While small business owners know that technology can help them be more efficient, they don't always know how to get started. According to Jenny Vandyke, director of Zumbara Consulting, an advisory specialising in innovation, the way technology is applied is more important that the technology itself.
"Being innovative in business isn't just about buying an iPad. There are many forms of technology... but buying these doesn't necessarily solve specific problems or make the business particularly innovative unless they are introduced in a strategic way and utilised fully."
One of the challenges for small businesses in introducing technology is deciding which technology will be right for that particular business. The huge range of options, opposing viewpoints, and conflicting comments of the experts and marketers can make the decision-making process confusing to say the least.
Vandyke recommends seeking advice from others that have already done it.
"When trying to determine the best piece of technology to use to help solve a specific problem, or to increase efficiency within a business, the best place to start is to talk to other business owners in your network. Ask them what they use, why they chose that particular item and how they find it. People are happy to share their experiences if you ask."
Secondly, says Vandyke, check out the many websites that offer advice, reviews, and practical information to help with the technology decision-making process.
"Spending time on these sites will help with the process. Look for sites that have current information, that have large followings and that are associated with larger brands."
Third, Vandyke says don't forget social media. Ask Facebook friends and Linkedin and Twitter contacts about the apps, software or equipment they use, or about the processes they've implemented for specific tasks.
Once you've identified the right technology for your business, it's important to follow a few simple rules to increase your chances of a successful outcome. Firstly, it's best to introduce one technology at a time — too many businesses try to change everything overnight, which generally leads to disaster. Determine which aspect of your business will benefit the most from introducing new technology and focus your time and energy on getting that right.
It's also important to pick the right time to introduce technology. For example, when are planning to introduce a new bookkeeping system, it is probably best not to introduce it just before the end of your financial year. It makes more sense to introduce the new system in the quietest month, long before the end of the financial year, to enable enough time to be spent on getting to know the system.
Spend time to master the technology. Research shows that most technology introduced into business is rarely used to its full potential. This might manifest as a multifunction printer being used only as a printer, through to software being underutilised because no one knows how to use it. Taking the time to learn how to use the technology is key to the entire concept of innovating in a business.
Invest in training to maximise the return on your technology investments. This may be as simple as obtaining a good user guide for a particular piece of software. But for more complex technology, say a new business-wide software application, training may be essential to deriving return on your investments. The faster everyone on the team is properly trained the faster your business can begin recouping your investments.
For small business owners, the key is thinking past the initial implementation of the technology to the effective application of the technology in your business. Take a strategic and considered approach to each technology innovation, and make sure you squeeze the maximum value from your investment by using it to its fullest extent.