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Last Update: Sunday March 29, 2020

Key Idea: Go Paperless

David Arnold's King company had to go paperless or lose its big customers.  He held on to customers and profits shot up.     More...   On David...

Key Question:

A: 

Go digital.

What comes to mind when you hear the word "technology?" For most of us, it's computers first, followed closely by the Internet. But technology's role in the small business is just as important as marketing and finance. Technology is the ultimate enabler. You can do more in your business and you can do it faster with less error if you incorporate technology in your everyday business operations.

Q: How does a small business use technology in the business?

A: There's lots of ways and many of them were only available to big businesses up until a short time ago. But new products and plummeting costs have positioned all of us to be more competitive in our respective market places with a minimum investment. We can analyze our inventory and learn what sells and what doesn't, in what quantities, to whom, with what seasonality, at what margin, and just about anything else we might want to know.

We can codify the intellectual capital of our organization, protect it, keep it organized and up-to-date, and easily search and retrieve what we need. It's all about the learning continuum, turning data into information and information into knowledge, then using that knowledge as the basis of the decisions we make in operating our businesses. Hence the term: knowledge management.

Our challenge as business owners is to figure out what data to store, in what vehicle (data warehousing) and how to access it in such a way that it provides meaningful information that is of real value to us in our business (data mining). We've used a lot of buzz words here; let's look at knowledge management, how it actually works, within a small business. There are a number of things that even the smallest business can do to capture, organize, and make available the intellectual capital of the organization. We'll focus on three here.

Establishing a Common Operating Environment (COE). Before you had computers at your office you kept documents in folders in file cabinets. Different people had access to those documents because they needed them to do their work. Sometimes people forgot to return the documents when they were through, and you would scout around the office until you found them. Sometimes two people needed the document at the same time and they would work something out, or make another copy of the document. The point is that every business generates important information, has processes that includes forms and templates, and shares these among a number of employees.

Now that you have computers, you still generate documents, you still keep them in folders, folders are kept within folders, and various people have access to them. Electronic filing systems can be vastly superior to paper filing systems if we remember to follow the business practices we used in a paper environment. Do you have documents on your computer or network server that are not in folders? How many? How does that compare to the number of documents you would have tossed into a file cabinet without filing?

The good news is that at least (a) the documents are listed alphabetically wherever they are stored and (b) we can always "search" for them if we remember the name, or the software application, or when they were last modified. Hmmm. There must be a better way. You're right! And it's called a common operating environment or COE. In a business with a network environment, where a number of employees have access to a central data depository, you:

1) Establish document naming conventions. As new documents are created, they are named in accordance with organizational policy. People looking for a document would have a good idea of the document name, even if someone else created it.

2) Determine the file structure. Folders within folders within folders. Organizing your information so that documents are easily located.

3) Grant access as appropriate. Security levels and edit rights, determining who can have access to what or not, when to permit "read-only" access, and who is authorized to make changes.

4) Safeguard information. Back-up systems, on and offsite, disaster recovery plans.

If you do all of the above, provide training on the implementation, you will have established a COE. The benefits are enormous and immediate.

Using Databases to Work and Mine Data: Most of us couldn't imagine functioning without word processing software and spreadsheet software in our businesses. We all use e-mail and a lot of us can use presentation software, some more rudimentary than others. Yet, for some reason, the database software frequently goes unused in the small business.

Digitize, Digitize, Digitize: Maintaining our information in electronic form is critical to both the establishment of a COE and mining our data on an ongoing basis. Virtually all software applications allow for exporting data and importing data. So as long as you maintain your data electronically, you can take advantage of new software development in your industry without having to re-enter the information.

Electronic files are easier to navigate and cheaper to maintain. Additional computers and memory are just less expensive than rent, file cabinets, and storage facilities.

Think about it

How far has your business moved along the learning continuum? Are you taking advantage of the latest technologies to codify the intellectual capital of your business? If you arrived at your office, and all your information OR all your money was gone, what would be more devastating to you?

Clip from: Internet Basics: Space and time become derivative.

  The web makes every city and town everybody's  city and town.

World Wide Web: There are four basic reasons to build your business on the web. Whether you are just starting or you are growing, the web will be the  backbone of business in more ways than most anyone imagined. It truly is a new metaphor. This is a paradigm shift. It is actually changing the way we think.

In this episode of the show we learn how you can do what big business does. The world is our market.  So, make your business an e-business, and then merge out into the world's quickly-evolving e-culture.  The time is now. 

We all must prepare today for the invevitable tomorrows.

Small Business Owners Everywhere in the world, We all will exit our business someday.

Visit our web site: http://smallbusinessschool.org/page1107.html

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Go Paperless

HATTIE: (Voiceover) David Arnold also embraced technology early and aggressively. David used to sell watches from the trunk of his car. Today, he is the sole US importer of Seiko's low-end Lorus watches. Without electronic data interchange, David would not have distinguished himself from his competitors.

DAVID ARNOLD: Every retailer is--they operate very lean. You know, all the mass market retailers especially; they like...

HATTIE: Just in time.
 
DAVID: Just in time inventory. They like their product tagged. They don't like a lot of people in their stores touching the wa--it's a very automated system. I've been through the Wal-Mart and some of the Target distribution centers. They're very automated. And a lot of it is done with tags, scanning all of this stuff.

They can't have errors ... in their system. So... when they give you a purchase order, it comes in over the computer. It ... gives you a delivery window. It gives you very specific instructions. If you don't follow those instructions, their system breaks down. So errors cause them problems. Errors cost them money.

They don't have room for that. They don't have the time, nor the money for that. So they want a very good support system. When Seiko came to us and said to become an importer, I called up a friend of mine, who I'd known and gone to high school with, Sterling Woody, and I said, `Sterling, you've got to come help me.'
 
 

STERLING WOODY: We've always wanted to be on the edge of technology. And being paperless was something you always heard about or read about. And we said, `Can we do it? Can we make that a goal?' And part of that was to force ourselves into the EDI situation with our customers where our orders come EDI now. So it's paperless. We invoice. We don't have invoice papers anymore. It's all paperless. We send all of our orders via the Internet. We send them purchases via the Internet. We send projections on the Internet. So this information is out here. All this is done electronically.

If it's going to force us to further our technology, to be a leader in technology or whatever--on the edge of technology to make us a better company, then that's what we need to do. It's not for the sake of being paperless.

HATTIE: It's not the bells and whistles.

STERLING: No. It's to be more productive. It's to do more things because technology will allow us to do those things.

DAVID: We built a good, fundamental, solid system that had a value to the retailers that we dealt with.

HATTIE: At one time EDI was the only protocol needed for a company to talk to another company electronically; orders placed, money moved, etc. Now the Internet can do for all of us what only a few businesses could afford prior to 1995.

(Voiceover) You'll be looking primarily to add service capabilities to your site and then support services for the basic business functions such as human resources, accounting and database management. For example, look at Sales Logix for online sales tracking tools.

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