This article has been produced in collaboration with Telegraph Spark. The original article as well as a collection of helpful guidance, business stories and interactive quizzes produced by SAP Concur and Telegraph Spark can be found on this Building Business Resilience hub.
In uncertain times, it’s essential to make your business as resilient as possible. There are plenty of ways you can do this: improving cash flow, developing potential new business models, and providing regular staff training.
Using the latest technology can help with all of these. By investing in technology, businesses can expect to drive much greater operational efficiencies and, crucially, improve productivity.
Last November, the UK's Business Productivity Review announced a £56bn spend on helping to boost the UK’s output and close the productivity gap. One of its key recommendations was that businesses need to embrace technology much more, particularly “online accountancy and customer relationship management (CRM) software."
Kelly Tolhurst, the minister for small business, enterprise and industry at the time, said: “We are determined to make the UK the best place to work and start a business – and boosting productivity is key to that. As a former small business owner, I know how important it is to harness technology to make your business more productive.”
Businesses have had to cope with often significantly changing agendas, priorities, and operations in recent months, making the issue of productivity of paramount importance. So now is the time to seriously scrutinize processes and put in place the necessary technology to future-proof operations. Here we look at six ways you can do this.
1. Switch to online accounting
One of the simplest ways that small businesses can make big productivity gains is by switching from an offline to an online accounting system. Several now exist, either as standalone packages or as part of a suite of enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools. Not only will an online accounting package save on costs in the long term, it will also help businesses track their payments more effectively, which is crucial for maintaining cash flow, as well as file their tax returns on time.
2. Automate back-office finance processes
Many of the initial concerns around automation replacing people’s jobs have now been superseded by the realisation that today’s tools can help free up staff time so they can work in areas of the business where they can add value. For example, the SAP Concur mobile app can help businesses manage their employees’ expense claims and supplier invoices from one place, giving finance an overall view of what’s being spent. Increasingly, automation is also being combined with AI (artificial intelligence) to help take the admin away from finance by accurately capturing data. AI can also be used to predict which companies are likely to default on payments, based on factors such as previous late payments and customer complaints, and which are the most likely to pay on time.
3. Distribute digitally
If we have learned one thing from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that companies that are able to distribute their products digitally are much more likely to succeed. Now is the time to think about your future business strategy with a particular focus on e-commerce and digital marketing initiatives. Key to this is investing in your own website and the technology required to process online orders, if you haven’t already.
4. Optimize the supply chain
One of the biggest problems that small businesses face is ensuring correct stock levels. This is a particular issue for those selling across several different channels, for example on their own website, Amazon and eBay, as well as offline. ERP tools can help businesses get a single, unified view of their stock. Using AI, it’s also possible to predict future changes in demand and supply to optimise inventory management accordingly.
5. Invest in cybersecurity
Undoubtedly one of the biggest threats to SMBs is cybercrime. According to the latest CyberSecurity Breaches Survey 2020 by the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, almost half of businesses (46%) and a quarter of charities (26%) have experienced cybersecurity breaches or attacks in the past 12 months.
What’s more, researchers monitoring global COVID-19-related phishing activity have seen steep rises in cyberattacks, with this trend being likely to continue.
However, with many of the cyberattacks caused by human error, such as clicking on phishing links, it’s important that staff training plays a large part in any cybersecurity investment.
There are challenges for every business at the moment, particularly with so many companies dealing with much of its staff working remotely. In this newsroom blog, the SAP Concur organization covers some of the data-security considerations for employees working from home.
By taking control of data security, coping with the consequences of fraud or a data breach needn’t be so challenging. Digitizing and automating your finance processes, such as expenses and invoices, adds extra layers of security to your business.
6. Adopt the internet of things
It isn’t only devices such as laptops and smartphones that can connect to the internet. Increasingly, everyday items are becoming “smart” too. For example, IoT-enabled smart energy systems can help businesses monitor their energy usage remotely so they only provide light and heat to rooms when they are occupied, while IoT sensors fitted on stock can help companies track exactly where their products are at any given time. In the energy and utilities sector, IoT is being deployed for measuring usage via smart grid systems, as well as monitoring assets.
Technology isn’t a silver bullet to guarantee business success, but it can help you take control of your operations. By automating many of your business activities, such as back-office finance processes and optimizing the supply chain, staff can be freed to add value and drive productivity elsewhere in the business.