There is always a light at the end of the tunnel
Now that countries are starting to loosen restrictions, businesses that are in a fairly good financial health are looking for ways to catch up to their projected annual earnings. The first half of this year was generous only to a handful of large corporations but small and medium-size (SMEs) companies still lack the resources and knowledge to gain a competitive edge by modernizing their business. What should they invest in – people or technology, or both? How to become antifragile* and how to learn to transform continuously and effectively?
*“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”.
There are plenty of vendors that will claim that their solution is the right one for your business.
Costs for salaries, onboarding, training, oversight, and office space far outweigh the cost for implementing technological solutions that would be used by the existing team… or so it seems. We have seen a fair share of cases over the past decade where companies implement a technical solution only to find out that their internal specialists lack the skills to work with it or the solution does not match the established business process, causing more frustration. Other businesses swallow the cost of changing several providers and are left only with useless licenses and an undelivered promise.
During this period of recovery, the need for implementing technical solutions that modernize productive processes becomes more apparent, though business owners still doubt the significance of the alleged impact. There are plenty of vendors that will claim that their solution is the right one for the business. Most of the time they introduce lengthy presales and sales processes so that they can build a convincing case. Sometimes this happens even when the solution is obviously not the right one for the business.
A lot of companies also fall into the ‘integration pit’. When businesses cannot afford a large costly solution from a famous vendor they usually settle for several solutions from smaller vendors with the idea that integrating these solutions would provide the efficiency of a holistic system. This usually leads to long implementation periods and higher staff turnover due to frustration. Change management may help sometimes but the process itself carries additional costs.
A disruptive approach for better outcomes
Since the beginning of the new millennium, famous software vendors have continued to update the ever-growing database of business processes, use cases, and industry activities. This knowledge has paved the way for the Software as a service (SaaS) platforms that we see from vendors such as SAP, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. Key industry knowledge is provided by vertical complementary digital products that contain industry-specific know-how such as the entire process of sale and service of motor vehicles, hospitality management, and newspaper publishing to name a few. Now industry knowledge is more widespread than ever and is increasing exponentially.
For the past couple of years, we have seen a rather unorthodox approach that yields much higher success. Instead of having one all-encompassing system, why not have several smaller ones that would serve the needs of individual departments and not have them integrated. It sounds counterintuitive but it is somewhat evident why it would work better. An accounting department, for example, can build team spirit easier when the work of all members revolves around similar activities but they might get annoyed if they become dependent on another team. These dependencies are an integral part of an integrated, all-encompassing system.
Keeping departments separated goes against all established concepts of unity and synergy but maybe it would be easier to achieve unity and synergy that way within the team. The main focus here is to make sure the team receives a tool that works really well only for them. Now focused on delivering outstanding performance with the help of the specialized tool, their overall quality of work and productivity improves. The other necessary functionality of the tool is to be able to produce complex reports. When these principles are applied and all departments receive specialized tools that help them increase the quality and speed of their work environment, as long as there is a flexible reporting functionality, the periodic data exported for management purposes can be utilized via the product that is best suited for management – business intelligence dashboards.
The “un”expected results and antifragility
When the management of a company announces that there is a decision for global system implementation, most employees dread its arrival and try to prevent its progress in any way they can. This is because to move a heavy machine, a lot of pressure is put on each gear. There will be a business analysis phase where employees would explain their work process and a testing phase where they will see if the system actually makes their lives easier. When these exercises happen several times, employees get frustrated. The quick fix is to create a huge document where all functional requirements of all departments are listed but by the time the document is finished, a significant change in business processes has occurred. Yet again, a living business cannot be described on a static piece of paper.
When each department is equipped with a solution that is designed specifically for their needs, they start utilizing the solution’s business and industry know-how much more, because:
- They are inspired to make the most of the tool for the ultimate benefit of the organization as a whole.
- With processes, procedures, and standards in place that are embraced by all departments, it is a matter of orchestration, rather than integration between the different tools.
- Such an approach enables the organization to be flexible, adaptable, resilient, even antifragile when there are changes, turbulence, or volatility in the environment (and there are always such).
When you do your job the best possible way and you know clearly what your role is in the big picture, using a solution that helps your everyday efforts best is a motivator to react quickly, adapt to whatever comes along, and even benefit from business shocks and environmental instability.
There are many fantastic SaaS solutions as examples, specialized for the automation and ease of work of different departments – project management, finance, presales, sales and marketing, legal, HR, administration, etc., with or without an industry specialization component. Such solutions boost everyday efforts and ensure consistency across the whole organization. Why?
- They automate particular repetitive and labor-intensive tasks, so the team can focus on high-value activities, including healthy collaboration with the rest of the departments.
- Being SaaS, the usage is agile and scalable – you scale up and down, in accordance with the fluctuations in your business, always having the latest updates and full-stack functionality.
- Just one-time investment is needed for expert consultants to enable you, within a few weeks, on how to make the most of the software usage, achieve the demanded outcomes, and plug the smart automation where it would really make a difference.
When a tool really works and removes the manual intervention by 50-80% there is a capacity for creativity, improvement, and optimization. It enables the establishment of a culture of change. A change that is feasible due to flexible, efficient, and innovative tools, and humans who focus on thinking vs dumbly executing. Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Isn’t that the journey of becoming antifragile?
The argument of putting it all together
When several systems are being used by departments, exporting reports to feed the business intelligence dashboards, it seems that information is scattered, and more often than not, vital data is missing to form the big picture. This is when the implementation of an all-encompassing, integrated business management system that services all departments is necessary. Or not?
- Although it sounds contradictory, it takes time for employees and management to get used to a progressive program of daily activities.
- When companies start to restructure or change processes, usually they experiment with different methods in organizing human, technical, and financial capital.
- Having a rigid system that can be configured only by experienced technical professionals, puts pressure on the technical department to service all others and can be frustrating if these changes happen frequently and affect the work of several departments.
In contrast, if each department manages the tools they use to be more productive, they will be able to alter the processes of those tools faster and with greater efficiency, because they know its capabilities and limitations better than anyone. This gives the management greater flexibility when designing new organizational structures and employees are annoyed less as they are directly involved.
By the time such efficiency and flexibility are felt by the whole company, a lot has been going on behind the scenes that we must notice. All experiments have provided valuable information about what works and what doesn’t, and most importantly – under what circumstances. This makes it easier for everyone to establish a series of processes that work best for all and thus, the company becomes more qualified for a holistic system. It becomes easier to find the right holistic solution for the company and to achieve successful and timely implementation. All, because the established processes have been proven to produce successful outcomes and the processes can be easily described to consultants of the selected vendor.
When companies decide to implement holistic systems, one of the crucial elements for a successful implementation is crystal clear business processes and detailed discussions about their efficiency with the vendor’s consultants. This is where the vendor provides value – when they are able to tell you how you can make your process shorter, better, more efficient, and fully automated.
What costs more now will cost much less later
The costs associated with such an approach are frowned upon. Management would say that having a separate system for accounting, sales, marketing, legal, and all other departments would increase the costs per user and they would be right. But looking at costs alone will give us the wrong picture. We need to consider all factors. Clinging to the concept of opportunity cost usually drives management along a wrong path.
A major factor is the cost of individual licenses for products for each department. Usually, they are much less than a license of a holistic solution. Of course, adding up the cost for SaaS licenses for all software solutions for all departments might be higher than an individual license for a solution from a large vendor but we have to consider the points discussed until now. The implementation of specific SaaS solutions that service each department separately is fairly easy, quick, and temporary. This is done only until business processes are streamlined, modernized and the company is ready to implement a holistic system.
Another aspect is the employee churn rate. When the implementation of a complex system takes more than half a year, there are no tangible results that can be felt by the employees and they become discouraged. Explaining their work to consultants takes time from their work schedule but the amounts of work they have to do only increases. Having to do this several times creates tension between employees, management and vendor. If the process of business analysis happens several times, the employees might lose faith in the possibility that there is such a system and might leave because they won’t have to deal with the same process all over again when the next vendor comes in.
When a company faces uncertainty because of economic and political instability or experiments with different kinds of organizational structures and resource management, but at the same time needs to handle the same amount of daily work with fewer people, it is a great option to consider a SaaS-based, specialized, process-specific automated solution. The implementation time is a few weeks to a few months, the subscription cost is much lower, the interface is intuitive, and employees get familiar faster, starting to feel the positive impact of the solution. The daily work is being handled intelligently by fewer people and the whole company has enough time to focus on planting the right seeds for the future – growth, customer delight, specialization, new markets, new products, new services, etc.
What we particularly recommend about this approach is the fact that people do the work that they are supposed to do, the one they enjoy, and makes them feel inspired to be the best version of themselves every day. The eight, nine, or ten hours (and sometimes even more) that we spend working per day should be filled with intellectually enriching tasks – working for the right reasons. And we should leave the boring, repetitive and monotonous work for the machines. In fact, this is exactly what they were built for. The presented scenario enables an organization to be agile, experimental, fast, high-quality, and genuine in the search of an antigrafile formula – learning how to gain from disorder.