Tech­nol­ogy in Mod­ern Man­age­ment Prac­tice – Help­ing SMES Suc­ceed in the Dig­i­tal Econ­omy

Thai-American Business (T-AB) Magazine - - Contents - Writ­ten by: Steve Caller­ame & Tlahui Calva

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.

USE­FUL TOOLS

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.

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