In today's hyper-digitized business environment, success and failure are linked to the technology each company brings to the table to get things done – it's why Amazon was able to morph from a garage-based online bookstore into the “everything store.”
For the average small business, however, inventing a technology infrastructure isn't an option. Instead, they have to depend on more off-the-shelf solutions to keep their operations running at peak efficiency. Luckily, there's no shortage of options to choose from. Advances in cloud computing, SaaS solutions, and IoT technology are putting high-tech tools into the small business arsenal in a big way.
I should know – I've been on the front lines working with small businesses to improve their operations for over a decade. In that time, and especially lately, I have encountered some game-changing tech tools that can take a business to the next level. Here's five of the most useful I’ve found.
Tool 1: Workforce GPS Tracking
Today, one of the key factors that differentiate companies from one another is in how well they manage their most valuable resource: time.
Some turn to productivity tools like Slack and Clockify to enhance communication and collaboration in an effort to control employees' use of their time. Those solutions, though, rely on individuals to faithfully input data about what they're doing and don't work very well for a highly mobile workforce.
For those situations, adding an employee GPS tracking system can help increase productivity to new levels. Today, small businesses can use GPS car tracking, mobile device tracking, and even IoT GPS devices with minimal startup costs to gain unprecedented visibility into employee activity.
That provides a real-time data set that decision-makers can use to manage staffing levels, scheduling, and resource allocation. In short, it illuminates where inefficiencies lie, and where more help might be beneficial.
Tool 2: Flexible Point-of-Sale Systems
For years, point-of-sale (POS) solutions were expensive, required specialized hardware, and were so complex that they made training new employees a nightmare.
Those factors meant that retail businesses would frequently invest large sums into a platform, and then get stuck with them even if they became outmoded or no longer suited the business. Today, the advent of SaaS which doesn’t require specific platforms has changed all of that.
An excellent example is Poster, a POS system for iPad that allows small businesses to leverage low-cost hardware to handle their retail transactions.
As SaaS POS systems go, Poster is somewhat unique because it's primarily geared toward restaurants. It can, however, also work for many other retail applications right out of the box.
For maximum flexibility, the system even works on Android and Windows-based devices, so it's a drop-in solution for most businesses. On top of that, it's inexpensive, easy to learn and use, and businesses can stop and restart their subscriptions at any time as their needs change.
Tool 3: HR Management Software
One of the greatest challenges that small businesses face today is in finding ways to attract, recruit, and retain top talent.
Larger competitors can build big, well-funded HR departments to manage every aspect of their workforce needs, but small businesses need to do more with less. That's the main idea behind a whole new generation of HR SaaS solutions that can give a small business an edge in this critical area.
One of the best of the bunch is Zenefits, which is a relative newcomer to space, having come into existence in 2013.
In that short time, it's become the go-to HR solution for countless small businesses (and some big businesses, too).
Zenefits offers a comprehensive set of HR management tools ranging from employee benefits administration to payroll management and everything in between.
Best of all, the system integrates with existing business software like Google's G-Suite, Intuit's QuickBooks, and Microsoft Office 365 so it can automate HR data-sharing throughout an organization with minimal effort and oversight.
Tool 4: Remote Employee Infrastructure
There was a time when only large corporations had the technology infrastructure required to support a mobile workforce.
Today, even the smallest of companies can do it with ease and without sacrificing security. That's due in large part to advances in remote access and virtualization technologies that can now turn every small business desktop into its own secure remote access server. The capability couldn't come at a better time, either, as remote working statistics indicate that it's a trend that's here to stay.
One of the best solutions to do this is also one of the least well-known: NoMachine. They offer multiple solutions for remote desktop provisioning starting at a price any small business can afford: free.
Small businesses can use it as a low-cost way to enable flexible work arrangements, support traveling workers, and facilitate offsite collaboration with partners. It's also secure and open-source, so it's trustworthy at a time when business data protection is at a premium.
Tool 5: Employee Training Software
To achieve optimum performance, it's vital for any organization to make knowledge sharing a priority. For small businesses, this has traditionally been an issue, since employee skills and responsibilities rarely overlap. This leads to the risk of process disruption whenever there's turnover among the staff.
To combat the problem, small businesses make every effort to document workflows and procedures to ensure continuity and use that documentation as the foundation for the training of new employees.
Small businesses evolve faster than larger ones, and it's almost impossible to stay ahead of changes to the way things get done. That's where Grovo comes in.
It's a platform that allows employees to document processes and their evolution in real-time.
The information is then distilled into small, easy to complete microlearning lessons. New employees can access the lessons at any time during their onboarding process or while on the job, thus eliminating the "brain drain" that turnover would otherwise create.
A High-Tech Advantage
It's clear that a business' technology choices can make or break their chances of success in the modern economy. I've witnessed how the tech tools mentioned above can provide substantial advantages to the businesses that deploy them.
Going forward, the need to seek every competitive edge will dictate that more and more small businesses will need to explore these and other future tools to stay on top.
As you can see, there is no shortage of options in the market, and more become available every day. And if these examples are any indication – there's bound to be more game-changers coming, too.