Digital transformation is changing the world of business planning. However, as with most technology, it requires some effort to reap the benefit.
Effective planning is the key to a successful, sustainable business but a plan only delivers benefit if it is actioned and sustained. One of the biggest failings in business is when plans are allowed to drift and a business owner takes their eye off the plan.
There are many reasons why this can happen. Often a key cause is that driving the plan is simply too difficult and time-consuming. This is where technology can help.
Over recent years I have adopted a number of tools and apps to help make my plans happen. In most cases, I had to invest some time in the short-term to set things up but once they were up and running I started to reap real time-savings and other benefits, often for years.
There are three areas where technology has been particularly beneficial:
- Document Access
It is important to keep written notes of your plans but if you can’t refer to these quickly and easily, your plans can stall almost before you start.
Measurable objectives are an important part of the planning process. Having straightforward access to relevant data and analytics helps you monitor your progress.
Even if you work by yourself, communication is central to progressing your business. The past year has seen significant developments in this area.
Before we look at some of the tools I find really useful, a word on ‘going pro’. Most of the apps I list below have free options. While these may offer more limited functionality, it may be that this is sufficient for your needs. However, if the pro-version will better fit your requirements, don’t shy away from paying. The cost is normally modest and the value to your business can be significant.
Digital Transformation Tools
At its heart, Trello is a virtual ‘T’card planning board where you can create and manage lists. Although Trello offers a wealth of functionality – particularly in the ‘pro’ version, I find the capabilities of the Free version meet my needs.
I use it to keep note of my own plans and also plans and discussions agreed with clients. Being cloud-based with App versions for phone and tablet access, I can access the information pretty much anywhere I need to.
Cloud storage Dropbox / OneDrive / Google Docs etc.
Cloud storage is pretty ubiquitous these days. It is a great place to store documents you may need to access when you are away from your desk. The free space offered by providers soon gets used up – particularly if you store large files, but upgrading to a paid account isn’t expensive and the amount of storage you get grows immensely.
One thing to be careful of with shared storage is if you share access. Delete a file for one person and it deletes for all! Some systems offer backups and recovery for deleted files but make sure you have your disaster recovery plan in place!
I discussed our shift to Xero cloud accounting in this post but I include it here because efficient accounting is a vital part of effective business and accounting data is essential to good planning.
Our cloud accounting system means I can get at the numbers anywhere I have an internet connection, using anything from my desktop PC to a smartphone. Furthermore, the well thought out bookkeeping tools built-in make it easy to keep the accounts up to date. No longer is it a monthly or quarterly (or annual!) job to do the accounts. Automatic bank feeds and transaction automation make the accounts operate almost real-time (I say ‘almost’, it does require maybe an hour a week to keep on top of things).
Keeping it simple.
If I was to pick one tool above all others, it would be my Outlook Task List. Utterly simplistic and low-tech it is just there on my desktop and phone all the time. If you need to collaborate with your tasks there are better options but if you just need a straightforward reminder list for your own use, I think it is hard to beat.
One of the real benefits of the rise of ‘digital marketing’ is the ability to measure the impact of what you do. Google Analytics is the ‘big-boy’ of this trend but this is also its Achilles Heel – there is just so much of it! Analytics data can be overwhelming and when it comes to using analytics in your business planning it is easy to disappear off down a rabbit-hole and lose sight of your objective.
Be clear as to:
- What are you measuring? – what are the key metrics to give you the insight you need?
- Why you are measuring it? – how does it support your business planning?
- How are you measuring it? – ignore everything that isn’t central to your objective
Anaytics can be really valuable but remember to stay focused on your business.
A dashboard can be a great way to avoid analytics overload. You create a screen that presents just the information you need,. Everything is in one place and often using clear, graphical layouts.
2 tools we have used successfully are:
I have mentioned this before but Dashboards can be challenging to set up and the real functionality requires the ‘paid-for‘ options. This said, the process of creating a dashboard can be a good way of forcing you to really think about what you are trying to achieve – often the hardest part of the planning process!
I know I talked about cloud accounting in the last section but as well as being a great source of business data, cloud accounting packages include powerful reporting and analytics tools too.
Possibly the biggest change over the past 12 months is how we communicate in business. With so many people working remotely, there has never been a greater need for effective business communication tools.
While we have all be using phones, email and text for years, video communication never quite came to the fore – until March 2020.
I first heard of Zoom only in January 2020 while working on a project for a client. We had tried Skype a year or two previously and wasn’t impressed. I presumed Zoom was just another Skype so dismissed it out of hand.
3 months later I was using Zoom every week! Now, in Spring 2021, I guess we are all a bit ‘Zoomed-out‘ but even so, I believe video communication is here to stay. It is another tool in the business toolbox. We have been forced to use it when we might previously have preferred a face to face meeting and I am sure face to face will be back soon.
However, there are those occasions where you need to speak with a client, customer or supplier and you feel you need more than a phone call but is it really necessary to drive for an hour or more? This is where I think video will prevail. It makes it practical to have even 10 minutes ‘face to face‘ with someone on the other side of the country – or the world! It is another tool and it is here to stay.
Technology is transforming the way we plan and run our businesses. Tracking and using information is getting easier than ever. However, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is still about business. Technology is the means, not the end. Used properly it can help drive real-world business success but if you aren’t careful, it can distract you away from concentrating on planning the things that really matter.