No more spreadsheets: key considerations for SMBs adopting end-to-end business management solutions

By Chris Nichols, Microsoft Dynamics Consultant at Columbus UK
For many small and medium-sized businesses, tracking financial and operational data is often done through a combination of complicated spreadsheets and...

For many small and medium-sized businesses, tracking financial and operational data is often done 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 becomes a necessity to stay competitive. Chris Nichols, Microsoft Dynamics Consultant at Columbus UK, explains the features SMBs should look for in an effective business management solution.

Why would SMBs look to change their current business management systems?

At Columbus, we often see the cause as a combination of multiple pain points, rather than one specific issue – but leading the way is always business growth.

Many SMBs simply outgrow their existing system. They 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 expenses and scale to handle larger volumes of data becomes a ‘must-have’.

Software vendors see the opportunity for SMBs to level 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 better connect employees to make day-to-day work more collaborative. Employee efficiency gains can be boosted even further by reducing or automating manual, repetitive tasks such as completing purchase orders. Many software vendors are now beginning to tailor their ERP solutions specifically to fit the needs of SMBs.

SMBs can now embed Business Intelligence

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 rapidly respond 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, who are now able to make those data-driven business decisions on par with their larger competitors. There’s 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 create their own.

IoT is no longer far-fetched for SMBs

Emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) are also no 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 continue falling for several more years.

Take a typical SMB manufacturer as an example. By fitting IoT devices to machinery on the factory floor, employees can monitor equipment conditions, uptime and operational efficiency. Then by feeding these data streams into a BI suite such as Cortana Intelligence, this data can be analysed to identify areas of inefficiency, predict when machinery is likely to break down and schedule maintenance accordingly.

The manufacturer can carry out maintenance only when necessary – avoiding both the cost of scheduled maintenance and downtime caused by machinery breakdown, putting them at a considerable competitive advantage to rivals.


Eliminate growing pains at the click of a button

Scalability is one factor that simply cannot be ignored for SMBs. As a business grows, supporting infrastructure – both physical and digital – must scale accordingly, or risk a breakdown in operations.

To this end, subscription-based models are a popular deployment choice. They eliminate the need to continually purchase, transfer or renew licenses to ensure the entire workforce has access to the necessary business software. By simply allowing new users to be added and removed at the ‘click of a button’ and assigned varying levels of membership, there is no risk of overspending on licenses.

Step into the cloud

Cloud-hosted business management solutions take the need to deploy, manage and adapt infrastructure away from SMBs, allowing them to focus on day-to-day operations and serving their customers. The burden lies with the host to ensure over 99% uptime for operations. Cloud-based delivery also expedites deployment, minimising the risk of disruption to ongoing business operations. For example, Business Central can be deployed in as little as 10 days — this includes all necessary training, implementation and go-live!

In the case of Business Central, a quick rollout of the solution is not the extent of its capability. Aside from the core solution suite, users can add extensions which introduce additional functionality as well as purchasing apps to the core platform through a plug and play approach. If an SMB requires sales orders to be presented in a specific format or they want to introduce a cross-sell functionality, these extensions or apps can be installed in minutes.

Limited budget should not limit SMB potential

For SMBs 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 which is actively informed by granular business insights. With rich feature sets and high adaptability on offer for minimal outlay, today’s business management solutions allow SMBs to match the power of larger enterprises.

The time is now

To keep pace with digital transformation and maintain that competitive edge, businesses should be looking to avoid multiple systems that each address a specific business area. That means working with an implementation partner that helps tailor the chosen end-to-end solution to meet specific business needs, mapping business processes and workflows. The right deployment will give small and medium-sized businesses the platform they need to exploit disruptive technologies, avoid business disruption, compete, grow and succeed.


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