As published in the Sunday Business Post on 25th March 2012.
Businesses need to become more agile to survive and thrive in the emerging new economy. The last few years have all been about battening down the hatches, scrutinising the cost base and trying to make more savings. But with the ESRI forecasting some growth this year and the suggestion that green shoots are slowly appearing, there’s good reason for businesses to look ahead with more optimism. There’s only so long a business can put off investing in new technology before the effects damage the long-term prospects of the company, rather than save it money.The time to stick is over, according to Peter O’Rourke, head of channel and corporate division, Sage Ireland.
‘‘In order to be competitive in what’s coming down the track, you are going to have to have the tools to make you more agile,’’ he said. ‘‘You are going to have to respond more quickly and efficiently to your customers, and be more dynamic with product development cycles.’’ He paints a picture of a truly global economy, where a competitor could be in China as well as round the corner. ‘‘Everything is happening faster and bigger. At Sage, we see ourselves as drivers of change, efficiency and ultimately growth.We partner our customers, helping them to survive and thrive in a fast changing world.’’
Businesses have to position themselves for the future, according to O’Rourke, a process that starts with a clear understanding of where they are today. ‘‘Right now,you have to look at how you can reduce your supply chain cycle in terms of finding what you need, turning it into product and getting it out to the market,’’ he said. Firms have to adapt to fast changing external factors while keeping a close watch on profit margins, maintaining process efficiencies and managing their people, still the most important resource any company has. Successful businesses will need to look at ways to differentiate in the way they engage in the new economy.
‘‘It used to be about how you interact with customers, but now it’s about how customers want to interact with you. Companies can’t dictate it any more, but they can use tools like CRM to personalise the way they engage,’’ said O’Rourke. Success won’t just be determined by front-facing processes; organisations have to take care of internal business as well. ‘‘People are informed about wages electronically now – no more pay slips – and there is much more employee self-service when it comes to things like requesting holidays. It all saves time and money, and builds better relationships with employees.’’ Cloud computing characterises another big change in the market dynamic. ‘‘It’s a different way of doing business that simplifies technology, but we have to be clear that it’s not for everyone,’’ said O’Rourke. ‘‘It’s all about customer choice, and it’s a fallacy to think that everything will go to the cloud.’’
He cited the example of a business that worked with very sensitive data that it preferred to manage on-premise, or the firm that had made a heavy investment in IT infrastructure assets that it wanted to sweat rather than replace with a cloud service. Conversely, if the business case is right, then the cloud may be the place to go. ‘‘It’s a great enabler if you have a sales force on the road or colleagues who want to collaborate remotely,’’ he said. ‘‘The data, the processing power and the complexity are all held within the cloud, accessed by portable devices. Already, smartphones and tablet are outselling traditional laptops and PCs, so the market has gone though a tipping point.’’ Businesses will look at multiple ways of accessing data whether it’s on-premise or in the cloud. Crucially, it’s not necessarily an ‘either/or’ scenario as hybrid models increasingly prevail.
O’Rourke gave the example of a factory where a production manager might want to manage the supply of materials internally while the sales team used handheld devices over the cloud. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the cloud, and one that chimes nicely with running a more agile business, is that you only pay for what you use. So-called softwareas- as-service models allow businesses to consume their technology as if it was another utility. ‘‘It mirrors the way you run the rest of your business and becomes part of cashflow rather than an upfront capital investment,’’ said O’Rourke.
Whatever your business and the scale of your ambitions, he advised companies to seek out partners that are in it for the long haul, that have the ability to grow a business into the future. ‘‘With something like Sage in the Cloud, you don’t even need to own the IT infrastructure. As the business expands, you can add more functionality,’’ said O’Rourke. ‘‘It’s a long-term partnership because we have such a broad range of solutions that you will never outgrow us.’’