There’s no doubt that technology is changing the way that UK businesses go about a wide variety of tasks. Never before have so many options for automation and computerisation presented themselves to the business owner or director. The ubiquity of computers with internet connections, of tablets and smartphones, of GPS availability and the digitisation of everything from phone systens to coffee machines has made modern business faster, leaner and more efficient.

Modern customers expect the speed and convenience that’s only achievable with improved technology. Cutting costs is only realistic if efficiencies are improved in the way that only technology makes possible. During recessionary times then, only technology can provide the necessary savings and deliver the competitive edge you need to see you through.

At least in theory.

In practice the rush to embrace new technologies can tempt us into a large acquisition before we’re perhaps quite ready. Sometimes our existing processes and systems are actually better suited to the scale of our business because they don’t require additional expertise and hardware (not to mention hour upon hour of head scratching during installation and set up).

So where does the dividing line fall? How can we be sure that the technology we’re thinking of investing in will actually be of benefit to our business? That it will pay for itself? That it will free up key personnel to concentrate on their core activities?

Obviously every business is different and each case unique. There needs to be a careful weighing of costs and benefits for every technological purchase. But there are clear warning signs that indicate when a systems upgrade is required:

1. Your staff can no longer cope with administrative tasks

A growing business completes a growing number of transactions – all of which need processing and logging. There will come a point when the burden becomes too great for your staff – gaps will start to appear and widen, compalints of overloading will start to work their way up. Extra help is probably required in the form of automation.

2. Different parts of your business aren’t integrated

The different departments all have their own manual systems in place, no two of which are the same, which makes things like payroll management, invoicing and processing expenses a complete nightmare. This is an indication that you’d benefit form a single, centralised, partly automated system.

3. It becomes impossible to grow

You want to take on extra workers in order to grow your business but you can’t because you lack the finance and IT systems to cope with any additional employees. The extra work required to administrate their employment would effectively lead to no gain. Automation of finance and HR tasks can make taking on new staff less of a burden for your existing staff.

4. Your customers complain of inefficiencies and inconveniences

This is closely related to point 1 – if your staff are spending too much time on admin and not enough time delivering on customer expectations then complaints will start to roll in. But it can also be symptomatic of a technology gap between you and your competitors. Such a gap needs to be addressed before your customers are driven away.

5.  You struggle to stay compliant with legislation

Tax, health and safety, employment law and countless other types of legislation change rapidly and keeping up with them is made even harder if you don’t have consistent processes in place for dealing with them. Again, automation makes it easire to track, record and deliver up details of every transaction, qualification or grievance procedure.

6. You’re not closing sales

The leads are still coming in but you’re not getting as much business out of them. Something is going wrong between the enquiry coming in and the point where the customer is ready to purchase. It could be that your method of managing leads is inefficient: you’re not getting on them quickly enough; you’re not managing contacts appropriately; there’s confusion over who’s dealing with what account. Another area where automation can deliver improvements.

7. You’re losing online presence to your competitors

Technological improvements aren’t just for internal processes but can help you reach out to new customers too. If your competitors websites are outranking you in search engine results, if they’re outshining you on social networks and if it’s their email campaigns that you’re customers are cooing over then upgrading your marketing processes could be in order. Automation here will help you track ROI on your marketing efforts while updating websites and the underlying software makes everything more convenient fro your customers.

Of course, all of the above are just symptoms of a possible technological gap within your business. The causes could lie elsewhere – in personnel issues or purchasing for example – but if you’re experiencing more than one of these problems there’s a good change that you’re an IT laggard. Emerging from the other side of recession as a successful business means utilising every possible means of improving the efficiency of your business. You should leave no stone unturned, no possibility unexplored for ways to solve serious problems like these.

But you should also, of course, be careful to ensure that what you’re spending is justified.

Have you recently made a big technology purchase? Did you automate your marketing? Implement a Customer Relationship Management system? Start using a software-as-a-service payroll system? How have you found it to work out? Has it improved efficiency dramatically? Has it paid for itself yet? Was it an expensive disaster?

Please do tell us about it in the comments below…

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