Unifying your inter-office Communications: The typical small business office today has about 4 computers, need a printer or two (in fact one CEO I spoke with last year had a grand vision of putting a printer on each of the 20 desks and PCs in his office!!!). There also is some kind of voice system … and Intercom or PBX. Not only does this complexity increase maintenance costs, it increases the chance of something going wrong and is more importantly from and entrepreneurs perspective an unfortunate waste of money.
For starters, with ensuring that your computers are networked will allow the organization to get a lot more from it. Over the network, the organization really doesn’t need more than 1 printer for 10 people. With a network in place, a single Internet connection can be share by all computers in the office, printers, document templates etc. Furthermore, you can completely leave out the extra cabling and PBX for your intercom and do chat, voice, video and even application sharing on your local network. The resultant cost-savings are non-trivial.
Automate Back-end Processes: Information about products and services can be put on a company website. Similarly forms and information brochures can be put online so people can access them rather than having to call every time and make inquiries. Any work that involves filling of forms by your clients can be automated and done online – not only does it reduce the opportunities for mistakes (as the computer can validate data on the fly)
Go Quasi-Paperless or Fully Paperless: And with a fully networked office, do we really need to print a document that we want to send to a colleague in another cubicle/table? Definitely not. Such things as interoffice communications, memos and reports can be done completely digital. But a caveat here … for this not to be a recipe for a business disaster, there must be proper backups in place so that the entire business does not come down because a computer failed.
Keep Physical Office Space as Lean as Possible: Probably my most disconcerting suggestion, if the infrastructure exists, using innovative management, consider the possibility of cutting out fixed and recurring costs relating to maintaining a physical office and run your venture predominantly virtually. Rather than office cubicles for each employee, why not just buy each employee a laptop and let them work from their homes? This way you will substantially cut your utility bills – power, cleaning etc. This is quite disconcerting because poor management has a huge need to control and micromanage people but to with a forward thinking management system in place, this will work out quite well because it gives employees huge flexibility. Obviously this can’t apply to all ventures and a critical amount of real estate in the form of office space and accessories will still be required. Even in manufacturing where people need to be on ground, there are some staff that can do the majority of their work without being physically present. This is however not without its caveats and so….. Proceed with caution.
Communicating with Suppliers and Distributors: Since no business operates in isolation, part of normal business administration involves contact with supplies and distributors to manage the supply chain end-to-end. Communication with these partners has come a long way from physical meetings to phone calls and now the rich messaging applications are a new and exciting addition to the mix. It is now possible to hold meetings online (GotoMeeting, WebEx) with full videoconferencing with nothing more than your Internet connection and a relatively cheap value computer. On the lower side, plain email and instant messaging can do a tremendous amount of work. These same multimedia communication technologies can also be leveraged to make product demonstrations to customers in different parts of the world.
Leverage e-Learning: As multimedia computers, networks and the internet become more commonplace; start-ups can leverage them to provide training to their employees at lower costs that traditional, consultant led alternatives. The idea is not to completely eliminate consultants and their workshops but to provide tools for employees to get more skills and knowledge from the convenience of their personal computers.
Use Freeware & Open Source Software: Legally acquiring the software that most business need for office automation can cost significant amount of money (See the article “The Simple Case for Free and Open Source Software” at http://ibiztech.wordpress.com for details). It is possible to shave off more than 50% of the acquisition cost for relevant business applications by using software that is free of charge. Examples include Ubuntu Linux instead of Microsoft Windows for your desktop computers, several variants of Linux for practically all your server applications, OpenOffice.org suite of applications (replacement for Microsoft Office). Some of these applications are the best in their class and very reliable.