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Say goodbye to the spreadsheet

Chris Nichols, Microsoft Dynamics Consultant at Columbus UK, explains the features SMBs should look for in an end-to-end business management solution. And guess what, these are the features big businesses use all the time.

Many smaller businesses still track financial and operational data through a combination of complicated spreadsheets and basic accounting software. But as digital transformation gathers pace and cheaper and easy-to-deploy cloud solutions hit the market, having a dedicated end-to-end solution for business management not only becomes more feasible but necessary in order to stay competitive.

Why would SMBs look to change their current business management systems? At Columbus, we often find it’s due to a combination of multiple pain points, rather than one specific issue – but leading the way is always business growth.

Many SMBs simply outgrow existing systems that are either too inflexible to scale in line with business growth or incapable of supporting an increasing number of users. A solution that can onboard additional users without incurring major expense and scale to handle larger volumes of data becomes a ‘must-have’.

Levelling the field
As SMBs grow, they typically seize the opportunity to introduce additional functionality for management and monitoring. By eliminating siloed information in an end-to-end solution, business leaders can achieve a more holistic view of operations and connect employees better to make day-to-day work more collaborative. Employee efficiency gains can be boosted further by reducing or automating manual, repetitive tasks such as completing purchase orders.

Many software vendors are beginning to tailor their ERP solutions to fit the needs of SMBs specifically. One recent example is Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, which introduces more advanced functionality focused on unlocking greater insights and minimising deployment costs for smaller businesses.

New business management
solutions have progressed far beyond simply offering a ‘single pane of glass’ to view top-level organisational data. Integrated Business Intelligence (BI) and advanced data analytics deliver actionable insights to business leaders and allow them to make informed decisions or respond quickly to changes in the business environment. By directly embedding BI tools, such as Power BI, into CRM, sales and marketing systems, these decisions can be made in real-time.

This is where the playing field is truly levelled for SMBs, by enabling them to make data-driven business decisions on a par with larger competitors, with no more time consuming spreadsheet analysis to identify patterns and trends. In the case of Power BI, users can harness pre-set Microsoft reports that provide visualisations of datasets and specific insights or they can create their own.

Nor are emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), any longer restricted to the largest of enterprises. The average cost of IoT sensors has fallen year-on-year for over a decade and is projected to fall further, bringing new possibilities to SMEs.

For example, by fitting IoT devices to machinery on the factory floor and feeding data streams into a BI suite, such as Cortana Intelligence, a typical SME manufacturer can identify areas of inefficiency, predict when machinery is likely to break down and schedule maintenance accordingly. This ensures that they carry out maintenance only when necessary, avoiding the cost of scheduled maintenance and the downtime caused by machinery breakdown.

Easing growing pains
Another factor that cannot be ignored is scalability. As an SME grows, supporting infrastructure must scale accordingly or risk a breakdown in operations.

Subscription-based models are a popular deployment choice. They eliminate the need continually to purchase, transfer or renew licenses and, by enabling new users to be added or removed at the ‘click of a button’, reduce the risk of overspending on licenses.

Cloud-hosted business management solutions take the need to deploy, manage and adapt infrastructure away from SMBs, allowing them to focus on day-today operations.

Cloud-based delivery also streamlines deployment, minimising the risk of disruption to ongoing business operations. Business Central, for example, can be deployed in as little as 10 days, including all necessary training.

Easy implementation doesn’t just apply to Business Central’s core solution suite. Users can also add extensions or purchase apps offering extra functionality. If an SMB requires sales orders to be presented in a specific format, say, or wants to introduce a cross-sell functionality, the required extensions or apps can be installed in minutes.

No-risk approach
For SMEs on limited budgets but with the desire to embrace digital transformation, a subscription-based business management solution delivered from the cloud offers a no risk approach to transitioning away from spreadsheets and disjointed financial systems.

Actively connecting people, processes and systems allows key decision-makers to boost productivity and take a hands-on approach to business management informed by granular business insights.

To keep pace with digital transformation, businesses should avoid multiple systems that each address a specific business area and, instead, work with an implementation partner to tailor an end-to-end solution to their specific business needs, processes and workflows.

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2018