The Smart Business Trend — Where to Start

young businesswoman working with interactive graph

In an organization, an intelligent and strategic leader can be invaluable. Some organizations rely so heavily on certain leaders that the company’s stock values rise and fall with their involvement. The Howard Schultz’ and Steve Jobs’ of the world become legends, seen by many as the strategic backbone of their respective organizations.

In addition to being an asset, high value leaders can often pose one of an organization’s greatest risks. You can’t cover everyone with key person insurance, and it isn’t the only protection available against a worst case scenario.

Smart businesses today are preserving intelligence from leaders throughout their organization, past and present. As new leaders are introduced in their organization, they learn the systems and help adapt them as insights are gained. The systems of the organization become an asset, and help sustain the team through times of transition. These processes used to rely solely on written documentation, but have gained considerable depth as a result of the latest industrial revolution, commonly referred to as Industry 4.0

Improve Financial Visibility

When it comes to accounting, the average financial reporting setup varies greatly by industry.

Popular in manufacturing and construction, ERP systems help companies manage business processes, connecting financials to services and resources.

Manufacturing and construction companies tend to implement Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems early on to facilitate the process, while professional service teams tend to try to survive on Quickbooks and Xero for much longer. Regardless of popularity, often ERP systems still fall flat, both in ability to evolve with the team and to integrate smoothly with other systems. This has paved the way for modular cloud-based solutions like Intacct and Plex, bringing with them the flexibility to integrate smarter workflow tools like Ascend or even to build custom, highly specialized tools.

Large organizations, including nonprofits, looking to gain a competitive advantage are turning increasingly to Business Intelligence (BI). Tools like Tableau, Yellowfin, Domo, and Looker are built to pipe your disparate data into the reports of your dreams, and track KPIs, among other things. Like most automation projects, this requires an upfront investment, but will pay for itself 100-fold if implemented correctly.

If your organizations struggles to get the right visibility into your finances, finding the right ERP or BI tool can make a big difference.

Create Dashboards

Dashboards can provide a great foundation for smart manufacturing and professional service companies. Plenty of dashboarding tools exist, so consider the machines, services, and IoT devices that you want to integrate and research ease-of-integration.

While many of the aforementioned Business Intelligence tools support custom dashboards, many teams start simpler. Geckoboard, Klipfolio, Futrli (formerly CrunchBoards), and others provide an accessible pricing structure and low barrier to entry setup for sales, marketing, and business development teams.

When it comes to integrating devices, machines, or other smart hardware, selecting the right IoT Platform goes a long way. These platforms help connect and manage smart devices, aggregate data, generate dashboards, and streamline new development capabilities for custom software and integrations. This market includes the expected big players, like Microsoft Oracle, IBM’s Watson, GE’s Predix, Cisco, and AWS, that can do it all. More specialized platforms like ThingWorx, Freeboard, Kaa, Carriots, Ayla Networks, Arrayent, and Meshify provide industry-specific focus. With the IoT vendor market size expected to reach $450B by 2020, these players provide healthy competition and their own unique approach. It is important to weigh the options carefully and select a platform that works for your price point, complementing the unique needs of your operation.

If your organization would rather spend time acting on insights than running reports, or if you are using smart machines or devices, dashboards will save hours and increase productivity.

Increase Customer Engagement

One of the most commonly implemented forms of smart business tools across all industries is marketing automation. If setup correctly, tools like HubSpot, Infusionsoft, Salesforce, MailChimp, and Marketo can help solidify and accelerate sales goals and increase customer engagement without much added brain power. These tools are often used to increase conversion on e-commerce platforms and facilitate customer onboarding for software-as-a-service (SaaS) and other customer service platforms. This is just one part of a larger marketing strategy, however it can be very effective and relatively easy to implement depending on the exact goals.

If your organization has room to improve in engaging customers digitally, marketing automation tools can provide a great return on investment.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Organizational leaders often struggle to justify the cost of updating their internal tools, wondering if and when it will pay off. If your workflow tools aren’t giving you insights into how you are doing, and they don’t integrate nicely with other tools, it is probably time to start re-evaluating your toolset.

The first step toward building a smarter organization is to educate yourself. Ask your current software vendors whether or not the tools you use have an API (Application Programming Interface), so that new software can integrate with it. You don’t have to know exactly what it means, but the answer to this question will help determine how easy it will be integrate with in the future. As our physical tools and assembly processes get smarter, we should be preparing our internal tools so they continue to be an asset and not a roadblock.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The way a team chooses to work is often part of their culture and advantage. Workflow tools need to be flexible to allow us to work the way we want. These tools and processes also have the potential to add both perceived and real value to the organization as a whole, as in increased profits and company valuation.

Implementing smart systems that can grow and evolve with your organization won’t replace the value of a good leader, but it will amplify their efforts and help preserve their strategic direction.

Are there any software tools your team loves? Share your story with us on Medium or LinkedIn in the comments.

Not sure where to start? Get in touch to talk about your goals.