Technology tailored to fit

‘Life On Demand’ is a term that epitomises the way our personal and business lives are heading. Today, companies make millions giving people the products and services to do any number of things on demand.

Drugs exist which promise not only to let you sleep when you want, but also wake up at a specified time. Channel Four and more recently the BBC have opened up their programmes online, letting viewers watch them when they choose. Sky+ lets audiences get close to creating their own TV channels.

This degree of choice and flexibility has turned us into an impatient bunch. We know exactly what we want and we want it personalised accordingly. While we expect this tailoring of services in our personal lives, we often don’t expect this level of personalisation in our business lives. Indeed, many businesses are willing to accept a one-size-fits-all approach to buying products or services and nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to technology. This is particularly the case for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), which will often purchase scaled-down enterprise applications (such as Customer Relationship Management software) even if the solution does not match their, or more importantly, their customers’ needs.

Made to measure

Times, however, have changed in the IT world and many SME managers remain unaware that technology companies are tailoring packages to match their individual business needs. Indeed, why should they have to settle for technology originally made for enterprises and simply downsized to fit ‘growing businesses’? To put it simply: they don’t, they just need to be made aware of the options available.

This limited awareness sits alongside another trait that many of us are guilty of – a general lack of understanding when it comes to the technology that we rely on day-in-day-out. From confusion about over-used acronyms to bizarre call centre queries from panicking customers, newspaper stories highlight that, as a nation, we are far from tech savvy.

Such bewilderment is not limited to little old ladies with problems programming their VCRs, rather it extends across our business and personal lives. An example of this can be found in a recent piece of YouGov research, which highlights that one quarter of SME managers responsible for mobile communications feel that they don’t know enough to make effective purchasing decisions.

No one is to blame for this lack of awareness. Few of us are technology experts and we often have to make important decisions about things that we know little about. The speed at which technology advances makes these decisions even harder – you only have to look at something as simple as the laptop market to see that whatever you buy is likely to be replaced in weeks by a better, quicker, smaller model.

It is, therefore, easy to see how SME managers might struggle to keep up to speed. Almost a third of SME managers surveyed by YouGov stated that their company had not reviewed its mobile costs for two years or more – with around one in 10 leaving their mobile contract un-checked for four years or more.

Other priorities

With countless business decisions to make, day-in-day-out, it’s not surprising that many SME managers struggle to find the time to take an in-depth look at their mobile communications packages. The fact remains, however, that pricing plans and structures are constantly developing to fit the needs of these businesses, suggesting that many are missing out on a communications package that would better suit their requirements and impact on their bottom line.

This is of course one example, but the trend is similar across many areas of technology. And the problem this causes is this – if a business is not using services that fully address its requirements, how can it ensure that it is delivering the personalised service that its own customers have come to expect?

So what is the answer for SME managers who must make high-level technology related decisions of which they have little knowledge about? The message from the IT and communications industry is that it need not be as difficult as you think. We are a far cry from the days of having to read through complicated pricing structures and application requirements, then settling for the closest fit – and most likely something that was designed with a larger business in mind.

From a mobile perspective, operators now offer both devices and data packages to suit individual business requirements. Minutes, texts and data can be purchased based on the exact number of users and then shared across the business. In turn, devices can be mixed and matched to ensure that all users have a phone or PDA that best suits their individual needs.

Greater sophistication

This tailoring of services is not a mobile phenomenon alone – it is happening across the IT sector. Thanks to the likes of Webex, video conferencing is no longer something that is only available to enterprise businesses with huge budgets. In turn, organisations such as Cisco have taken the CRM technology, which used to be the preserve of large telephone call centres, and made it available to smaller businesses in the shape of a contact centre in a box.

Technology companies are now working closely with SME managers to tailor products or services to fit closely with the needs of the individual business, as opposed to simply offering scaled-down enterprise technology.

There is a wealth of information and advice available that can assist in technology decision-making. If a business has the right products and services in place, it can reap the rewards of increased efficiency, better information sharing and lower costs. In turn, if an SME’s own use of technology is tailored to fully address its business needs it can look to ensure that its offerings are tailored to meet its customer’s needs.

According to YouGov, over a third of SME managers (35 per cent) noting that customers are more demanding now then ever before, those small businesses that fail to live up to these expectations risk falling even further behind their competitors.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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