September 2013 | Servcorp - Published in SME Advisor Magazine

Every SME owner knows that time is money. Working with modern technology can multiply opportunity, dramatically enhance customer contact and supercharge business volume – and we struggle on without it at our peril. A good first step is to ensure that your working environment comes complete with the raft of integrated technology solutions you need: and here, Laudy Lahdo, General Manager at Servcorp for the Middle East, looks at the tremendous benefits to be accrued from a fully-equipped technology platform…

The power of technology. What does this really mean for a freelance designer, a copywriter, a working mom, an entrepreneur, a home business or an SME? Every entrepreneur eventually realises that without the right communication tools and software they can't run their business effectively. The trick is to consider your business requirements, research your options and then decide what kind of solutions you should invest in. One of the ways that a company can leverage the benefits of technology is to work in an environment where all the necessary elements are openly available. So an excellent example of how digital tools can truly add value to your business is to work from serviced offices, which provide advanced IT networks without the huge overhead costs.

Mobility: the first imperative

Today, mobility is the name of the game. At the end of 2012, there were 6.8 billion global mobile subscribers, equivalent to 96 per cent of the world's 7.1 billion population. By the end of this year, there will be more mobile-connected devices than people!*

The most significant advantage of incorporating information technology into the routine of a business, is speed. An online presence is a key factor for success for any business in today's highly competitive global environment. With something as simple as a website stating a company's core values and products, a business is automatically guaranteed a larger client footprint. As the flow of information between the business and the consumer becomes stronger, the number of people exposed to this information also grows, and you have instant, easy networking. For small companies especially, this means business is no longer limited by geographical boundaries and multinational corporations no longer dominate the market.

Very often, one of the major costs for a small company, especially if it's the local branch of an international SME, can be long-duration conference calls between division heads, team members or even clients. A business can stand or fall by its smart use of technology, so if you feel that yours is in a situation where it may benefit from advice or back-up in this area, it could be well worth it to consider support avenues.

Staying up to date – effortlessly?

Nowadays, a wide range of business applications are available, and it may be difficult to remain up-to-date with the latest gadgets and resources to stay ahead of your competition. If a company wants to update or try a different hardware or software, this usually involves training. During this transition phase of implementation, it may be difficult to retain customers or maintain efficiency, because ‘new' can sometimes create chaos.

All of this can be easily avoided with the expert support of a service provider with a proprietary infrastructure and technical experience which makes any transition seamless. It's worth noting that smaller businesses have an unbeatable advantage for taking this approach – implementing systemic change is more efficient here than in a large organisation with a large hierarchy of team members.

Some examples of these business applications include online communication services. They instantly connect you to multi-media platforms; take the cost-effectiveness of a text and video instant messaging program like Skype, or the more corporate appeal of videoconferencing. In cases like this, the facilities provided by a company with advanced IT solutions can be especially effective.

Fielding every call

Have you ever been at a grocery store and missed an important call by the time your arms were free? Or have you missed a call because your receptionist took a break and didn't have a back up? In cases like this, the facilities provided by a company with advanced IT solutions can be especially beneficial.

Some of the new communication solutions will allow you to make your office truly portable, taking your extension with you wherever you are and being able to manage your transfer options while on the go. You can take advantage of an integrated communication feature that allows you to use a single business number enabling you to make calls from anywhere in the world at local rates. Other solutions that you can consider are an online receptionist to answer your calls professionally, an interactive voicemail system with multiple call diversion options or even an application which allows you to receive your voicemail messages in your email account. E-mail also allows for quick intra-departmental communication and some providers can even offer a function with reminders about pending messages to keep you on track.

Now, there are also ways to send and receive faxes directly from your computer, so you don't sit around waiting for one that you thought never came through because it was forgotten at the machine. This also means it is safe from prying eyes and it appears in your e-mail inbox instantly, electronically filed, saving you time and money. Your reduced paper usage will also contribute to a greener future.

Take control!

To optimise the use of technology for your business, you should seek options that grant you online control over your business. It's ideal to be able to use this portal to also view invoices online or book boardrooms, extra equipment or administrative support. This is typically included in many solutions. However it is essential to customise your own package by picking and choosing features and programmes or working with a dedicated IT professional to assist with this and any network or hardware issues, which are usually on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Let's not ignore the power of the Internet which no business can operate without. A fast system from a reliable service provider means that your data speeds should be constant with no ‘peak traffic' during certain hours, made possible through new fiber optics. Ideally, files should be able to go directly from your computer to your printer, which saves an extra step in setting up with a boost to overall efficiency. Do note, you can take advantage of mobile devices but these have memory and speed limitations. Luckily, there are plenty of cloud services to take advantage of. Interestingly, global cloud applications will account for 84 per cent of total mobile data traffic by 2017, compared to the 74 per cent it was in 2012**.

Time, space and money

Businesses today use technology in many different ways. The use of social networking, video conferencing and access to an international interactive infrastructure have helped improve communication and made it easier to reach a wider customer base. These tools have not only increased companies' productivity, but tools such as digital filing, online invoices and inthe- cloud document storage have saved them time, space and money issues for many companies. A business can now set up its presence anywhere in the world at a minor cost.

Modern technology has become a necessity rather than the luxury it was only 10 years ago. The use of technology has removed all boundaries, improved communications and made information easily accessible. Businesses can no longer afford to operate within the old ways of pen and paper and should jump on the technology train today.

*Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012-2017
**Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index