John Cheney: Clarity is key for small and medium-sized enterprises

Soapbox

To say that we are operating in challenging times is an understatement. This is especially true for small and mid-size businesses, many of which don't have the depth

of financial resources to

ride the downturn. But while there is much discussion about the challenges that small businesses face in accessing finance, there are many other long-standing problems that exist within SMEs today.

Perhaps one of the biggest of these is having clear visibility of the business information that enables an owner-manager to make informed business decisions.

Throughout my career, which includes launching a number of businesses, I have been constantly frustrated by the lack of clear, useful data. I want good answers to some key business questions:



*How many leads do I need? How many will convert into successful sales? And what's it costing me to acquire these leads?



*Are my marketing campaigns effective? Was that trade show value for money? Which are my most profitable customers?



*Which of my customers are unhappy or at risk? Which customers have stopped buying from us and why?



I know I need good data to answer these questions. However, getting this data from the majority of IT systems targeted at the SME sector today seems almost impossible. And unfortunately my experience seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Many SME owners that I've spoken to have bemoaned the lack of useful business tools that provide up-to-date, insightful analysis of where their businesses are at in terms of sales, marketing, finance and customer service.

There is a range of business tools aimed at SMEs available, the vast majority of which are focused on a specific department – Sage or QuickBooks for finance; ACT! or Goldmine for sales, to name a few.

While they are adequate for the departmental function, they are expensive and unable to communicate with each other without costly upgrades and modifications. As such, many SMEs find themselves stranded with "islands of information", making it almost impossible to have a holistic picture of how their business is performing. This results in many businesses missing out on potential sales opportunities and economies of scale which, in the current economic climate, SMEs can ill-afford.

For many years, larger organisations have been able to take advantage of integrated business solutions such as Oracle or SAP, but these applications are a pipe dream for the vast majority of SMEs. They cost millions of pounds, which is unfeasible for most.

However, it's not all doom and gloom. Advancements in technology are continuing to bridge this gap and enable small business owners to establish improved business processes without breaking the bank. The emergence of Cloud Computing – or Software-as-a-Service, as it is also known, has removed much of the cost of investing in business intelligence tools by enabling SMEs to pay a monthly subscription to companies that provide business applications online. This removes the huge costs of implementing technologies such as Oracle or SAP, while providing consolidated tools that deliver a single view of the business that applications such as Goldmine or Sage just cannot provide.

By consolidating all business information on to one hosted technology platform, SMEs can now have one data source for all customer, prospect, partner, supplier and financial information and one platform to drive all business processes; from prospect to cash. The result? A business where everyone has visibility of all the information that is relevant to do their job effectively. A business where managers can freely access real-time dashboards showing the status of the entire organisation and make informed business decisions.

These benefits cannot be underestimated – in the current economic climate, better business decisions are not just key to success, they are key to survival. How I wish I had such solutions throughout my career.



The writer is a serial entrepreneur, and the chief executive and founder of Workbooks Online (www.workbooks.com)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence