Welcome to our first Tech-Talk Friday article! Today we’re going to discuss one of the most important principals of modern business technology. With cloud-based services aplenty, mobile devices to fit every need, and desktop & laptop computers beginning to function in an “always on” state, our ability to have constant access to our company is growing faster than our adaptation can keep up. In fact, it’s beginning to drive a wedge between older business and the modern world. Take a look at how the speed of advancement leave some entrepreneurs undecided.
In business, we’ve relied on many bits of software that we’ve considered to be “staples” of running a small company (QuickBooks and Microsoft Office come to mind first). Most of these programs lay on either internal company servers or on individual machines in the office. They are accessible from within the office only, and often times only from certain machines. In some cases, one machine may only be good for one program, while another program can only be accessed from a different machine. In the case of one of my previous clients, their POS system was only available on two of his 5 computers, and his QuickBooks only available on the computers that weren’t running the POS software. Maintaining inventory and running his books was a nightmare.
Besides the interoffice confusion, what about when a salesperson needs to access the system to create an estimate or quote for a client? Either the quotes are made using a complex Excel spreadsheet, the salesperson places a phone call, or (in more recent years) he can link to his office desktop using a remote desktop connection. In any case, there is an unnecessary wait on the customer’s part, and usually a ton of frustration over the speed of the process on the salesman’s part. Things don’t have to be this inefficient.
Vertical integration is a concept that I teach to my clients. It’s about putting software systems in place that can be accessed as easily from a mobile device as from a desktop computer. When making a decision about which software to use, a company must prioritize three factors: accessibility, cost, and compatibility. Notice that simplicity of use isn’t one of the factors, so first let me explain why. Simplicity of use isn’t really what we’re factoring when we consider changing a system. What we really mean when we talk about simplicity is How close is this to what we’re already doing? Every system is simple once it’s learned.
Now, as far as the factors that matter, let’s talk accessibility first. When we say accessibility, we’re talking about our ability to utilize this software from wherever, whenever. Your employees shouldn’t need to be in the building or use some special piece of “bridging” software to access your necessary programs. They should have direct access from any device the company provides them, be it phone, tablet, or laptop. Ideally, they would even have access from literally any device that had an internet connection, allowing them to put in extra time from wherever warranted it. This can be achieved through cloud-based software as opposed to the server you’ve got collecting dust at the back of your office.
Cost is a huge factor when deciding on software. If you’re an average small business, you’ve got a limited budget for new software and hardware. You’ve got to make prudent choices when selecting what your company will be using. Consider Microsoft Office. Every computer you put it on needs a license, or seat, so it can be used legally. Some versions of Office come with one seat per purchase, while others come with three. Microsoft’s cloud-based Office365 comes with 5 seats per home-use subscription, and can be custom tailored at price and number of seats for your company on the professional end of the product. Based on that alone, the simplest choice is to use 365. The cost of the product per seat is drastically lower. If you’re willing to venture into the open source world of software, there are even no-cost options (yes, some things really are free). LibreOffice is a great open source replacement for Microsoft Office.
Last, we talk about compatibility. Can this piece of software work on any of the devices I have and give to my employees, or will I be restricted to certain devices? Does it integrate with my other software (i.e. does my accounting software accept the file format that my CRM produces, or can they be set to synch)? Also, is this compatible with the software that other companies who may need access to these files use (i.e. can they open this document in another program)? It’s important to make sure that the output of the software that you use is going to cooperate with your whole business. Things like double-entry, confusing characters, and incorrect data can shut you down and make a switch not worth it.
Ideally, the best way to achieve a totally optimized solution is to either develop or find a program that performs all of the functions that your business needs to perform at its peak. If all the information synchronizes automatically, and your employees only need to open one program, you have definitely achieved your maximum Vertical Integration potential.
If you’re not currently vertically integrated, we can help. If you’ve already been working to achieve total vertical integration, let us know what’s been working for you in the comments below. We’d love to know how it’s impacted your business!