Expert: Mark Kennedy: vCIO & Software Selection Expert at ShapeConnect
As a CEO, CFO or senior leader, you likely know that accurate data is critical to planning, growth, and preparation. Data collection and analysis are crucial if you want to prepare your business for a recession.
But your data is only as good as your technology. At the core of every aspect of business data—accounting, customer contacts, sales tracking, shipping, marketing, and more—is the technology used to track and communicate.
Software is what makes your business tick. In customer service, you use software for communication, marketing, and customer outreach. In manufacturing, you use software for tracking inventory, shipping, sales, service, and more.
Organizations are often overwhelmed in finding, vetting, and selecting the proper software for their business. SaaS is steadily growing by about 18% per year, with 99% of organizations using at least one SaaS solution. Technology grows by 2x every 18 months. In other words, if it feels hard to keep up with data, software, and technology, you’re not alone.
How does your business find out what software and support systems are out there? How do you then compare and vet them in a way aligned with your goals and needs? Many people listen to a sales pitch and give it a "try and see" approach. But is this the right process?
Unused software and bad purchasing decisions cost U.S. companies a fortune (over $30 billion annually). Think of all the hours, training, installation, infrastructure, and support required each time you make a technology choice. 77% of business buyers say their last purchase was complex or difficult. The wrong choice can be damaging and destructive to your business.
So what’s the answer? How do you find out your needs and make the right choice?
To find out what will fit your organization, you first need to understand your needs—BEFORE listening to a software sales pitch.
Recently, I had a call with a client that thought they needed an (expensive) fleet maintenance program. They were looking for the best software to fill what they thought was an urgent need in their company. But when we dove into their needs and issues, it became apparent that fleet maintenance wouldn't serve their needs nearly as well as a better tracking system.
At ShapeConnect, we have a process to help us get to know your organization. We know that taking time to discover your needs and explore who you are will help us make better recommendations. Through surveys, interviews, and analysis, we'll get to understand your processes, procedures, and broken data. Then, we'll work together to produce the right solution.
Software selection isn’t as straightforward as selecting someone for accounting or even marketing. The needs of organizations are all so different. When there’s someone who really understands your organization, it’s huge.
Often, clients ask us to stay on as support after the technology selection process to guide their team through the implementation. We've been through the implementation process many times, so we understand the pacing required and how to avoid missteps along the way. Software implementation can be a bit like scaling Mount Everest. It requires a slow and steady pace, careful planning, and a deep understanding of the route and challenges.
Many times, selecting the ideal software is less about the software and more about how the information and data flow through your organization. In some cases, software truly isn’t even the best solution.
In our trucking company example, they didn't need a fleet maintenance software package; they needed a way to track, period. In their case, they had other more urgent software needs, and it turned out that a large whiteboard with magnets was their (inexpensive) solution for managing their fleet. Sometimes old school methods really are the best option, especially when you’re paying close attention to the bottom line.
Preparing Technology for an Economic Downturn
So, what are the best practices for a business that needs to shore up technology as we head into an economic downturn?
Initially, it's about finding someone who can help you leverage your existing technology—someone who understands your business. Technology is a force multiplier in the workplace. The right technology is crucial to position your current team to achieve more.
We've worked with an ambulance company in the Chicagoland area for the last ten years. When we started working with them, they were limited to an archaic dispatch program, with no GPS in their vehicles or communication devices other than radios. Their three dispatchers sent out 20-25 trips per day with five rigs.
Today, that same organization runs at 80-90 trips per day with 25 rigs…and only 1-2 dispatchers. We helped them streamline their processes and serve more people by tightening up the gaps in their technology systems. In 10 years, the company had a 400% increase in call volume and a 50% reduction in overhead costs in dispatch. Their billing department grew from 4 to 6 people, keeping up with a quadrupled call volume.
It’s not about cutting jobs or reducing the workforce, but rather making any organization more efficient, so they can grow with what they have. During an economic downturn, the processes and procedures you already have in place—the ones that are working—should stay. Keep the trained employees who know what to do and how to do it.
When the recession hits, it won't hurt as bad because you won't need to lay off employees. Set them up now with the tools to make their job efficient and successful. Help them work to their fullest potential and take advantage of the resources.
Automation is one area that can help offset your economic constraints during a downturn. But unfortunately, people are often not even fully using the automation technology they have in place. Time and time again, we’ve come into an organization and found $500,000 software applications that are little more than a company Rolodex, despite being capable of so much more.
Assessing and investing in what you already have can be an impactful way to save and prepare your technology before a recession. Many companies are surprised that they already have the tools they need, but they aren't taking full advantage. We've seen companies with Microsoft Dynamics, a larger-scale ERP, barely in use. QuickBooks is another example—many companies barely scratch the surface of the software capacity, yet they use it daily.
Not long ago, an organization came to us believing they needed new accounting software. They were using QuickBooks to manage multiple files. When we did a deep dive to learn about the organization, we discovered that they didn't need more accounting software; they needed an ERP platform. We helped them find the right platform and, in the process, helped them dump a Salesforce implementation that had cost them half a million dollars in fees, configuration, and wasted effort.
Even though the process of ERP implementation was challenging, they've reduced their software costs by two-thirds. They can access the data they need and no longer pay for excess software they don't use.
Taking time to assess your technology stack will ensure that you're maximizing your tools no matter the state of the economy. ShapeConnect can help you get a handle on what you have, see what’s working, and where you could improve.
As you can see, almost every business has some redundancies that could be tightened up, and technology is no exception. People keep multiple spreadsheets and enter data in multiple locations. Time-consuming manual processes end up in bad data. One advantage of tightening procedures is that you have more trustworthy data for your reporting. You'll get a clearer picture and better understand where your business stands when and if a downturn hits.
Two organizations we're working with for ERP implementation happen to both be in the thriving construction industry—one area that seems to be experiencing an economic boom these days. It's almost effortless for them to grow revenue, but they were still navigating their success blindly. So, we helped them shore up their practices and systems, so they could their margins at a detailed level. That way, when business inevitably slows down, they'll know exactly where they should shrink to survive.
The time to firm up processes is now. Don't wait until you're already sensing a problem. Set aside enough for the down times during boom times, just like saving for a rainy day. During downtime, when business is slow, you can make changes (if you're well-prepared and positioned). The best companies see a downturn as an opportunity to reinvent and reinvest in themselves.
You have time to put in new platforms and software when you're not rushing to keep up with business. Updating technology isn't easy and can tax your workforce when they're busy. However, if organizations use downtimes to grow and change, they can be ready to handle the added workload in the upswing and make even greater profits.
Where should you invest if money is tight? The biggest priority right now is IT security. During an economic downturn, the likelihood of a security compromise doesn't go down. If you're compromised during a downturn, it may have an even more significant impact and do more damage to your company.
Security is a real threat these days. But there are a few basic fundamental security steps to ensure you're safe from threats. No business is too small for security.
When you find areas to automate or where technology could improve redundancies, ensure your team has the bandwidth to make the changes and updates. Start by getting someone on your side who understands technology and can help your team build capacity for change.
One of ShapeConnect's biggest differentiators is that we act as a guide. We focus on your team and the capacity of your team to help your selection and implementation go smoothly.
We also take the temperature of your team throughout the process. We’ll conduct sentiment surveys to see how your organization is doing and feeling about the challenges. If we see a negative trend, we’ll offer more guidance and see how we can help you stay on track.
We recently worked with an organization on their ERP. A month after going live with the ERP, we took a temperature and could tell that everyone was feeling drained from the process. We shared this information with the owner, who threw a fun event for employees (including an executive dunk tank). They were able to lift and shift the mood 180 degrees, giving everyone the needed boost.
Technology updates and changes can take a lot out of your team. So, keeping a constant pulse on their feelings and proficiencies is essential to keep your company steady. Our goal is always to get the baseline to exceed where it was before the implementation.
While the implementation is typically on those members of your team who know your technology best, we at ShapeConnect act as their guide and touchpoint. We'll ensure everyone is trained correctly and communicating well. We even have assistance to help the executive team offer clear messaging and information to their teams before, during, and after implementations.
Organizations are often overwhelmed as they try to select the best software for their company. Many don’t know what’s out there or how to compare the options. That's where I come in. Platform sales reps don't always understand the needs of your organization. They want to sell you software.
I help clients evaluate their needs and cut out the noise so they can find the best software tools and solutions to help their business run efficiently into the future. Feel free to schedule a call or email me at [email protected].