5 ways to use technology to improve productivity

Productivity is a big buzzword in office culture, and for good reason. The more productive your staff is, the greater your overall efficiency and the lower your total expenses. Who doesn’t want to see their employees get the maximum work done in the least amount of time?

There are plenty of technological tools to help increase productivity. The following are a few we’ve seen work in business settings.

1. Cloud-based project management

If your project management software is housed based on a single machine (or even on your local network), there’s a good chance it isn’t accessible remotely. However, if you use cloud-based project management software, your employees can stay on task no matter where they are.

Many cloud-based options even include a smartphone app for optimum access. It doesn’t matter if you’re across town for a quick meeting or across the country at a conference. You’re still engaged.

Options like Basecamp, Asana and Zoho are great for agile teams and those with workers who prefer to work from home at least part of the time.

2. Instant communication

As we alluded to above, it’s not uncommon to find more folks working from home. In fact, some teams are spread across the globe, working together as part of multinational corporations.

And, of course, sometimes you just don’t want to get up and walk across the office to have a conversation. It will disrupt your flow.

With technology, you can easily communicate with anyone, anywhere. We recommend instant messaging apps for the easiest, most seamless communication. You can IM from your PC or your phone, and it’s so much like texting that it will feel immediately familiar to everyone.

3. Automate everything

With all the business automation tools available today, you never need to be in the position where a critical (but fairly minor) task is forgotten.

You can use automation for everything from pre-scheduled email marketing campaigns, to CRM-based reminders to follow-up with prospective customers, to in-depth analytical reports that get delivered straight to your inbox each week.

Automation is an immediate productivity booster. There’s no reason to pay someone to do something by hand that can easily be automated. Instead, free your employees to focus on the things that really require their attention.

4. Easy Outsourcing

Consider this scenario. You don’t have the right person for the job, but you also don’t want to hire a whole new employee.

There are technology tools that make it easier than ever to hire outsourced help. It even possible to hire specialists in situations where a high level of expertise is required.

Online services like Upwork or Fiverr allow you to easily view and hire freelancers for simple, straightforward jobs. When partnering with whole outsourced firms and high-level specialists, we recommend using the previously mentioned communication & project management tools.

5. Online Learning

Employee training is actually an important component of productivity. Not only does it improve the skills of your employees, which naturally makes them better at their jobs. It’s also a perk. Most employees appreciate an environment that fosters their own development.

Companies are increasingly turning to online learning as a way to offer more affordable value for their employees. One major benefit is the flexibility that comes with online learning. Whether we’re talking about online classes through a university or a specialized training course, online learning is extremely convenient.

If any of these productivity-enhancing options sound like they’d be a good fit for your business, we encourage you to reach out to your managed IT services provider. They should be able to help point you in the right direction. Plus, they can ensure you have all the network capabilities you need to support the tech tools you want.

Unlocking the power of OneNote

With Office 365 now in use in more than 120 million businesses around the world, interest in OneNote is higher than it’s ever been before. But this surprisingly versatile bit of software is still rarely used to full effect.

For the most part, this is because users are unaware of the wealth of built-in features that could be making their lives a whole lot easier, or streamlining the working processes of their whole office.

However, you don’t need to be an IT pro to make smarter, more efficient use of OneNote. Here are seven tips, tricks and shortcuts that will help you unlock the power of OneNote and put it to work effectively in your company.

Password protection

Robust cybersecurity is essential for any sensitive files or data. Sometimes, however, you may also want to password protect an internal document or notebook simply in order to give different users different levels of access.

OneNote has a feature specifically for this. What’s more, it’s extremely quick and easy to use, with password protection available in just a couple of clicks from the “Review” tab.

Simple, efficient email

OneNote allows any user to quickly and simply email their notes. By using the “Email Page” button, any user can send an email-friendly copy of the contents of a given page—including attachments and embedded files—to any number of addresses.

This is ideal for sharing minutes after a meeting, but this feature is also frequently used as a quick and simple way to transfer notes between devices even in the absence of a cloud.

Embed, embed, embed

One of the most useful things about OneNote is that it allows for the embedding of lots of different kinds of data. You can, for example, embed an Excel spreadsheet into a OneNote page. This makes the information from the spreadsheet instantly available, without the need to attach or refer to another file.

Videos, audio clips, and content from a variety of websites including YouTube and Slideshare can also be seamlessly embedded.

Transcribe from images

Pulling text from images may not be an everyday job, but when it’s necessary it can be a slow and labor-intensive process. OneNote contains a tool designed to streamline this process by copying text from an image with a single click.

The “Copy Text From Picture” option (shown when an image in OneNote is right-clicked) copies text directly to the clipboard, from which it can be pasted wherever the user requires.

Dock OneNote

Although it may seem trivial, the ability to dock OneNote to the side of a screen can be a massive productivity enhancer. It allows users to take notes from videos, websites or another program without constantly flicking back and forth between the two.

It’s super convenient to have those notes immediately at hand when, for example, making a video call or completing another task.

Employ page templates

Page templates are exactly what they sound like. They allow users to set up and save a document with a range of features such as text boxes and checklists. A clean version of this template can be opened any time it is required, making this a feature which can be applied to great effect across an office.

If you want to unify the way in which your employees take notes or approach another common task, OneNote page templates are a vital resource.

Check your history

Relatively few users are aware that OneNote preserves a version history for each and every notebook it handles. This means if a section is deleted in error or some vital notes are edited out of existence, the key information can be easily retrieved by referring to a past version of the notebook.

This is no replacement for a full backup solution, but it can be extremely useful on a day-to-day basis!

5 amazing things you can do with cloud ERP

Cloud ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) is changing the business game. According to Forbes, “Cloud ERP is the fastest growing sector of the global ERP market with services-based businesses driving the majority of new revenue growth.”

They cited the increased flexibility and speed of cloud ERP as chief factors in the fast-emerging system’s success.

What does this mean for growing SMBs? In addition to the myriad advantages cloud systems provide over their on-premises counterparts, making use of cloud ERP opens the door to some interesting capabilities you might not have considered. The following are just a few examples.

1. You can go mobile

If you’re accustomed to using on-premise ERP, you already know you have to stay connected into the local server to gain access to it. This isn’t the case with cloud ERP.

As a cloud-based system, you can pull up information from your cloud ERP anywhere you have an internet connection, on almost any device. This increased availability translates to an improved ability to collaborate with your team and freedom to engage in critical business while on the go.

2. You can streamline your operations

As a function of cloud ERP’s accessibility and mobility, you can streamline your business operations and productivity. You needn’t wait for an onsite connection to perform critical tasks. You can perform those tasks wherever and whenever you choose.

Let’s use accounting as an example.

Working in tandem and on the go, you and your team can ensure that accounts are always accurate and current. This also grants a real-time look at your accounts/finances—an invaluable benefit in situations where every moment counts.

3. You can scale more easily

With cloud ERP, you aren’t “locked in” as restrictively as you might be with on-premise ERP. This means you can scale-up—adding new features and functions as they become necessary—more easily. You can grow at your own pace and improve your business more strategically than before.

4. You can stay up-to-date automatically

When using on-premise ERP, the downtime and scheduling woes of software updates are often a major hassle. You might have to shut down your system entirely to perform said updates, and may even lose some of the customizations you had in place.

With cloud ERP, you can perform updates automatically without affecting your business or losing integrations and customization. The process is quicker, simpler, and more conducive to allowing your business to continue moving ahead at full steam.

5. You can maintain tighter security

With cloud ERP, you can manage security concerns more easily than with on-premise ERP. The cloud-based solution mitigates the need for team members to save sensitive files to their devices. They can access what they need through portals and dashboards.

And in the event a device goes missing, you’ve reduced the likelihood of important information falling into the wrong hands.

A dual advantage here is that with most of your information stored in the cloud, you’re already ahead of the curve if disaster strikes at your place of business and you need to implement your business continuity plan to stay in action.

Keep the cloud in mind when selecting your ERP

The amount you can do with cloud ERP will often outclass what’s capable with an on-premise ERP system. Be sure to work with a provider who understands the finer points of cloud ERP implementation to maximize your potential benefits.

3 different approaches to CRM systems

It’s essential that you have a CRM system (Customer Relationship Management) for managing customer data. Deciding which type will best fit the needs of your business will depend on various aspects of your company, including your budget and who’ll be using it.

There are three general types of CRM systems to choose from.

Implementing a basic CRM system

A basic CRM system is your general cloud-based implementation. The configuration would be limited to UI layout, with built-in configuration that would edit necessary fields. This type of CRM typically does not include any type of customized coding or involve any extensive processes.

This is a basic cloud solution that can provide standard functions, yet is still powerful enough to make a difference for your company.

Using this type of CRM system, you would likely focus on one single component of the modules such as sales, which would further limit the scope. Pre-built additions can be added to the basic CRM.

A basic CRM also involves transferring data of your accounts, contacts and leads into a CRM application. It won’t be necessary for the user to have all the data entered manually before using the application. With a basic CRM, a company can implement and use the CRM solution with a minimum amount of costs and in the shortest time. Some of the benefits include saving time in tracking and consolidating customer information.

Choosing a standalone CRM system

Standalone CRM is considered the superset of a basic CRM system.

This will involve the implementation of more complex processes including custom reporting, custom views, customized workflows and add-ons. Some of the benefits include the following:

  • Send automated emails or notifications
  • Gather and accurately maintain customer information
  • Analyze data and uncover various trends
  • Improve your customer service

It’s important to note that the data migration sometimes involves multiple sources which can require the need for data cleansing.

For a company that decides to use a standalone CRM, employee training will be required. CRM training for administrators will also be required if the business plans to self-maintain this kind of CRM application. This training will help those using the system gain greater efficiency and enable your company to better understand and meet the needs of your customers.

The benefits of an integrated CRM system

Integrated CRM includes the range of a standalone solution while integrating the CRM application with an external system. An external system could include an ERP application, different websites or some type of home-grown application.

This enables the systems to share data.

The integration of systems can be accomplished by either using some type of commercial off-the-shelf middleware application or by custom programming. By creating your own website to function seamlessly with the CRM system you’ll find there are several benefits for your business.

  • Maximize the company’s overall operational efficiency
  • Increase and improve the automation process
  • Spend less time on administrative duties
  • Increase employees’ time spent marketing and servicing customers
  • Eliminate the duplication of data entry
  • Provide synchronization for all your data
  • Provide better leads for your sales team

Companies using an integrated CRM solution will need to provide training for their employees. And, like a standalone CRM system, administrator training for an integrated CRM will also be needed if the company plans to self-maintain the CRM application.

We recommend finding an experienced technology company to assist with both implementation and maintenance of your CRM system, no matter which type you choose. Many managed IT services providers can help with your CRM, in addition to other critical areas like cloud solutions, enterprise resource planning, security services and basic IT support.

Office 365 migration made easy

Go into any mechanic’s garage and you’re going to find a common set of tools. There will always be a socket wrench, for example. No one who works on cars can function without one. It’s essential.

Office productivity tools are no different. You can’t do business without email and some form of a word processor. For an overwhelming number of folks—more than 1.2 billion users—the go-to productivity suite is Microsoft Office.

Cloud-based applications are on the rise

Most likely, you already have experience using Microsoft’s suite. Programs like Word, Excel and PowerPoint are common fixtures in businesses both great and small. However, there’s a significant shift in how these applications are being implemented and utilized.

An increasing number of businesses are putting heavy emphasis on cloud technology. In fact, recent analysis indicates that 90% of organizations use the cloud in some way, with 50% using cloud services as their preferred solution.

Simply put, the cloud is changing how business is done at a fundamental level, and Office 365 is a major player in the move to cloud-based services. While there are other cloud tools out there—most notably, Google’s G Suite—Office 365 is currently the most used collaborative platform on the market.

Why Office 365?

It’s hardly surprising to learn Microsoft’s offering takes the top spot. The advantages of Office 365 are considerable.

First, there’s the convenience. With Office 365, you can work and collaborate with team members from any connected device—even your phone or tablet. For business leaders on the go, that alone is invaluable.

Second, documents, spreadsheets and email messages housed under the umbrella of Office 365 are backed up in the cloud. Users can access everything from their desktop computers, just like older versions of Microsoft Office, but redundancy is also baked in. If you’ve ever dealt with any kind of data loss, you know how important backups are.

Finally, the cost savings can be compelling. Many organizations are able to justify migrating to Office 365 based purely on the numbers. This is due in part to the scalability of the platform. Microsoft offers multiple subscription options for Office 365. You just have to pick the plan that works best for your organization, isolating the products and services you need.

Additionally, adding new users to your subscription is a breeze. For companies in growth mode, Office 365 provides an easy, cost-effective way to make sure new employees have the tools they need from day one.

Migrating to Office 365

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to adopting a new software solution is the anticipated pain of making a change. Some organizations have a history of hiccups, even when just moving from one version of a program to a newer version of the same program. Moving to an entirely new solution is understandably off-putting.

Speaking frankly, who cares about improvements in efficiency in the long-term if an update puts you out of commission for weeks right now? The migration from your current solution to Office 365 has to be smooth to be worth it.

The good news is a hassle-free Office 365 migration is entirely possible. Whether you’re only migrating your email to Microsoft Exchange or planning to incorporate the full Office Suite, getting your organization online and up to full functionality doesn’t have to bring daily business to a grinding halt.

The key is working with an experienced, knowledgeable partner who can guide you through the process.

Migration done right

At CCS Technologies, our guiding philosophy is simple. Every part of the technology experience should be convenient and efficient, including upgrades and migration.

Our goal is to take the headaches out of IT services by delivering fast, effective solutions. We’ve completed full migrations to Office 365 in as few as seven days. And when migration is done, we’ll still be here, ready and able to provide ongoing support.

You can’t achieve success without the right tools in your toolbox. Think of us as your tool provider. When it’s time to move your organization to the cloud and take advantage of everything Office 365 has to offer, we’ll be happy to guide you through the process.

Get in touch with us today to let us know how we can help.

Cloud services and the SMB revolution

The word “revolution” gets more than its fair share of airtime.

Whenever something undergoes even moderate change, it seems there’s always someone standing by, ready to declare it a revolution. It probably has something to do with our American roots. The idea of an idealistic uprising stirs something deep within us.

And yet, this is one time when the word is totally applicable.

For decades, SMBs have faced a common set of obstacles. Sustaining and growing a small business has always required a delicate balance of resources. It still does, but cloud services are shifting the nature of that balance at a fundamental level.

Think of it like rolling a pair of dice. (Any SMB owner will tell you running a small business feels like a bit of a gamble.) What if you could swap the regulation dice you’ve been using for a weighted pair? New dice that are more likely to land on the numbers you want? The numbers you need?

Cloud solutions make that possible. They’re loaded dice you have license to use.

Savvy small business owners know it, too. It’s estimated that by 2020, 78% of all SMBs will rely on the cloud for core functionality. We’re not talking about a minor boost in convenience. This is transformational stuff. It has the potential to reshape how your organization operates, giving you advantages that SMBs have never had before.

Employee using a laptop

 

Cloud solutions are loaded dice you have license to use.

Big business agility

Small businesses have never been able to compete with large corporations when it comes to infrastructure. How could they? A “modest department” at an enterprise-level organization might have a staff of more than 100. A company with a few dozen employees simply doesn’t have the people to keep up.

But the cloud is changing that.

It’s no longer essential to build out your own internal solutions. There are cloud services out there that give SMBs the kinds of tools that Fortune 500 companies have had for decades, including the ability to dynamically adapt on a moment’s notice. What’s more, strategically chosen cloud solutions will work together, offering small organizations cohesion across every service.

The floodgates have opened. Today’s SMBs have access to tools that were once the exclusive domain of big business.

The 50 best cloud services for SMBs

Super-charged support

When SMBs embraces the cloud, they don’t just get the advantage of more agile tools. They get a huge upgrade in support, as well.

Cloud solutions are rarely offered like off-the-shelf products. If there are issues with functionality, there’s always an avenue for requesting support. Cloud services providers can’t afford to ignore bugs, glitches or missing features. Their services aren’t free, and commercial customers rightly expect the investment to pay off.

The good news here is that you can count on cloud applications to be reliable. They have to be, or providers won’t last. And because your business is one of many relying on any given cloud solution, the back-end support is typically robust.

Issues are rare, and when they happen they’re dealt with quickly.

Improved innovation

The emerging cloud model makes it possible for SMBs to offload a lot of routine-but-necessary tasks—everything from accounting to resource management. There are cloud services that incorporate automation, direct support, or a hybrid of the two.

That means you don’t have to use your most valuable resource (your people) to manually manage those services in-house.

Here’s where the real power of the cloud comes into play. When your people are free to plug into more productive, ground-breaking work, your business is poised to explode. The most successful companies, big and small, cultivate a culture of innovation. That’s only feasible if your organization finds ways to be efficient, freeing your staff to unlock their creativity.

Cloud solutions can make that happen.

Cloud services are extremely efficient.

Taking your business to the cloud

The benefits of utilizing cloud services are there. The key to making them work for your business lies in finding the right solutions in the right combination.

Your managed IT services provider (MSP) can help with that.

After all, your MSP already knows how your company operates. These are the folks who understand what makes your business tick. They should be able to find a complete set of cloud solutions tailored specifically to your needs.

And if you don’t already have a managed IT services provider, now is a good time to find one.

As we observed at the beginning of this whitepaper, running a small business can feel a lot like gambling. But it doesn’t have to. You can have your very own set of loaded dice, shifting the odds in your favor.

Isn’t it about time?

Your definitive guide to business data: How to keep it alive, mobile and meaningful

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

  1. Keeping your data alive (AKA cybersecurity)
    1. Covering the basics
    2. Software protection
    3. Hardware protection
    4. Human error protection
    5. Worst-case scenario protection
  2. Keeping your data mobile (AKA remote access & collaboration)
    1. The right tools for the job
    2. The power of BYOD
    3. Mobility tips, training and feedback
  3. Keeping your data meaningful (AKA analytics)
    1. Slice and dice
    2. Connecting the dots

 

 

Boy, you said it, Andy. The whole world, including your business, is one big data problem. Then again, as Aaron Koblin pointed out, “I think you can have a ridiculously enormous and complex data set, but if you have the right tools and methodology then it’s not a problem.”

And that’s what this article is all about—turning your business data problems into strategic business advantages. In order to accomplish that, we’re going to explore how to keep your data alive, mobile and meaningful.

Or, if you prefer business-speak, we’re going to look at cybersecurity, remote access, collaboration, and business data analytics.

Keeping your business data alive (AKA cybersecurity)

Cybersecurity breaches make headlines on a regular basis. So often that we’re getting used to hearing about them—when they happen to someone else. The moment your business data falls prey to cybercriminals, it’s a whole different story.

Let’s keep that from happening so that your business data remains safe and secure.

Covering the basics

Basic cybersecurity is a fairly easy thing to accomplish. You don’t have to be an IT professional to make sure your business has the most essential protection. You just have to know what’s needed.

You need four things:

  1. Software protection
  2. Hardware protection
  3. Human error protection
  4. Worst-case scenario protection

Know the terms

It’s also smart to have a working knowledge of some of the most common forms of cyberattack. Ransomware headlines are meaningful because you know what ransomware is. But if there are other forms of attack you don’t know (for example, social engineering or SQL injection), you won’t keep an eye out for new information about them.

We have a guide that covers the most common forms of cyberattack. It’s definitely worth the few minutes it will take you to read it.

Software protection

Antivirus and anti-spam programs are practically a given on any network these days, personal or professional. If you don’t already have both kinds of protection for your company’s network, get on that. There are plenty of good, affordable options out there.

The harder work of software protection rests squarely on your shoulders—or on the shoulders of your managed IT services partner, if you have one. We’re talking about updates.

Those annoying notifications you get about various programs needing a patch or an update? Yeah, those are actually really important if you’re committed to protecting your business data.

Software manufacturers often include beefed-up security in software patches. In fact, the WannaCry virus that made headlines in 2017 took advantage of Windows vulnerabilities that Microsoft had already addressed (you guessed it) in a previous software update.

 

 

Hardware protection

Hardware protection runs the gamut from using business-appropriate equipment (like routers designed for commercial use) to sophisticated, encryption-enabling servers that make business data nearly untouchable. The former is easy to stay on top of as long as you’re paying attention, and you probably don’t need to worry about the latter.

Additionally, there are all kind of hardware issues you can likely address on your own. While there will undoubtedly be times when a bit of professional help is warranted, the most common troubleshooting techniques (the ones the pros will use first) aren’t shrouded in mystery. On the contrary, anyone can do basic troubleshooting.

Consider checking out MakeUseOf’s basic network troubleshooting guide before accruing any billable hours with your MSP.

 

15 cool tech facts that will blow your mind

 

Human error protection

Here’s a brutal truth. Software and hardware protection can only take you so far. And unfortunately, human error can completely wipe out the protection even the best hardware and software can provide. One employee mistake can literally expose all of your business data.

And that’s to say nothing of actual internal threats. Even small businesses need to keep their guard up against malicious insider activity. One way to do that is to make sure everyone on your staff knows what to keep an eye out for.

Said another way, employee cybersecurity training isn’t a luxury. It’s a vital necessity.

If you’re not sure how to get started with employee training, check out our guide. It’ll walk you through the high-level ins and outs of an employee training program aimed at cybersecurity and data protection. Additionally, we recommend that you train your staff on some of the most common cybercriminal tactics, like phishing, social engineering and spoofing.

If your employees know about these devious tricks and how to avoid them, your business data is far more likely to remain safe.

 

 

Worst-case scenario protection

Okay, so it’s obviously better to stop a business data breach than to deal with one after the fact. That said, there are no guarantees. Cybercriminals are a resilient bunch. We find ways to stop ‘em dead in their tracks, and they bounce right back with newer, sneakier, more sinister ways of breaking into your network.

So you need a backup and disaster recovery (BDR) plan. The goal of a BDR is to minimize downtime, getting you back into productivity mode as soon as possible in the wake of any kind of network failure.

In addition to your BDR strategy (sometimes also called a business continuity plan), we recommend developing plans for deleting old data, retiring out-of-date hardware, and annual reviews of your technology to ensure you have all the protection you need.

Keeping your business data mobile (AKA remote access & collaboration)

 

 

Cloud computing has changed the way we handle business data in profound ways. The cloud offers secure options for storing even massive amounts of data combined with the convenience of anywhere, anytime access.

Mobility is where it’s at. Here’s what you need to know to stay connected to your data on the go.

The right tools for the job

First and foremost, you need the right technology solutions. Broadly speaking, these come in two forms: data storage and mobile-ready apps. However, in an increasing number of cases, the line between those two categories is pretty blurry.

Take Microsoft’s OneNote as a prime example. Included as a core component of Office 365, OneNote is a ridiculously robust note-taking and organization tool, complete with online access and collaborative sharing. We’re fans. In this single tech tool, you have both remote business data storage and a user-friendly interface designed for mobility.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In addition to relatively basic (but extremely convenient) tools like OneNote, there are some sophisticated business data management solutions that are just as mobile-friendly. Not that long ago, it would have been hard to envision something as robust as a CRM or ERP in the cloud. Today, both classes of software are just as remotely accessible as email.

The power of BYOD

BYOD stands for “bring your own device.” Even if you don’t realize it, you probably already work in a BYOD environment.

Any time any employee connects any device they own to your network to access business data, that’s BYOD. That includes smartphones and tablets. If any of your employees check work email from their phones, that’s BYOD in action.

BYOD is great. It keeps your staff engaged and productive, even when they’re not in the office. However, it also has the potential to expose your business data to potential breaches. We recommend that you develop a formal BYOD policy that includes specific guidelines to ensure your employees don’t inadvertently compromise your security.

 

 

Mobility tips, training and feedback

We’ve already touched on several of the mobility-ready tools out there that can take your company’s productivity to the next level. Anything that allows your employees to access business data on the go has the potential to boost efficiency—provided they know how to use those tools.

Similar to cybersecurity, we recommend that you take an active role in training your staff on the pros, cons and best practices of remote access. Give them practical, hands-on tips and tricks, encourage them to share what works for them, and stay engaged.

It would be a shame to learn that super-expensive mobility software you’re paying through the nose for is basically worthless . . . but a much cheaper alternative would have been perfect.

Keeping your business data meaningful (AKA analytics)

Having a lot of business data isn’t enough. So you’ve got spreadsheets full of stats? So what? What matters is what you do with all that data.

Slice and dice

In business-speak, the strategic use of your data is referred to as Business Intelligence (BI). You could utilize BI to determine where there are bottlenecks in your supply chain. Or who your most profitable customers are. Or even predict future buying trends, taking into account variables like seasonality, weather, activity in related markets, and even the political atmosphere.

Real world examples of BI in action are compelling and exciting. They show us just how powerful data analytics has the potential to be. And while your SMB may not be ready to dive into the deep end, there are almost certainly ways you can use BI.

Putting BI to work for your company is simply a matter of digging into your business data in meaningful, actionable ways. When you know how to listen to the story your data tells, you’ll begin to get an idea of how you could use that data to stay ahead of the curve.

 

 

Connecting the dots

Now you’re on your way. Your data is safe and secure, you can get to it from anywhere, you’ve got convenient tools for recording, accessing and analyzing it, and you know what kinds of trends to look for in the data so you can take action based on your analysis.

This is where things get fun.

If you’re in the manufacturing or distribution field, for example, this is the point where you can begin to leverage your ERP business data to make meaningful changes to your entire process. Those changes can result in greater efficiency, lower cost, faster turnaround times, and easier internal communication.

Or what about the impact on customer relationships, regardless of the industry you work in? Modern CRM software can help you manage your sales funnel, upsell current customers, address customer complaints, and even maintain automated communication with your customer base. Just make sure you choose the right type of CRM for your business—one that meets your needs and gives you the strategic tools to move your business forward.

This is where the rubber meets the road—and where you start to see the very real bottom-line impact of effective business data analysis.

The beginner’s guide to cloud ERP

Keeping your company running smoothly is a big task. Each individual department needs to run effectively, and all departments need to interact efficiently with each other. Cloud ERP is an effective method of keeping all areas of your business running smoothly.

This one tool really can transform how your business operates.

What is ERP?

ERP is the acronym for “enterprise resource planning.”

ERP helps organize, oversee and manage all the individual processes that keep a company running effectively. This could include everything from human resources and finance to marketing and manufacturing.

ERP systems rely on a centralized database for keeping track of all the moving pieces. When used effectively, ERP enables better communication and collaboration.

How does ERP work?

ERP works by organizing and integrating a variety of data from several departments in your company. Traditional ERP software depends on a local server infrastructure. This would require an onsite server you’d have to manage and maintain.

The great thing about cloud ERP is that it’s just as effective as a legacy, onsite ERP, and it can work for a variety of industries. That includes finance, manufacturing, distributing and any other vertical that could benefit from ERP.

How does cloud ERP work?

Doing business in the cloud allows companies to harness unprecedented levels of flexibility and agility. In fact, a cloud-based application, like cloud EPR, give SMBs access to enterprise level technology.

Cloud ERP offers customers an entire system that can work more effectively in unison. Utilizing a cloud ERP has several advantages notable advantages when compared with an ERP housed in an onsite server. These include:

  • Less costly: Services are leased as needed instead of requiring an expensive upfront purchase that might include more options than you actually need. You won’t have to invest in the necessary hardware or hire a qualified technician for maintenance. This is ideal, especially if you have a small or mid-size company.
  • Increased security: Keeping data secure is crucial and requires expertise and advanced technology that most small companies simply can’t afford. This makes it critical to choose a vendor that has the ability to keep your data secure. When your sensitive company information is stored in a secure cloud ERP, you’re adding another layer of protection to your company’s cybersecurity plan.
  • Protection from disasters: Security doesn’t just mean protection from hackers. When you’re storing all your information onsite, you’re susceptible to fire, floods and power outages. Cloud ERP can be a crucial part of your disaster plan.
  • More flexibility: Your cloud ERP can be accessed anywhere there’s internet. You can work from a tablet, a laptop or your mobile phone. This makes collaboration with your entire team easier.
  • Easy implementation & access: When your ERP is in the cloud, it normally takes less time to implement the system. You also have access to all your data and business applications at all times.

How do you keep ERP working effectively?

While there are several advantages of using cloud ERP, there are a few challenges you’ll need to keep in mind.

Support, especially during the start-up phase, is crucial. You want to get things get off the ground smoothly. We advise including your managed IT services provider in the process right from the beginning. That ensures you have the support and guidance you need to make the most of cloud ERP.

Real-world examples of business intelligence

Software and technology play an ever-increasing role in the business world. One of the most important technologies in today’s business environment is business intelligence software.

Here’s what you need to know about the basics of business intelligence and how some well-known companies have put it to work in their day-to-day operations.

What is business intelligence?

Today, businesses of all sizes have access to mountains of data that were never readily available in the past. Business intelligence (BI) is a way to make sense of what these data points mean and turn them into insights that businesses can use in real-world decision-making.

Using analysis software, BI systems take raw data sets and use them to inform everything from marketing strategies to planning for possible future setbacks.

Want a few examples?

Lowe’s leverages BI

Though the concept itself may seem a bit vague, there are many examples of large businesses putting BI to work to solve concrete problems. One of the earliest examples you’ll find of a large enterprise using BI is Lowe’s, America’s second-largest home improvement store chain.

In 2007, the company started building a new data center in Texas specifically to expand on its already significant business intelligence capabilities. Like many retail chains, Lowe’s uses BI to optimize its supply chain efficiency and reduce the rate of fraudulent returns in its stores.

Starbucks gets in on business intelligent

The Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks is also a prominent user of BI technology. Through its popular Loyalty Card program, Starbucks is able to amass individualized purchase data on millions of customers. Using this information and business intelligence software, the large coffee company can then predict what purchases and offers an individual customer is likely to be interested in. The company informs customers of the offers it believes they will want to take advantage of via mobile devices.

This system lets Starbucks draw existing customers into its stores more frequently and increase its volume of sales. In this capacity, BI has a use similar to traditional CRM systems. In fact, many businesses choose to combine BI and CRM systems to get the most out of their data.

Amex is big on BI, too

One of the areas of business in which BI has been most effective is the finance industry. American Express has been a pioneer of business intelligence in this sector, using the technology to develop new payment service products and market offers to customers.

Rather impressively, the company’s experiments in the Australian market have rendered it capable of identifying up to 24% of all Australian users who will close their accounts within four months. Using that information, American Express can take effective steps to retain those customers who would otherwise be lost.

BI software also helps the credit card company detect fraud more accurately and thereby protect customers whose card information may have been compromised.

Amazon and business intelligence go hand-in-hand

Last but not least among the companies that use BI is the online retail giant Amazon.

Much like Starbucks, Amazon uses business intelligence technology to personalize product recommendations and market products, but it also uses its BI software tools for logistical business decisions. In fact, in-depth data analysis is what enables Amazon’s massive supply chain to run smoothly.

From optimizing shipping routes to allocating inventory among warehouses, data and BI tools influence practically every step of Amazon’s supply process.

The tip of the BI iceberg

Amazingly, these are just a few of the many uses to which modern business intelligence software can be put. From finance to retail and even in the public sector, BI technology is helping organizations glean useful insights from their data.

If your business has large amounts of customer data but isn’t using it to increase profitability, now is the time to invest in BI software solutions and the IT support needed to implement them effectively.

4 ways a CRM helps you improve customer relationships

Excellent customer service is an art. One that can be difficult to master. The good news is there are plenty of tools that can help you better serve your customers.

Our favorite is a CRM.

But CRMs are packed with features. It’s hard to know the best way to use such a robust tool. To help out, let’s explore the high points.

Here are our 4 favorite ways your CRM can help you improve your customer interactions.

#1: Detailed customer dashboards.

When all of your customer data is in a single location, you spend less time searching for individual pieces of information. 360-degree customer profiles centralize customer information so that it’s all available on a convenient dashboard. In a single view, you can see email messages, order history, transactions, previous customer support interactions and more.

When a customer calls, you’ll be able to see every interaction you’ve ever had with them. All without having to dig for information.

“64.2% of companies rate CRM tools as impactful of very impactful.” — LinkedIn

#2: Access important information on the go.

Sales representatives need to be able to help customers no matter where they are—at their desks or out on the road. CRM systems are built with mobility in mind.

It doesn’t matter if your employees at a trade show, a client’s office, or in a cab on the way to a meeting. As long as they have an internet connection, your team can stay productive.

#3: Social media management made easy.

More and more CRMs are incorporating social media interaction. Why would you want to link your company’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn account with your CRM? So you can see how social media activity is affecting customer relationships.

For example, a lot of customers will take to social media when they have strong feels about a company. Every mention is an opportunity—even when customers are upset. If you can turn a bad experience into a good one right there in your Twitter feed, you’ll win that customer back as well as every other customer who’s paying attention.

“Customer relationship management (CRM) systems help you better understand your customers’ needs and how to meet those needs while enhancing your bottom line.” —CIO

#4: Knowledge at your customers’ fingertips.

Some customers will do absolutely anything to avoid making a phone call. That actually plays to your favor. Sure, you could tell insist that they call or email. Or you could create a knowledge management portal using your CRM.

Wiki-style knowledge management portals enable customers to access FAQs or troubleshooting information all on their own. Many CRM systems also let customers build their own online communities. These are spaces where customers can ask each other for help and provide your business feedback. An IT consultant with CRM experience can help you with setup.

Get the most out of your CRM system.

If you’re not using your CRM to build brand loyalty and enhance your customer service efforts, you’re missing out. These 4 CRM features will allow you to tap into and improve your customer’s experience.

Happy customers are loyal customers. And the more loyal customers you have, the more you’ll be able to grow your business.