Earlier this year, I predicted the rise of intelligent business practices as a trend shaping Australian small-to-medium businesses.
Barely two months on, things have already progressed to the point that it’s worth revisiting and expanding on what this all means.
Intelligent business practices are a transformational, once-in-a-decade type technology shift that promises huge business effectiveness gains. These practices resolve points of friction, improve productivity and efficiency, unlock growth and help organisations scale.
The existence of intelligent business practices suggests that unintelligent or under-intelligent practices also exist. Naturally, no practice starts out as such, but they may degrade in quality or efficiency over time, slowly becoming out of step with best practice despite everyone’s best intentions.
Small-to-medium business owners or leaders are generally acutely aware of the problems their organisations face, but almost universally haven’t landed on a way to solve them.
Business leaders not only don’t have all the answers but also aren’t often able to quantify the cost of leaving these known problems unaddressed.
This has a dollar value. Research, for example, pegs the loss of productivity from poor internal communications and dealing with unnecessary email volumes at thousands of dollars per employee per year. Another study by Forrester found employees “waste an average of 12.5 hours per week on manual and repetitive tasks because of outdated solutions and practices”, costing an organisation of 100 employees $2.7 million a year.
More organisations would act faster if they could quantify the costs of their inaction and the costs of what they were missing out on. To this end, we’re seeing more organisations cost their business-as-usual practices to establish a baseline that can then be lowered by approaching business practices more intelligently.
Starting the change
The first step towards doing that is to be in the right mindset: to be open to opportunities for continuous business practice improvement.
Then it’s a matter of identifying the change opportunities and prioritising them in order of potential efficiency and cost-out impact.
This should be a relatively straightforward exercise that looks at the organisation and identifies the three biggest challenges, friction points, growth inhibitors or opportunities that, if removed, could unleash the most growth and revenue.
This is an incredibly healthy exercise for any business to undertake at any point of its existence, but as many of us emerge from a challenging two years, the timing has never been better.
It’s worth also putting some limits around this. This exercise should be approached with no preconceived notion of solutions, technology stacks or vendors. This isn’t the right place to run experiments. This should be nothing more than a straightforward examination of how efficiently the business operates.
A truism for every business, including our own, is that if you’ve been operating for any number of years, you’ll reach a point where you do things a certain way that becomes the ‘known’ or the common way of running a transaction or other process internally. That way might or mightn’t be well-documented. It might be intimately known only by one person or a handful of people. It may also not be considered optimal or best practice today.
But it’s *your* process and a part of the business DNA that has allowed you to achieve success to date.
Even within the same industry, businesses solve problems in different ways. There may, of course, be some commonality between approaches, but often they reflect and run according to the unique personality of the business and how it has evolved.
The point of running a discovery exercise on these processes and practices is to determine how successful internally they’ve allowed you to be, but then how much more successful you could be if the processes were optimised and operated in a more intelligent way.
If hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential benefits are tied up in a sub-optimal business process or practice, but a pathway exists to make that process or practice more intelligent – without incurring high cost – this should be considered a threshold or trigger point to drive towards more intelligent business practices.
The impact of adding intelligence to one business practice or process should quickly become apparent to the people that work with it, and to customers that see and experience the output of how smoothly it now operates.
This creates internal excitement for change. People want more, and it often leads organisations to drive intelligence deeper, and make more far-reaching changes to the way they operate. Confidence builds and is converted into a cycle of continuous improvement.
Given the nature of the business environment, all leaders would be well encouraged to take a fresh look at their businesses, either by themselves or with the aid of a specialist process consultancy like Tecala.
But, it all starts with a simple, straightforward and fresh look at the way you do business. Against the current backdrop of economic recovery and opportunity, SMEs and their leaders would be well advised to start now.