One of the issues we see quite often in our research is the problem that growing companies have when using technology. We see this problem looking something like a football. Companies start out needing a single software that does most of what they want. As they grow, the needs of the business start to erode the usefulness of that single software, so companies branch out to add multiple best of breed apps for specific areas of the business. If you are fortunate to grow into a firm with tens of millions in revenue, then the time and effort of juggling all these disconnected services pushes you back to a single software package that supports all aspects of your business. The issue is that most business owners do not see this path laid out in front of them, which can make the decision process unclear. My hope is that this article will help illuminate the path forward and assist in driving better decision making for you and your business.
The Tip of the Football - Startup Phase
The symbolism of the tip of the football fits the idea of using a single piece of technology to support your company. Some people start with a bidding software, while others start with a CRM, but the point is that many make a decision to purchase technology that solves one problem or is designed to support you only at the beginning of your business. Since this portion of the business lifecycle is typified by the business owner being excessively busy and simply trying to build their business, it is a common mistake to solve a single issue and move on instead of looking at the problem more strategically. When you have been working 12+ hours a day for 14 straight days, you don’t really have the time to stop and think about your technology strategy. Unfortunately, this starts the business down a path that results in the demand for more technology to fix the issues that growth brings to the organization. Instead of fixing that one issue, I suggest that you evaluate what services you need to help free up your time and help you grow the business. A single, full features solution acquired at this point could greatly assist your growth. This early decision process will also save you significant headaches over the life of your business.
The Middle - Mid-Market
When the company has grown past around 30+ employees, the single threaded technologies and entry level, full featured services start to show their limits. It is at this point that many companies start to require additional services that none of their current vendors can provide. For example, you need a better accounting software, so you buy Quickbooks. You need more advanced payroll solutions, so you buy Gusto. You need trip routing software, so you buy Routific. The point is that you start to fill in the gaps of your original purchase by using many different technologies to address your needs. The risk here is that you start to buy services that do not interact. If you have a dispatch service that does not connect to Quickbooks, then you create significantly more work in trying to manage your time and budgets. If your software does not connect to payroll, then you spend your free time manually entering data. The key is that you need to stop and think about your decisions at this point and ensure that all of your tools work together. This was a core requirement of the Signal Cortex platform. We connect to services like Quickbooks, but can work with just about any services that a company may use. The purchase of a more full featured solution in the early phase of mid-market phase can be a great help, but only if it works with the tools you need to run your business. These interconnects ensure that you don’t have to spend your weekends manually entering payroll data and might actually be able to spend some time with your family or loved ones.
When you have been working 12+ hours a day for 14 straight days, you don’t really have the time to stop and think about your technology strategy.
The Other End - Enterprise
After years of growth, you finally have a stable and successful business. Many organizations find themselves in the position where the large number of adjacent and targeted software solutions are causing huge headaches to the team. It is at this moment that many companies choose to find a single software solution to replace all the adjacent systems that they have been using for years. Normally, this is required due to a lack of integration and significant limitations on future growth or expansion. Instead of looking for best of breed solutions, many companies choose fully integrated solutions like Salesforce or Netsuite. These services are expensive, but they provide the full featured and integrated solution that removes the barriers that some technology can cause. These large solutions are not the best solutions for every use case, but they solve a different issue. If you spend all day entering payroll or invoice data, then you are not growing. By integrating the services, you minimize the amount of time staff have to spend manually completing processes and can focus on doing what will improve the business. Many of the companies in the mid-market phase will attempt to lock you in with difficult, or non-existent, export and conversion processes. When working with a technology, ensure there is a clean and easy method for migrating your historical data out to the enterprise solutions.
The football shaped concept is something we have seen over and over again. While it is not the path every company takes, it is a path that creates some trouble and headaches if not done properly. My suggestion is to take a second and think about the path you are on. Consider where you are taking your company and what services you will need to get you there. Once you have that strategy in place, talk to vendors who provide the services and solutions that best support your business. As always, we are here to help small and mid-sized businesses grow with our full suite of services that connect with a universe of other platforms. Check out www.signalcortex.com for more information.