How Tech is Changing Small Business
Small family businesses agree that technology helps them increase the efficiency of their operations, grow the business, provide better customer service, and gain an advantage over competition, according to a recent Microsoft study conducted by KRC Research.
However, the family business study found that six in 10 business owners with multiple generations working in the business have disagreements between older and younger generations about how to invest in technology.
“Sure, we’ve had disagreements over investing in technology upgrades, and to tell the truth, I’m not exactly thrilled about spending money for the latest and greatest technology if it isn’t going to directly impact the bottom line,” said Adam Williams, owner of ROI Marketing Services, a Memphis, Tenn.-based consulting firm. “The challenge to my son, who always thinks we need the latest gadget, is to prove to me that the investment in technology will help the business grow. If there is a positive return on our investment, I’ll listen.”
Eddie Yandle, a senior director of the Worldwide Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partner group at Microsoft, agrees that technology has been a greater responsibility and passion for the younger generation in small family businesses.
“The survey did reveal that seven in 10 owners with multiple generations working in the business said that the younger generation is more enthusiastic about technology than the older generation,” he said. “In addition, two out of three owners agreed that technology is a good way to attract younger generations into their companies.”
With Microsoft’s newest suite of products, their Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, the company is aimed directly at small businesses and the growing revenues they are providing. It’s easy to see the value in the newest cloud based systems that integrate products into one central user friendly environment that helps small businesses collaborate, manage employees, track their finances, collabarate in real time using web based video conferencing, and a host of other options that only the largest corporations had access to only a few years ago.
The website usedynamics.com is one company that is trying to help small businesses make sense of the plethora of options that are now available to them, as well as their staff. As Microsoft’s suite continues to exapnd, companies will rely on them even more. Especially with the latest AI developments like voice assisted technologies.
Top Technology Questions
So what do you do if you want to invest in new technologies for your business and come to a stalemate with partners or other family members? Gene Marks, owner of The Marks Group PC, a consultancy firm that sells and services popular software applications for small businesses, and editor of the Streetwise Small Business Book of Lists says, “Before investing in the latest-and-greatest-whizbang-gotta-have gadget there’s a few things to keep in mind.”
Marks offers the following top tech questions to consider. They’ll help you determine the best technology – and convince others to approve the expense.
Who makes it? Great companies back good technology. Do your research and make sure a reputable company is producing the technology tools you or your business plan to rely on.
Who supports it? It’s inevitable something will go wrong eventually — and usually at the most inopportune time. Make sure you know who’s going to help you with problems before they occur. Even if they promise 24/7 services give them a buzz one evening before you buy to see if anyone answers the phone.
What are all the costs? That new order entry application may only cost a few thousand dollars. But what about the annual maintenance and support? How about training, customization, technical questions and installation? Don’t be surprised if all of this stuff is extra. Get all the costs upfront, including any potential future expenses.
What other technology is required? If you’re buying software consider the required hardware and vice versa. For example, Microsoft’s new customer relationship management software application requires so much additional support (i.e. Windows, SQL Server, etc.) that you may spend more on the additional software than the actual product.
What services are required to make it work? Wouldn’t it be great to just plug it in like a TV? Dream on! Find out how much time will be needed by outsiders to get your application or equipment running properly.
How long has it been around? You want something on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge. Don’t buy the first release of anything. Let some other poor guy discover those hidden bugs. In technology, new and reliable are rarely used in the same sentence.
Who else is using it? Never buy technology in a vacuum. Get references. Do site visits. Call other users. Google the vendor, and check newsgroups and forums. Buying a new service management system? Consider going to the vendor’s offices for training before you buy.
How will it generate profits for my company? If a piece of technology isn’t going to help you increase revenues or decrease costs then why bother? Buying software or hardware should be a quantitative decision. You should be able to mathematically calculate how much estimated profits will result, with certain assumptions, from this investment. Do the ROI and see what shakes out.
Can I take a test drive? Never buy just on a vendor demo. Get the software or hardware and test it yourself. If a software company doesn’t let you drive their product, then don’t buy it. If a hardware company can’t give you a test piece, then reconsider. Once you fork over the cash those eager and friendly salespeople will be on to the next deal and you’ll be yesterday’s news. Do your due diligence beforehand.
Will it speak to my other systems? When buying new technology, make sure it’s open to others. Proprietary systems are becoming more and more a thing of the past. Make sure it’s compatible with current systems. Even if there’s no out of the box connection you want to still have the option of hiring someone to write the integration. Keep those options open so you don’t paint yourself into a corner.