The rise of cloud computing, social networking and mobile applications in the past couple of years has turned doing business on its head. Ordering software on CD and installing it on employee machines is a thing of the past. But for many business owners the sheer saturation of products available makes choosing the right technologies hard. And in turn, the question ‘how do I use these products to save my business time and money?’ becomes complicated. Ironically, this is exactly what this next-generation of products have been designed to do. Here we take a look at ten ways that these new technologies could save you time, money, and change the way you do business.
1. Putting your office in your pocket: The humble mobile app is possibly one of the easiest ways to reduce overhead costs and improve competitiveness and productivity. The Apple App Store and the Android Marketplace are flooded with business-focused applications. Apps like iTerminal will process credit card payments, the Encamp app is a sophisticated project management tool and Quickoffice allows you to open and edit Microsoft documents on your iPhone
2. Paying as you go: Just because you are out of the office doesn’t mean you can’t keep a handle on invoices, expenses or make payments on the go. The new Xero Touch app allows you to create, approve and send invoices from your phone in addition to tracking late payments or attaching electronic copies of receipts, speeding up expense claims.
3. Sharing is a real plus: Sharing information across organisations big or small is always a challenge. Google + is the latest and greatest social media tool on the market, and despite its focus on ‘socialising’, features such as Circles offer incredibly sophisticated sharing capabilities which allow project groups to be set up with ease and documents and images to be shared quickly.
4. Smart calls reduce maintenance: Making phone calls over the internet is nothing new, but VoiP has come a long way since Skype first came on the scene. Business-ready systems by companies like Fonality and Engin can potentially cut out the time it takes to install and manage in-office phone systems. Plus, they come with the added benefits of cheaper calls and in some cases iPhone-ready apps.
5. Staying alert at all times: Keeping up to speed with your customers and competitors is a time-consuming process. Google Alerts is designed to tracks news, web pages and blogs for you and delivers alerts to your inbox. Google allows you to define specific search terms and the interval you want to receive the alerts – hourly, weekly or monthly.
6. Making data entry easy: There is nothing more mundane returning from a big event with a collection of business cards only to be faced with having to type the information into Outlook. Multiply this by your entire sales force and a lot of time and effort could be wasted. Smart iPhone apps like CardMunch which integrate with Linkedin, make this process as painless as possible.
7. Improving your status quo: Until recently Unified Communications has been a buzz word reserved for big business, but major vendors are now tapping into the SME market. A simple status panel which appears on monitors and mobile phones can speed things up. Similar to Windows Messenger employees can share their status, launch video or voice conferences and share documents quickly.
8. Create templates: The time and effort it takes to create and distribute company templates for invoices, invites or business cards, is often frustrating especially when you see a new business proposal sent out with your old company logo on it. Systems like Sharepoint can solve this issue by providing locked-down templates for pretty much any type of document you want your business to use.
9. Reduce incoming calls: Answering customer queries takes time. You can either outsource or establish an in-house call centre. If you want to save your company time and money, consider using social media to reduce the number of queries your call centre has to handle, or install a feature such as Live Chat on your website. Telstra is an excellent example of a company using Twitter to support customer queries.
10. Take the headache out of IT: Moving your IT systems to ‘the cloud’ has many benefits, including economies of scale, but more importantly, it also reduces the time your business spends on IT maintenance. Many data centre providers now include maintenance costs for free. This means you no longer have to worry about servers, security or costly IT support bills.
– Chris Ridd is the Managing Director of Xero, Australia