free up resources, drive efficiencies, improve customer engagement and increase your profit per person.

As Dr Margherita Pagani explains, B2B businesses must not be afraid to digitise.


Today’s Top Takeaway

Digital transformation is like teenage sex: the longer you wait to get involved, the more daunting it appears.


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Your Spend On IT Is Not What It Costs

If only the true cost of IT was as simple to evaluate as my typical trip to the mall for the weekly shop.

Each of the things I buy, the bread, meat, milk, vegetables and so on has a price listed on the shelf, and when it comes to paying, I swipe/tap/insert my credit card and the appropriate amount of money is charged to my account. Once I’ve paid for the items, the transaction is complete and there are no additional costs to consider.

OK, for the pedants, there are the merchant fees charged for using the credit card, and late payment fees should I be a little lax, but the basic relationship between cost and spend is fairly well defined.

But when it comes to IT, the relationship between monies spent and the true cost is far from clear and it’s something SMEs need to understand, because it’s costing them a lot.

Not so WYSIWYG

I’ve written before about Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), and this is something that business clearly needs to get its head around when assessing its technological commitments. However, annual budgetary requirements aside, there are two other areas that need to be very carefully considered

  • Productivity
  • Customer Service

These may not add to the cost in terms of cold hard cash, but they risk being a significant drag on the operations of a business if the IT is below par.

Happiness

The old adage is that a happy worker is a productive worker, and while the jury is still undecided as to whether that’s an entirely accurate opinion, research certainly suggests that there is no smoke without fire. A study at Warwick University in 2014 concluded that a happy workforce is around 12% more productive.

Now, there are of course a great many factors that affect the health, well-being, motivation and productivity of a team, so it would be unreasonable to suggest that having great IT will in itself generate this gain, but let’s not discount the effect that poor IT practices have on a work force.

Guess Again

Let’s start with training. How often is it that a new product or feature is introduced without adequate training or support? Manuals and online help may be out of date or training sessions may have occurred weeks before the go live date ensuring that just about everything has been forgotten. The result is that employees make mistakes through ignorance, take longer to complete tasks and not surprisingly, often feel utterly unappreciated.

And it’s this last one that’s the real kicker. Unhappy staff leave their jobs and go elsewhere, which is great news for the recruitment industry but an expensive exercise for the employer who has to pay to get a new staff member who then requires training.

Junkers

And then there’s hardware. Why is it so many businesses are slow to update their PCs? They pay their staff hundreds of thousands of dollars over a 3 year period, and then baulk at spending just a little bit more to ensure they have an up to date, fast, efficient tool to use. Similarly, we might point a finger at network performance, server capabilities or even a slow internet connection as factors that ensure that otherwise capable staff are hamstrung by the technology that is supposed to enrich their work life.

Chefs don’t use old blunt knives, so why should computer users be required to tolerate machines that are slow, poorly maintained and unreliable.

If In Doubt, Reboot

The old support adage may still ring true, but how much does it cost in terms of lost productivity. A couple of minutes here or there doesn’t really matter, but what if it’s daily…or hourly?

How much time is lost because something wasn’t saved and has to be reentered?

How much time is spent being productive, and how much is spent fumbling around?

How much time is spent helping other staff members with software and hardware issues?

Believe it or not, employees may be spending as much as 30-45 minutes every week looking over someone’s shoulder. That’s one week a year!

Sell, Sell, Sell

It’s not just staff that suffer as a result of the Information Technology practices of a business. Customers and prospects alike can be unduly affected and the potential costs here stretch far beyond any productivity losses.

If we consider the company website, it’s easy to understand that a business might lose sales if the site is slow, isn’t intuitive, doesn’t work well on a small screen device, or information is hard to find. These all make perfect sense to us.

But what about the software used by staff in customer fronting roles? How off putting is it to hear them apologise for the delay because the computer is slow or they can’t find the information required. American Express suggests that 66% of customers spend around 13% more with a company if it provides excellent service. More importantly, 55% have decided not to complete a transaction because of poor service.

Business would then be well advised to ensure staff are adequately equipped and that systems perform as required.

Big Fish

And what of the information made available to B2B customers?

I heard recently of a manufacturer failing to notify a retailer of an issue. When the electronic order was received, the automated response simply noted the details of the order but gave no indication that 75% had actually been placed on back order for delivery in several weeks’ time.

Suffice to say, the client had to appease many customers for his failure to deliver and not surprisingly, the manufacturer was berated for its failure to provide adequate information, and the account was very nearly lost.

What made this particular episode so disturbing was that the reason for the lack of availability was that the internal systems failed to provide accurate historical sales data resulting in poor forecasting and inappropriate production and stock levels.

But while this one account was saved, how many more have simply stopped ordering because of such poor service?

Customer Lifetime Value

Businesses don’t want to find new customers and make a few dollars from them today. Oh no. They want to keep them for years and make many, many dollars tomorrow as well, so once a new account is acquired, it’s enormously important that it is retained.

Clearly this is not solely the responsibility of IT, but it is a significant contributor to a successful client retention strategy. IT systems should mean that you can communicate efficiently and effectively, and that staff are in a position to focus on providing a superior customer experience.

But if we get it wrong, we risk both a higher rate of staff turnover and increased customer churn, and neither of those make for good business.


Today’s Top Takeaway

Stay on top of your IT. A dollar invested today will make you many, many more tomorrow


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