Using Technology To Enhance Your Business

Our second annual summit asks experts to focus on the issues and innovations that can help small companies be more productive and efficient

Internet isn’t your preferred way of going after that customer. You have to think about who your customers are, how you can to get to them most effectively and then consider a number of options. The Yellow Pages may be your best way of getting to those customers because they are local.

BE: What are the basic components entrepreneurs need or should consider when trying to automate their businesses?

HOWLETTE: Most of the magazines that entrepreneurs read are giving them answers such as, Get this type of package to help run your business. They can’t give that advice without knowing what type of business you have. You can use a spread sheet or you can use a word processor, but to say what type of software or what type of technology you need to run your business isn’t something that can really be answered generically.

McKENZIE: Businesses must have well-defined procedures for workflow analysis. Automation is nothing but automating the things that you do manually. You’ve got to know what those procedures are–and that goes back to doing your books to answering the telephone to flowing the documents that cause the generation of income for you. If you don’t have those, automating becomes a senseless tool.

WHITTLE: The first thing you need is some sort of customer tracking and management system. You need to be able to know who your accounts are and find some way to link that to some in-depth information about them– whether it’s personal, professional or location.

McKENZIE: You should have a word processor and communications, presentation and accounting software.

WHITTLE: Ideally, those would all talk to each other, though they don’t have to be from the same company.

BE: In other words, you should have some kind of method for sharing information across your organization.

FOSTER: But have a plan that phases in what your functional areas are. What do you want to outsource or build in-house? What will be the standard in word processing within your organization? Once you define those standards for word processing or your financial functions, is there a need at some point down the road to integrate them? As you go along, make those decisions and build toward a long-term implementation plan.

McKENZIE: Don’t focus on the technology: it’s there and there are plenty of resources to help you through it. You’ve got to have the paperwork and the plan. Without it, the technology is nothing–it’s useless.

HOWLETTE: The planning and paperwork is important because it really helps to manage your risk.

BE: Should you also assess the technological capabilities of your business partners?

HOWLETTE: Yes. Of the people you do business with and your customer base. Whether I chose to use technology or not, I must understand what my customers are doing with technology.

McKENZIE: Competitive advantage is key right now. Black firms are in a unique position because even though many companies–black and white–are using technology, they’re misusing it and not getting their dollar value from it. Black firms can take advantage of this and become competitive with some of

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