Technology in Modern Management Practice – Helping SMES Succeed in the Digital Economy
The accessibility of advanced technology has at last allowed SMES to enter genuine competition with large multinationals in foreign markets, but with each new market a business enters, many unique factors need to be considered for the effort to succeed. If technology leads us into this web of complexity, however, it can also be used to navigate our way through it, as long as it is harnessed properly at all levels of one’s business.
One area of complexity to be navigated is the set of laws surrounding the digital economy. The Thai government, recognizing the importance of this new era of business and the need for legal clarity within it, has introduced a new and standardized set of rules which govern the digital economy in the country. These rules cover significant digital territory, as they enforce copyright laws and regulate ownership of electronic data, in addition to protecting that data from unauthorized access and formalizing the process of adding digital signatures to documents such as contracts.
With these ground rules in place, the playing field in the digital economy becomes more level and accessible for SMES looking to do business – both within Thailand and outside the national borders. But real growth in the digital age requires a great deal of coordination within a company, in order to remain responsive to the rapid changes taking place as far as interacting with customers through online marketing and selling. Fortunately, as the digital economy has led to a tremendous increase in the possibilities for doing business, it has also led to significant ad- vances in how to internally manage that business.
We’ve all seen how software can give a layer of convenience, customization and choice to consumers. Anytime you buy an app, place an order online or make a hotel booking, software lets that happen. But those same transactions can create real problems for internal accounting procedures, and if a company sells dozens of different products, that company’s spreadsheet information can soon become unwieldy and hard to synthesize.
Very often modern businesses focus their use of technology on interactions with customers, but new advances in administrative tools can be just as important, even if they are less well- known. Standard spreadsheets and databases, while very useful for some limited purposes, more often resemble Swiss army knives: acceptable for many tasks, but ideal for very few. As technology pushes business into more complex areas, old tools like these are becoming less adequate to the task of coordinating efforts within a company, and a new generation of software is beginning to step in and pick up the slack.
Let’s begin with the types of tools that any company can benefit from. At the top of that list is time management software, which a company can use to track the time spent by its employees on any given task. Some products might appear to be very profitable to a company based on a comparison between the money required to produce an item and its sticker price, but that calculation might not take into account its opportunity cost. Apart from prioritizing, it is always helpful to know where your employees’ time is going, so that if some tasks are taking longer than they should, you will know where to step in to give extra training and oversight. There are too many time management products to list here, but popular services like Toggl and Freckle are fine to use and free to try out.
Next on the list are some shortcuts to save time on arduous administrative tasks. Some time- trackers ( like Harvest) can also help out here by allowing businesses to produce quality invoices in under a minute. Other services, such as Prolevel ( founded by one of the authors of this piece) go a step further by putting a customer relationship management tool together with an inventory manager and an invoice generator, so that each transaction can be processed automatically across the entire system. Other products focus on one or two of those tasks, like Easy Invoice and Pipedrive.
An advantage of using any of these types of services is that they allow you to be actively involved with your business even if you’re not sitting in your office. If your morning commute takes 40 minutes, then that time could be spent looking at up- to- the- minute data and reviewing the performance of the company, its products or its staff. By the time you walk through the lobby door, you’ll already know what everyone else in the office has been up to.
As far as publishing goes, products like Apptividia can facilitate the creation of digital e- books or magazines for personal
publication or for presenting corporate material in a stylish format. And the enormous warehouse at Envato Market is a one- stop shop for professional website templates and browser scripts, audio, graphics and stock photos so that each SME doesn’t have to create all of its online content and design from scratch.
With the internet – and particularly social media – taking a central role in many people’s lives, businesses will need to follow their audience there if they want to remain relevant. An image editor like Canva is more than adequate for producing quality online images, which can then be posted on a website or on social media. Hootsuite lets you schedule your social media postings, so that your online marketing can be smooth and coordinated without too much effort.
To keep all of this data safe, it may be wise to use a password manager. We all have passwords for every account we use, and most of us are lazy about two things: 1) making passwords hard to crack; and 2) using different passwords for all our accounts. A password manager like LastPass can keep your password list behind a secure vault, so that you can protect your sensitive data with login codes that are actually tough to guess. With advanced hacking tools becoming ever more prevalent, it is no longer okay to use your pet’s name, or your spouse or child’s birthday to protect your business secrets. Technology is an arms race, and the consequences for using QWERTY1234 to unlock your data can be severe. ( To create a genuinely un- crackable password phrase, use Diceware.)
THAI BUSINESS SOFTWARE
Thailand has also produced very good software for specific businesses. Fourleaf has staff in Bangkok and Phuket, and its interface is specialized to handle hotel checkins and process restaurant orders. Genius ihotel is based in Nonthaburi, and is another online reservation interface for hotels. Flowaccount is based in Bangkok, and puts its focus on cloud accounting for small Thai businesses. Builk is also located in Bangkok, and it specializes in the field of construction. By connecting building contractors with suppliers and offering analytical tools to measure costs, Builk acts as an information hub in the Thai construction industry. For almost any line of business, there are optimized tools now in place which can make organization and information processing a whole lot easier than it used to be. Larger businesses can afford to produce their own in- house systems to manage the complications that come with selling hundreds of products from dozens of locations on multiple continents. But for an SME, a more realistic option is to take off- the- shelf packages and build the company’s internal processes around them. The difference in efficiency between a company that operates by making things up as it goes along, and a company that grows with organized and optimized systems, is enormous. The potential for synergy and sensible delegation of tasks is significantly greater when using modern technology to deal with the modern world.
The common theme with the examples listed above is that they are all easy to learn and easy to use. The previous generation of software was powerful indeed, but needed real computer expertise on the part of anyone tasked with operating and managing it. The real technological innovations of our time, by contrast, have to do with huge improvements in connectivity and simplicity. With today’s software, the task of managing data isn’t – if you’ll excuse the phrase – rocket surgery.
To say that a manager has many jobs to do is an understatement. They must be great communicators and motivators of personnel, and they need to react properly whether things are going well or going badly. Maturity, perspective and strength of character are irreplaceable virtues among people in leadership roles, as anyone who has ever held a job knows. But for managers to put those virtues to good use, they need to be informed by accurate information about what is happening around them. Managers who don’t have a clear vision of their own company’s performance will need to employ a certain measure of guesswork as far as making personnel decisions and choosing a direction for the business.
Effective managers of today ( and especially of tomorrow) need access to comprehensive data about their companies, in a useful, presentable format which can be easily manipulated to search for useful trends and insights. No matter how small a business still is, it is never too early for a manager to get in the habit of collecting and organizing data on how it is operating. It is also never too early for that business to upgrade to a software system that was designed for its particular needs. On the contrary, the longer a business waits, the more difficult it might be to make the transition.
Consumers are enjoying a golden age of convenience and choice. Push a few buttons on your phone, and a pizza will arrive at your door 45 minutes later. Whatever song or video game will be popular next month, we will all be able to download it with a click of a button. But why should it be only consumers who see the benefits? Software for business can be just as innovative, even though its smaller audience means that it isn’t as well advertised.
Most SMES could see an immediate increase in productivity by streamlining their online presence, tracking internal time usage and inventory, generating instant invoices, and producing automatic reports based on a synthesis of that data. Add to that an improved interface and better security, and the modern world of business management starts to seem a lot more … manageable.
Steve Callerame is a writer at Lexicon Business Communications in Bangkok. He can be contacted at: steve@ lexiconthai. com. Tlahui Calva is the founding director of Prolevel. He can be contacted at: tlahui@ prolevelcloud. com.