By 2016, almost half of the world’s population is expected to be connected to the Internet. That’s over 3 billion people. This is the phenomenon that is fuelling the ‘Digital Economy’.
This new digital economy is recognised by governments and by the European Commission as a powerhouse for innovation, competitiveness and growth, holding tremendous potential for entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Digitally ‘connected’ companies can open up global markets to dramatically boost the growth of their businesses. The digitisation of manufacturing can transform the entire industry. Indeed how businesses adopt digital technologies is expected to be a key determinant of their future growth.
However, amid the buzz around the Digital Economy, there is somewhat less emphasis on going ‘digital’ right down at the grassroots in our businesses. Especially if we are SMEs. While our larger counterparts enjoy the benefits of a healthy array of Enterprise Resource Planners (EPRs) that offer outstanding features and functionality, such tools are way beyond the purse strings of small companies, are too weighty, too complicated to set up and maintain, often requiring dedicated IT staff. Even when their providers offer stripped down versions for SMEs, they are just that: stripped down versions of tools that were designed to meet the requirements of large corporations and hold little relevance for fast growing and evolving SMEs.
As SMEs, and especially as start-ups, we tend to cope pretty well at the beginning with excel sheets for managing purchases and expenses… we each manage our time individually (some still on paper and others with electronic planners, depending on our personalities)… we track our time in manual timesheets (if at all)… we request for time off and manage holidays over email… we may or may not use a project management tool…
So all in all, in the early days we generally manage ok with email, excel and, if we are progressive enough, with a number of dedicated applications. But there is one key factor missing when we work like this: connectivity. Everything is either manual or in silos; nothing is connected. As the company grows we quickly see that we are outgrowing our excel sheets and we being to wish we could automate everything and get all our operations in sync. We start eyeing up the ERP shop fronts; but we know deep down its just window shopping.
Been there. We are an engineering company from Spain that quickly grew from 2 founder staff to 14 in the space of a year. It wasn’t long before we were up at 30 staff. We set up an additional facility in Ireland…and we were eventually nearly 50 staff. We have been through all the operational growing pains. We know what it is like to have 15 or so projects on the go in parallel and to have to manually record timesheets for all those projects (especially when the onus us on the engineer, who always has something better to do!), to have to manually record the associated travel, purchases and expenses… this is very time-consuming when done in excel. We know what it’s like to look up in a daze and realise it’s kind of hard to track our profit margins from a pile of printed purchases and expenses spreadsheets. It’s a doddle to manage the holiday of 3 or 4 staff off of paper holiday request cards- try doing that when you’ve over 30 staff and with a growing client base to deliver to. The list could go on and on. And the worst of it all was we didn’t even have the time to focus on such things as our place in the digital economy! Our heads were buried in the day to day.
Enough eventually becomes enough. So at some point we jolted ourselves to take ‘time out’ to look deeply at our processes and procedures (believe me that can be really difficult to do when you are in the thick of it and always busy implementing on the work). We aimed to tighten everything up and to increase the efficiency of how we were running our business. We brought in an experienced Operations Director from the automotive sector and successfully went through the process of obtaining ISO 9001:2008 in certification. We got everything running like clockwork. We knew we now needed to automate everything. So we eventually threw in the towel and invested in an ERP; but it didn’t meet all our needs, nor was it flexible enough to fit with all our procedures.
With necessity as the mother of all invention, we set about digitising all our internal processes from team, time and leave management to project management, purchases and expense management, and even travel management. We digitised them and integrated them on the one cloud platform and then… bingo! Not only did we have a ‘connected digital company’ that is fully automated, fast and intuitive in how it is run…we also found we had created a new way of communicating in our company and internal email traffic was slashed by 70%.
Oh, and the best bit, we realised that we had developed a powerful new product to spin out into the Digital Economy and help every company become a Digital Company: sapenta.com
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