Using technology in your daily operations
Information and communications technologies (ICT) can be used to support many of your business activities, from internal business systems to business communications to electronic commerce.
While you may need to make an initial investment of resources, this kind of electronic business (or "e-business") can improve your efficiency in the long run by saving you time and streamlining your processes. It can also open up new opportunities for collaboration and the exchange of data, all of which can ultimately contribute to an increase in revenue.
Here are some of the ways you can use this technology to your advantage.
Table of Contents
Internal business systems
You can use various tools to help manage your documents, your human resources, your customer relationships, and other internal processes:
- Intranet and extranet
- Human resources management
- Customer relationship management
Intranet and extranet
An intranet is like an internal Internet for your business. It is a computer network that allows you to privately share information, operational systems, and computing services within your organization. An intranet can connect employees who work in different locations, allowing them to communicate and collaborate more easily. It can also allow managers to streamline certain operations, thus minimizing the number of physical meetings required and increasing the speed of development and consistency of information.
An extranet is an extension of your intranet that you make available to users outside of your business, like partners, vendors and suppliers, or other organizations that you might be collaborating with.
Human resources management
ICT can improve your HR management at both the strategic and operational levels. It's not just about technology, but about giving added value. The technology can increase efficiency when it comes to the different types of records that need to be kept:
- Personnel records
Technology applications can also help with recruiting and with longer-term personnel planning, employee development, knowledge management, retention strategies and succession planning.
Customer relationship management
There are a number of CRM systems you can use to help you manage your interactions with current and future customers. The technologies have become more accessible and cost-effective in recent years; some are web-based and require no purchase of software. You can keep track of sales, trends, promotions — anything that relates to creating a better experience for your customer, which means better business for you.
There are many business applications related to e-commerce, from setting up your online storefront to managing your supply chain to marketing your products and services. These technologies fall into three main categories:
- Business to business (B2B)
- Business to customer (B2C)
- Internet marketing
Business to business
Using the Internet for B2B transactions holds the greatest potential for many small businesses. There are two distinct aspects to this model that separate it from the more familiar business-to-customer e-tailing model:
- Flexibility in pricing
Transactions between businesses often require variability in the pricing of products between purchasers.
- Cooperation of business systems
Businesses involved in B2B e-commerce allow their internal systems to work together to share information and interactions, resulting in less human intervention. The result is increased productivity and greater savings.
How can you benefit from B2B e-commerce?
- Purchasing indirect supplies
Look for catalogue-based websites offered by suppliers for corporate purchases, similar to business-to-customer websites, for purchasing indirect supplies such as office furniture, pens, paper, and general office equipment.
- Purchasing direct materials
Establish a relationship with a vendor that supports e-procurement of direct materials to reduce costs.
- Selling products or services to new vendors
Join in an e-marketplace to open up new opportunities to sell your products across the globe.
- Leveraging your existing Web presence
Improve your existing business-to-customer e-commerce website. Greater sophistication can be added into your online store to target your business clientele.
- Investing in your own e-procurement solution
Examine your purchasing process, and identify potential opportunities for automating procurement. With a manageable expenditure you could realize a significant return on investment.
Business to customer
The global reach of the Internet has allowed many businesses to sell their products and services online, both at home and abroad. While there are different technologies available to interact with customers and potential customers, the term B2C generally refers to the use of electronic storefronts.
An electronic storefront is a website with many pre-built e-commerce components like electronic shopping carts and secure payment gateways that you can use to set up an online store.
If you are new to this kind of technology and are not ready to pay someone to develop a custom solution for your business, a storefront application can be a cost-effective approach to handle business. However, before setting up a storefront, there are several things to consider:
- You are responsible for creating and maintaining the site yourself, which can be time consuming and may involve a steep learning curve.
- The ability to customize the look of your storefront may be limited if you are using a template.
- Basic services may be inexpensive, but optional components may be quite costly. You would most likely pay a one-time setup fee, and then either monthly or annual fees.
- You are usually limited to using the payment processing or order fulfillment services (where third-party businesses handle things like the storage, packing and shipping of your products) that come with the storefront, which may not be offered at a competitive price.
As with most aspects of setting up an online store, you should closely examine the costs, benefits, and options associated with the various storefront packages before making a final decision.
Everything you do to promote your business online is Internet marketing. For example, Internet marketing strategies include (but are not limited to) website design and content, search engine optimization, directory submissions, reciprocal linking strategies, online advertising, and email marketing.
There are many advantages to using the Internet for marketing your products or services:
- Widest channel of communication available to small businesses
- Ability to collect immediate feedback from your client base with little out-of-pocket expense
- Generally more efficient, less expensive, and longer-lasting than print marketing
No matter what business you're in, Internet marketing should form part of your marketing mix. How large a part it plays will depend on your particular needs and budget. The tools you use to develop your online presence and to drive traffic to your website will also depend on your particular business and target market demographics.
Internet marketing is a fast-changing industry that readily adapts to improvements in technology. There are always new marketing tools available to small businesses.