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Business health check

31 Dec 08

An examination of whether the company is making best use of its IT base – or even whether new ideas can be implemented – can cut costs, improve morale and bring environmental benefits

The changed economic climate has altered business priorities: if green was the colour of the last few years, the next few years are going to be focused on avoiding the colour red as companies find ways to cut costs and improve efficiencies.

With reduced head counts, getting the same work done by fewer staff will become a necessity, and systems efficiency will be even more business critical.

However, the idea of green being in conflict with red is increasingly outdated. Much of what is good green business practice is also, simply, good business practice. Both are united by a commitment to practical strategies for reducing waste, removing unnecessary production and reusing the reusable. In considering the red priority, it is interesting to see how much is also consistent with the green agenda.

The best starting place is a review of existing systems: no system is being used to 100 per cent of its capability. Look at how much more can be squeezed out of the current system – the answer is often encouragingly green and red. Get your systems supplier in to give you a systems fitness test – ask them:

• How much faster can the system run without having a heart attack?

• What applications are you under-using, or not using?

• Are you using the system as efficiently as possible?

• Are there short cuts, tricks and tips that were missed in training?

• Have new staff learnt on the job, without being shown all that can be achieved, or the shortest routes?

• Would a training brush-up for all staff improve efficiency?

• Could low-cost updates improve performance?

Usually, so much more can be achieved with existing systems at little or no cost, and it makes everybody in the department upbeat because they can “work smarter”, and relieve the pressure of their work load.

Next, find out what is newly available to add to your system. What compatible applications are on offer? What are competitors doing? Are their systems better than yours? Are they gaining market – or at least productivity – advantages? Two new opportunities are worth considering.

The first is to be found at www.softcomparison.info. This is a new venture of Dennis Keeling, the former chief executive of the British Application Software Developers’ Association.

It provides a fast and free online opportunity to select from more than 900 features and functionality, and with a click, find what systems can satisfy your requirements. It covers software as well as resellers and implementation consultants.

The key is its ability to compare up to five packages in detail – the first of its kind in the UK. In 10 minutes you can do an efficient check on what is available across the market because this is an independent site: all major software companies are included.

The second opportunity happens at the Glasgow Marriott on 25 February. Softworld Accounting & Finance Scotland has exhibitors, masterclasses and supplier case studies. This is a perfect opportunity to catch up with what the experts are predicting, what market-leading companies have done, and

to meet your current supplier to see what exactly they are now offering – see the panel for more information.

If the bullet has to be bitten, can a new system possibly be justified in this no-spend environment? Only with difficulty, and on the basis of very significant and measurable results. Traditionally, the management view has been that systems must pay back fast – in a financial year or two at worst. Increasingly, however, that is not regarded as good enough: systems have to help drive growth, improve management decision capability, and engineer higher margins. Is that possible?

Andy Cross, business support director for Virgin Trains, recently implemented Version One’s electronic document storage system, and he seems to think so. He says: “It is extremely important that our business processes are supported by market-leading systems such as Version One’s DbArchive. It will free tremendous amounts of physical storage space by dramatically cutting the amount of paper we generate. As well as the obvious space saving benefits, this will save us time and money as staff will no longer have to trawl through storerooms full of documents or print, photocopy, post or file paperwork. We’re also saving trees and cutting our carbon footprint.

“My assessment is that the system will have paid for itself within months.”

Such a result would come as no surprise to NHS Scotland. It is mandated to deliver the Scottish Government’s Better Health, Better Care policy with better performance through better systems. What is being implemented is not just COA Solutions’ integrated financial system for 22 Scottish health boards: it will enhance performance across procurement, business intelligence and financial planning.

NHS Scotland’s John Francis, director of the shared services programme, says: “All Scottish health boards need to work closely together and this is only possible when a common infrastructure is in place. With COA Solutions’ systems being run by all NHSScotland, the health boards will be able to more easily share staff, responsibilities and information. As well as creating a more streamlined financial service, this will free time and resources that can be deployed on supporting and delivering the policy.”

The COA accounting system is tightly integrated with Version One’s document management and imaging software.

Francis added: “This will greatly increase operational flexibility and give us options for how we process transactions in the future.”

The system also cuts NHS Scotland’s document storage co that staff can be redeployed to more valued activities. “We look forward to significantly reducing the amount of paper we generate,” he says

Despair is never an option in business – but it seems particularly inappropriate when so much can be done at low or no cost, and that even when new systems are unavoidable, the results these days are sufficiently significant and measurable that financial directors can feel confident recommending a new system to the board.

As for “green means added costs”, that seems so 1990s. Increasingly, saving money means saving the planet at the same time.

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