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Improving business productivityProductivity not only saves you time and money, but also helps you focus more on your core business. Here are some solutions to make you business more productive.

Productivity is a byword fast becoming management-speak for ‘cutting costs’. While productivity can certainly help reduce costs, the concept of productivity is more about how to maximise quality time on your business, with one of the tangible benefits being a healthier bottom line due to having more time to make money.

Lack of productivity often affects small companies that lack the human resources to cover the non-productive aspects of the business. To be a successful solo business operator, for example, you would need to maximise the proportion of billable time in your core business, while minimising the time spent doing un-billable administration work. Hence businesses with staff require a mix of staff, weighted in favour of those producing profitable goods or services.

Leave it to the professionals
One solution to ensure you invest in your core business is to outsource activities that fall outside of it. Unless you are an accountant, why should you spend half a day a week slaving over the books when you could pay a professional who will take half the time? The freed-up time can then be diverted to profitable activity, enough to pay your accountant and more.

Mark Jones, general manager of business centre franchise MBE Australia, says businesses should look to outsource as much of their non-core operations as possible. He gives the example of a typical business that has bought a high quality colour printer for the occasional run of marketing material: “There’s the cost of the capital equipment, the ongoing cost of maintaining it, supplying it with materials, and if you’re paying $1,000 a square metre for your office space, there’s that cost,” he explains.

“Then add the cost of staff—if you have equipment, you need to have people to run it and they need to know how to run it properly. After all of that, you’re not going to make any money from printing.”

You shouldn’t have to invest so much time or money into printing when you can outsource that part of the business, and that’s where the MBE concept has taken off, Jones believes. “It has become, for many businesses, their back office. They don’t buy equipment or take on new staff, they just outsource their services to MBE.”

The model has worked in the current economic environment because businesses are reluctant to outlay money for staff and equipment. “Now we get people who are using the services because they want to save money—they don’t want to buy equipment, they don’t want to take on staff,” says Jones, but adds that boom times were good to them too. “When everything’s going great, we get the overflow.”

In addition to print services, the centre has been designed as a one-stop shop for businesses’ back end operations with a telephone-answering service, mailboxes with a suite address, and courier collection, which works well for home-based businesses and business owners who travel. And you needn’t make the trip out to find an empty mailbox—they provide SMS alerts for when things arrive for you, saving businesses time.

Jones sees the outsourcing trend continuing, not just for business centres such as MBE, but in general. “Companies will tend to outsource more, they will be a lot leaner with less staff and less office space. They will be a lot more adaptable and flexible businesses that will want different services like consultants and other people who specialise in doing what they do,” he believes.

Softly does it
Software as a service (SaaS) has been an increasing trend for small businesses because of its streamlined simplicity and its scalability, both key aspects of saving time on finding and maintaining software.

Marcus Bartram, director of emerging markets at Telstra Business, says SaaS solves a number of problems for SMEs, especially those without a dedicated IT person on staff. Gone are the days of wasting hours chasing multiple vendors and their respective helpdesks. Instead, SaaS provides a platform that enables SMEs to find quick, suitable solutions without the need for specialist IT knowledge.

Bartram looks after Telstra product T-Suite, which is a SaaS platform with the added bonus of being on the Telstra network so any problems can be diagnosed with one phonecall. “Previously there used to be a chain. If there was a problem they’d turn to an IT guy and then he’d turn to the software people, then they’d blame the network and call Telstra,” he explains. “What we do is provide a single point of contact and we sit in front of all the people they would have contacted previously.”

Future capabilities will include SaaS for mobiles and a cross-product platform that will give users indicators from all their applications. “This will be a dashboard to see that, based on all the information from all these applications, this is the health of your business,” says Bartram. The tool will save business owners from having to enter into each application to retrieve results.

Another software solution to make your business more productive is the paperless office. Document management, including printing, filing and retrieving documents, can take a big chunk of time you’re better off using on your core business. According to financial solutions company Attache Software, not many businesses know that the Australian and New Zealand tax offices no longer require paper records if you meet their electronic record-keeping requirements. In addition to saving filing time, electronic records offer document security and result in faster handling of enquiries because the business’ document history is at hand.

Attache estimates that a business with an average monthly total of 400 documents—such as invoices, statements, remittances and pay slips—could save more than 40 hours of staff time each month using a suitable system, time better spent more productively elsewhere in the business.

All in the timing
Time management is one of the biggest factors in productivity. If you’re well organised, you might already have a process in place where you block out your time for certain activities. Unless you have a closed-door office without a phone however, it is more common that distractions such as phone calls and staff queries interrupt any scheduled work patterns.

Managing your time becomes a matter of managing ‘presence’, explains Mark Anderson, chief technical architect at Siemens Enterprise Communications. “The whole concept of presence is there’s a number of different areas where you can get information,” he says. “If you look at my calendar at the moment I’m in an interview with you and I’m on the phone right now. If you link those together and add rules, the system would know that there’s not much point putting a call through to my mobile. However, if I had the same thing that said I’m travelling, it would divert to my mobile or the system will make a decision whether to put it through to voicemail or put it through to someone who assists me.”

Siemens’ HiPath Open Office is a system that unifies desktop tools such as your computer and your phone, to add value to the communication process. “Programs like Outlook and voicemail systems, up until now, have been disparate items. What we’ve done with Open Office is brought them together to give them an overall productivity factor by letting them share the information they have to add value to each item,” says Anderson.

You might be familiar with this typical contact path: a client contacts you on your direct line, only to be met with voicemail. They select the option to be put through to reception, only to be told you are out. They try your mobile number, only to reach another voicemail.

With a system like Open Office, one contact number will produce a faster result. If you set a rule that marked that client as a priority, in the same scenario, even if you were in a meeting, the system would put the call through to your mobile from your direct line.

“Your investment is that you spend time with the system so it knows about you, your telephone number, your mobile number and your voicemail,” says Anderson. “If you keep your diary up to date and use keywords like ‘travel’ and ‘meeting’, the technology will take care of the rest.”

Open Office also allows better time management internally. On the system you can see that your colleague is on the phone, so it’s probably not a good time to approach her for a discussion. The technology can also be used across an entire network, so if you have offices in other states, for example, you can choose the best time to call.

Anderson believes unified communications will evolve as more links between devices are created. Wireless technology will allow even more possibilities. “You could tie this into a wireless LAN system, so if your mobile had a wireless component and you were in your warehouse, within the network area, then it would come through as an internal call. If you left the premises, then it’d be an external call. It’d be managed by the system.”

Perfect—if only you could resist the temptation to schedule a daylong meeting for some productive peace and quiet.

Improving your business’ productivity can not only save you time and money, but give you peace of mind.

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Adeline Teoh

Adeline Teoh

Adeline Teoh is a journalist with more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business, education, travel, health, and project management. She has specialised in business since 2003.

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