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01 Jun 2010

For the past few years, Government and industry leaders have been pushing hard for New Zealand businesses to lift productivity in order to increase the performance of the economy in relation to our OECD partners. While it’s clear that productivity gains could make a significant difference – not just in terms of the national interest but in the success of individual business owners – for the majority of New Zealand businesses, where the operation depends on just a handful of people, large-scale productivity improvements can be difficult to achieve.However, for many Kiwi businesses, technology could hold the answer to becoming more productive and more profitable.“It’s really about business owners and managers working smarter, not harder,” says Julian Smith, general manager of MYOB New Zealand Limited, the country’s largest provider of business management and accounting systems, with more than 150,000 Kiwi customers.“We are constantly working with business owners to identify the elements of doing business, from government legislation to purchasing agreements, that cause the most difficulty. And we consistently hear that many of the leading challenges for Kiwi businesses are based around finding the time and getting the right help to achieve a range of goals.“But rather than working harder to overcome these obstacles,” Smith said, “the answer for many businesses could be to look at the way they are using technology, and for a small investment, find ways to significantly improve both efficiency and profitability.”Smith says the tools to achieve considerable productivity gains are within reach of most local businesses. “We would recommend starting with a quick audit of how you are using today’s most common business tools: the office computer suite and the mobile phone.“Many of today’s business software solutions have powerful functionality, of which most businesses only scratch the surface. For example, as an email program, Microsoft Outlook is pretty much the standard for business communication. However, with some inexpensive additional software, it can be turned into an extremely versatile customer relationship management solution – enabling the business to segment clients, target offers and communications, track and manage contacts, and improve sales.”“For business people on the move, the mobile is a lifeline. And although some of the more advanced handsets and  provider plans can seem expensive, for any members of the business team that are frequently out of the office, having the capability to update appointments, manage emails and transport data can be a major time saver.” Smith says even  looking at the way a business’s computers are configured can make a difference to how efficiently businesses are run. “It’s surprising the number of businesses that keep their office computers separate. But setting up a shared server system – even for a small operation – can provide immediate productivity gains. Having all your team working from one central source of data can dramatically reduce filing, searching and processing time, and really cut down on errors and duplication of activity.”Understanding the financial position of the business, and how key changes in a range of functions, from debt management and credit levels, to stock levels and pricing, is crucial for any successful business, Smith says.“The experience of recession has reinforced the old adage: cash – or in this case, cash flow – is king. While you may have your operations running as effectively as possible, if you can’t accurately forecast your cash position in 90 days’ time, your business could be in trouble.”Smith says many business owners spend a lot of time wading through the books, using spreadsheets or even pen and paper, when easy-to-use business  management software is now easily affordable.“Finding the right accounting system can not only save you considerable time – it can also see very real savings when working with your accountant. Moreover, many accountants now operate a number of powerful benchmarking systems, which can enable you to do a range of scenario planning to see the difference changes to things like pricing, age of debtors and stock management can make to your operation.”The role of the bank is also an important one for most businesses, and a focus on more efficient running of expenses can also be extremely useful for the smaller business.“Operating a dedicated business credit card is the best way to keep expenses straight for a smaller operation,” says Smith. “And, if your accounting system can incorporate bank data feeds, that will save you an enormous amount of time tracking and reconciling expenses.”Smith says many business owners have built their systems up over the years in response to demand rather than on the basis of an overall strategy.“However, it makes real sense to take some time to step back and evaluate exactly how you are using technology in your business, how well staff are trained in its use, and whether a few simple and inexpensive changes could make a profound difference to the way you work.”   

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