John Cheney: Clarity is key for small and medium-sized enterprises - SME - Business - The Independent

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


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 (

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Sales Executive

£20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Payroll & Accounts Assistant

£20 - 24k + Benefits: Guru Careers: This is a great opportunity for an enthusi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £280 - £320 p/d - 6 months

£280 - £320 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Senior BA - Insurance **URGENT**

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week