Most people in business are aware when things go wrong. They’re also acutely aware of how things need to be improved when this happens. Their frustration can be palpable.
Yet the actual detail involved in improving things can be outside their grasp, especially in a busy environment where time is eaten up by the day-to-day grind.
Sitting down and thinking about how things could be done better for hours at a time isn’t a luxury many of us have.
In this article, we provide some starting points and explain how making smarter business decisions doesn’t have to be difficult.
None of the five tips below are especially complicated and all can be implemented slowly, by taking slightly different approaches to make smart decisions while doing the same old tasks.
Many of the tips rely upon making better use of the data generated by your business. Data can create insights that lead to these smarter business decisions.
Nowadays, any business generates vast amounts of data on a daily basis. Rather than simply ignoring it, making use of it in the right way can be revolutionary. It’s what successful corporations credit to their success.
And the technology required to harness it has now trickled down to software for even the smallest business via tools such as their accounting software package or other business management tools.
1. Create a level playing field
Know your key performance indicators (KPIs) – those central goals that should be defining everything you do via the outcomes you hope to achieve.
Determine which analytics and data tools will help you achieve your goals and stick to them across your company.
Often this is about choosing the platform on which your cloud software will operate, or a particular provider who takes the same approach with all their software packages to ensure compatibility.
By doing this, you’ll be able to keep everybody on the same page. Operational silos won’t be able to arise, in which a department or individual guards their data and is out of bounds to the rest of the business.
Using the same platform and tools also helps avoid different teams competing against each other.
Instead, everybody will be working together by design, measuring your data in the same way and using the results to keep improving.
For managers, this level of integration creates a level playing field that makes it easy to see at a glance what the state of the business is.
They can see where success can be found and where improvements need to be made – all without having to ask anybody, request reports, or call in outside help.
All they need to do is look at the dashboard within their application to see the benefits of easy collaboration.
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2. Know when to scrap spreadsheets
Spreadsheets are amazing things. We don’t need to tell you that.
But while they have uses, you need to know when to put your spreadsheets to one side and switch to tools that are better suited for the job at hand.
Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying get rid of them forever.
But you might consider switching to using cloud-based software that presents a unified set of data, integrated with all organisational functions so you and your team can rapidly access the information needed to make the decisions that count.
Here’s an example. Your customer relationship management (CRM) used by the sales and marketing team can work with your finance tool, to provide the best visibility into what’s happening right now.
Decision-makers will get knowledge they can trust, without the need to take special measures, and this breeds the confidence to make the right decisions.
And when it comes to using spreadsheets, it might help to remember that they make it difficult to enact modern data protection regulations.
If they contains any personal data, they should have security built in by design, or your organisation could get into hot water. But aside from applying a password, there’s not much else you can do.
3. Use the best analytics available
Financial or accounting tools designed to use your company’s data to provide insights will probably come with ready-made reports, dashboards and other analytics.
But you might choose to create customised versions specifically for your needs. You could build a personalised dashboard with the specific metrics for your business health that you can view at any time and from anywhere.
Most software makes this pretty easy but you can also hire a third party to create them for you.
The difference between using dashboards featuring real-time data or working without them can be like night and day.
The benefits you can glean from data insights, in terms of instantly knowing the state of play and being able to make decisions instantly, rather than basing your strategies and tactics on gut instinct can make the difference between your business breaking new ground or struggling.
It really is that profound.
4. Seek out inefficiencies
Consider the processes that run your business. Just as a healthy mind needs a healthy body, executive decisions can only be effective if the organisational structures that underpin them are primed for the times.
Finance is a case in point.
Antiquated behaviours used by accountants and businesses – using desktop spreadsheets and handwritten bookkeeping, for example – get a job done, but not in a way that can compete on the same playing field as more forward-thinking alternatives.
If you created a business right now, would you make it exactly the same as your current business? No doubt you’d look to start with processes and tools that are efficient.
If you visit a new business that has a technology-first approach, you’ll probably notice that they’re very agile.
They’re prepared to change things quickly, without thinking too much about it, because they’re much closer to the operation of their business.
And this is what seeking out inefficiencies can do for you – each inefficiency you remove takes you one step closer to the core of your operations.
5. Be open, not closed
If you spend some time with a successful, growing organisation, you’ll probably notice something. People share. They share data, ideas, methods for doing things, and tasks. Sharing is second nature for them.
Make your data available to all who need it, whenever they need it. This isn’t always possible, of course, but always aim to have an open attitude.
Even better is to centralise around a single interconnected platform.
Across the company, silos can be dismantled as employees work seamlessly through a single platform. This negates the need to synchronise and search for various documents hiding in different apps. The right information is always there, ready to share.
Encourage staff to share too. Build it into their KPIs, or other goals and measures.
Ensure they know who to reach out to if they need assistance, and see that each request for assistance is not met with resistance but with a pragmatic assessment of how help can be provided.
What the experts say
We asked several of the Sage Business Experts for their personal advice around making smarter business decisions using technology.
“It is important to be able to identify areas of inefficiency where technology can play a part in realising the core value offer for your customers,” says Joel Blake OBE, founder and chief executive of The GFA Exchange.
“The technology might be automation, measurement or analytical practices.
“But it is just as important to understand the numbers behind your activity, and ensure you have in place a tangible way of assessing the outcomes you are creating across the whole business.”
“For me, technology is an enabler,” adds Neil Cattermull, director at The Future as a Service. “It’s a medium for interaction, engagement and ultimately my career.
“Now more than ever we rely on tech to be a source of communication – app delivery and execution, access, security and much more. It’s about connectivity and communication.”
“Technology is at the heart of our business,” explains Jo Booth, guru and head trainer at Social Media Makes Sense. “We wouldn’t have a company without it. We use technology to benchmark and set goals and KPIs for ourselves and our clients.
“Without tools, such as social media listening and reports, it would be incredibly hard for us to prove our worth to clients, compare ourselves to competition, and develop stronger marketing strategies. It influences our plan of action on a daily basis.”
Conrad Ford is the founder of Funding Options and a former banker. He ends with a word of warning: “Decisions are only as good as the information they’re based on.
“Without doubt, timely and accurate data is the lifeblood of good decision-making.”
Conclusion on making smarter business decisions
In this article, we’ve discussed methods by which you can begin to make smarter business decisions.
Although these are things you can implement right now, what we’ve really been discussing is a philosophical change within the way you and your business approach things.
Utilising data effectively brings with it the need to change attitudes and approaches. This should be communicated alongside the fresh approaches discussed above.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in March 2020 and has been updated for relevance.