It’s hard to know (or maybe be willing to admit) that your business software could use a refresh. That’s particularly true if technology isn’t your specialty. For companies that are busy growing, software upgrades likely feel like a low priority item. Well, if anything in this post sounds familiar, it might be time to reorder your corporate “To Do” list.
Wrangling spreadsheets is getting old
The mass adoption of the spreadsheet was a game changer for business. Even for non-technical users, Microsoft Excel made data entry and calculations feel like they didn’t require a computer science degree.
As teams needed to collaborate more, the introduction of the “shared spreadsheet” provided the next big step forward. Since its release in late 2006, Google Sheets has allowed various people to work together on the same data. Even better, that happened in the same spreadsheet, at the same time. Google Sheets took away the need for lengthy email chains containing many versions of spreadsheets attached.
When a small team is working on pretty simple data, a single Excel or Google spreadsheet works well. An example might be results of a customer satisfaction survey. But as soon as the quantity of sheets, number of users, or complexity of data begins to grow, it becomes error prone and inefficient to manage information this way.
If your company has labeled someone the “spreadsheet whisperer” to keep things from falling apart, it’s probably time to start thinking about bringing that data together into one consolidated tool.
Your data is getting harder to handle
The data used to operate a modern business is likely getting generated, processed, and used by various people, for numerous reasons, and in countless different ways. As companies grow, their web of information gets more complicated and can easily begin to tangle, tear, or even fall apart. When your company’s data health is deteriorating, it typically shows one or more of the following symptoms (which I’ll dive into more deeply in a future post):
- Data-related tasks are taking longer to complete.
- Data inputs have a lack of consistency or validation.
- The frequency or severity of data entry errors is increasing.
- Report creation and data retrieval is slowing down.
- Examples of misplaced or lost data are more and more common.
If the data you need to run your business isn’t collected, stored, retrieved, and used in consistent, secure, and easy to understand ways across your entire team, it’s time to think about an update.
“Workaround” becomes part of your vocabulary
As businesses grow, their operations become more complex. In many cases, this means that the business software that a company HAS quickly diverges from the tools that a company actually NEEDS. This leads to the dreaded “workaround”: an inefficient collection of steps that are required because your existing tools don’t make a task easy (or even possible). It is common to use workarounds from time to time, but there are two tipping points that can put the business at risk.
First, if a mission critical business function requires a workaround, that’s a problem. This suggests that your team is knowingly inefficient at performing tasks central to the operation of the business. Second, if workarounds start sounding like the rule instead of the exception, something has to change. When it’s hard to feel productive and efficient in much of the work that you do, this creates a culture of underperformance.
In either of these cases, the results are likely higher operating costs than necessary, missed revenue opportunities, and in many cases, something materially worse.
Team members resort to creating their own tools
This one might seem counterintuitive, but imagine the following scenario. You overhear two team members talking about how one of them has built a new tool. The creator of this improvement claims it shortens time to prepare an estimate by 30%. It also reduces errors by 15%.
Your immediate reaction might be: “That’s just the kind of initiative we need around here. Let’s give her a raise!”. That’s certainly right, but after you celebrate your employee’s promotion, there’s something else to consider. This team member thought that the existing project estimation tool was so slow and error prone. Then she took it upon herself to develop a new and better one. While this means you did well by hiring motivated people, what does it say about your existing tool?
In this example there are two possible options. 1) Broadly review your existing tools and deploy an optimal improvement to the entire team. 2) Build this employee’s innovation directly into your official business software.
The list of reasons for taking a harder look at your business software is a lot longer than these four scenarios. My hope was that these few examples can start a conversation. driving you and your team to start frequently asking the question: “Are we missing out on better business because we don’t have better software?”.