Not so long ago, businesses had access to a relatively narrow assortment of programs. There was word processing software, platforms for inventory, accounting tools, and antivirus programs, but most served broad constituency. Ultimately, most critical processes either relied on in-house solutions (often the programs referred to as legacy programs in today’s tech ecosystem) or they had to be managed manually. These approaches were time consuming and prone to error, but limited software choices weren’t all bad.
Back when they had few options, businesses had to think critically about what tools they would use and how, and carefully consider the best ways to complete a given task. Today’s tools may be more powerful, but those charged with choosing the right platforms are often overwhelmed by their scope, as well as the sheer number of options. Such excess actually makes it harder for businesses to determine whether they’re doing something in the most efficient way. When six different programs can all easily complete a task, does it really matter which one your company chooses? Yes, it does.
Picking the right software can substantially boost your business’s efficiency, help keep costs down, and make your company more agile, but it isn’t always easy. By intentionally evaluating your current software, your process-based needs, and by setting targeted performance goals, you can streamline your digital ecosystem and optimize your company’s performance.
Start With Goals
The first step for any business seeking to streamline their software use with a focus on efficiency is, unsurprisingly, goals-based planning. What does your business do, and how do you define the successful completion of your professional aims? Planning isn’t just outlining a project idea, but framing how long it will last and how you’ll measure whether you’ve met that goal. This is why most experts recommend using the SMART planning process.
SMART is an acronym for how goals should function. A goal must be specific, measurable – many goals leave out this step, it must be achievable, it needs to be relevant within the bigger picture, and finally, it must be time-bound. If you don’t know how long a task will or should take or how you’ll determine a project is complete, then you don’t have a SMART goal. And while you can, and should, use SMART planning across a variety of tasks, it works particularly well for choosing software programs for several reasons – reasons made evident through the evaluation process.
Evaluating Program Needs
Once you define what your core goals are, as a business and specifically for your software ecosystem, it’s time to look at what tools you’re already working with and what tools your company needs. This evaluation process should weigh several factors, including software integration, ease of use, scalability, redundancy, and cost. These elements will carry different weights in the final decision making. For example, it may be worth it to pay more for a program that delivers more automation through business process management (BPM).
Remember: time is money, so a program that costs more but saves time may still come out ahead of a more affordable program that requires greater staff engagement to complete tasks. In fact, time management is one of the most significant business concerns as software systems multiply, since a significant percentage of lost productivity stems from the need to switch frequently between programs.
Cutting The Fat
As your business evaluates what tools it needs in order to efficiently meet its goals, you’ll also likely uncover that your company has some loose ends floating around. That could mean several things, including that:
- You’re paying for software subscriptions you no longer use. This happens surprisingly often, in much the same way that many individuals end up with stray media subscriptions. Because the payments are automated and are small, relative to the overall scope of business spending, they may be overlooked.
- You’re still running old software and it’s burdening your system. It takes time and effort to shift data and processes away from legacy programs, but it’s worth doing. Those programs are rarely optimized for speed and tend to be clunky compared to purchased solutions. They slow down your network, don’t integrate with new software, and it’s time to transition away from them.
- You’re running processes through several programs to get results that really only require one. Most popular business software integrates, at minimum, with other programs from their own suite of offerings, but even more often with the other top names in business software. For example, since the majority of companies use Salesforce, other software brands design their platforms for Salesforce integration. But while it’s one thing for a process to move through several integrated elements in order to complete a process, anything that requires staff to manually transition information between programs is doing more to hinder your business than to help it.
All of these factors are strong indicators that you need to make some updates to your software suite if you want your business to achieve maximum efficiency. Cutting back on the number of programs you’re running and instead focusing on choosing a small, targeted suite will also help your business minimize the risk of security breaches, speed up onboarding, and more.
Key Efficiency Features
You’ve set out your goals. You’ve evaluated your current software holdings and needs and gotten rid of the elements that aren’t working. Now your business is finally ready for the software adoption segment of the optimization process. There are several key features that you’ll want to focus on during this process, including:
- Standardized Scripting: Remote monitoring and management platforms (RMM) have made it possible for businesses to streamline large scale data collection and analysis, but there’s no one size fits all approach to this process. Instead, the best RMM platforms include a script library so that your businesses doesn’t need to craft the code from scratch for every new operation. Script libraries aren’t quite automation, but they enable automation.
- Integrated Pathways: As noted above, integration is an important part of efficiency. If you have to manually navigate process pathways to complete an otherwise automated task, you can just about guarantee that there’s a better way. Look for software with integrated, automated process pathways for your most common tasks, such as invoicing, report generation, and patch management.
- Easily Scaled: Scalability is critical to business success, and it’s one of the great advantages of today’s SaaS model. Though you may not have any intention or need to scale up in capacity right now, if your business is thriving, you’ll need to increase capacity (data volume, number of licenses) at some point down the line. If a program makes that hard to do, it’s not the program for your business.
- High-Level Service: Customer service tends to be overlooked when businesses are choosing software. That’s not because it doesn’t matter – it’s just because it’s harder to test for. You can run a sample of software and watch demo videos, but you can’t be sure about support and maintenance services until you’re in the thick of things. That being said, you can discuss vendor support services before committing to a contract. Will they dispatch a consultant to help with IT issues, or will they leave you talking to a chatbot? These details matter.
Overcoming Barriers To Software Transition
When a business needs to shift its processes, they tend to drag their feet. Making such a change may feel impossible or it may seem like there’s no right choice – or just too many choices. It’s okay to feel hesitant, but it’s important that you don’t let anxiety over innovation hold back your business. Instead, acknowledge your concerns and develop a plan that takes those concerns into account. By plotting out your goals, carefully evaluating your existing tools, and selecting for ease of use, automation, and strategic value, you can shift your business into its next iteration. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, but your business won’t survive that kind of stagnation. Keep your eyes on the next step.