Now that the New Year is in full swing, I’m sure everyone is sticking to their New Year’s resolutions, right? You’ve been to the gym every day like you promised yourself and you’re trimming away the holiday fat. Hopefully the same is happening to your business – trimming the fat during the recent recession. Now that you and your business are lean and ready to take on any challenge, you’re in good shape to evaluate the current status of you, your department, and your company. While doing that, take some time and visualize where you want to be by this time next year. What are the challenges you need to overcome?

A major challenge for many companies is finding a way to differentiate from the competition and share the advantage of those differences with customers. If you don’t differentiate your brand, you could become a commodity that’s easily out bid or replaced by other competitors. Considering the importance of differentiation, there’s no doubt that technology is still the best way to keep an edge on your competition.

Over the years, I have used technology as a primary tool to increase my speed and accuracy. Software has provided significant intangible benefits resulting in accelerated efficiency gains and increased strategic planning capabilities. As I implemented a strategy, my overall vision became clearer. The more technological improvements I made, the more new opportunities presented themselves. Like painting the ugliest room in a house, once you complete one room, other rooms become more noticeable in their need for a fresh coat of color. In the following paragraphs, I have included some key areas for you to consider as New Year Business Resolutions for 2014 – ensuring you, your department and your company can differentiate and remain competitive.

Go 100% digital by 2015
If you only do one thing this year, I recommend converting your company to 100% digital. During my years as CFO, I truly believe this simple technological improvement resulted in the greatest impact on operational efficiency. I witnessed both tangible and intangible efficiencies so dramatic that it completely shifted my view towards technology. The results were actually a catalyst for reinventing myself.

I like to query the people I talk to about their company’s shift to a digital environment. The truth is, I’m often surprised when I take a survey during some of my presentations on how few people consider their company 100% digital. I might get 2 to 3 hands raised on a good day. When I follow up by asking how many people consider their company 25% digital, I might only get a few more. In this day and age of tight competition and slim margins on projects, this continues to surprise me.

Going digital is way more than just going paperless these days. That’s why I know it’s not an easy or overnight process to become a digital company. In fact, the entire category of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has several important areas requiring focused planning, attention, resources and consistent discipline.

Simply put, something has to give because every company in nearly every industry is experiencing information overload. With valuable business information coming at us so fast and with such volume, there’s simply no way to capture, filter and organize, and retrieve all this information using old technology and processes. People leave, important emails are deleted, documents are stored on various laptops or attached to emails, paper documents are prone to being lost, become difficult to manage and share – and frankly, could be putting your company at risk. To avoid issues down the road, your company needs an Enterprise Content Management plan and a solid ERP/Accounting solution to tie everything together. Don’t risk letting business intelligence leave your company every day – there are great ECM tools available to help.

Don’t fall into the trap of “paralysis by analysis” to justify this critical technological improvement. I speak from practical experience: Stop analyzing and start improving before it’s too late. The positive benefits your company will experience go way beyond profitability and the bottom line. Your efficiency, image and other intangibles will improve as well. I’m not a national expert on ECM solutions, but I have seen the benefits of good ECM processes and the disasters created by bad or nonexistent ones.

Workflow
Utilizing an efficient electronic workflow process in your organization has many benefits. The efficiency impact depends upon your digital ECM level as described in the previous section. If your company is at a point where it is predominantly utilizing digital documents then you have a good foundation to share, send, notify, alert, attach, request approval, etc. with an ECM or Collaboration software solution. This is the most efficient way to let every stakeholder know who is holding the baton in the workflow process. Centralizing the process documentation and placing them in the workflow, eliminates slowdowns, creates accountability and prevents lost documents.

Today’s workflow tools should be reviewed as they would be used for both internal and external workflows by all areas of your organization. It is important to understand the distinction between each solution available and whether your company needs an ECM (static data, i.e. internal company process and procedures) or a project collaboration solution (active data shared by all project stakeholders, including external). Often project collaboration software incorporates Building Information Modeling (BIM) where everyone on a particular project share the most current and up-to-date 3D plans. These days, more and more owners and government agencies are requiring collaboration software on their projects – the long term value of the captured project intelligence has proven invaluable to these organizations.

With an efficient internal and external workflow process in your organization, you will be able to clearly identify hiccups in your processes. You will also be able to research and identify the root cause of the process slowdowns. Is the issue a particular person or department, poor communication, out dated technology or just outdated processes and procedures?

Integration
Another desired request from many company executives is a way to view timely information on a simple display or dashboard. The simple reality is that without complete integration of your business intelligence and unique technology solutions, timely accurate information will be unattainable. The Accounting department will have to manually review and approve every invoice and hard keying errors will occur throughout your organization due to the lack of an integrated technology platform. Plus not being able to review data on a daily basis really puts your company at a disadvantage from an efficiency and accuracy standpoint. If your competition has implemented an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution and integrated all segments of their operation, they are clearly differentiating from your business at lightning speed. Additionally, if you’re just sticking with old technology because it’s familiar, you are doing a disservice to your organization. Things are changing rapidly and some impressive integrated ERP systems with incredible features and functionality are available to make construction firms operate smoother than ever before. Case in point: Remember the old “brick-sized” mobile phones. If you still carried one of those, everyone would laugh and wonder why you haven’t upgraded from decades-old technology. Unbelievably, many contractors are still using business software technology from the same era. There is no way that will be sustainable for much longer – an upgrade must happen or the business will crumble.

So consider evaluating your level of integration and speed of data throughout the organization. Often a simple, effective gauge is the use of too much Microsoft® Excel™ by the company. Don’t get me wrong, I love Excel. However, Excel often means your critical information is not being seen or reviewed by those who need to see the document. The spreadsheets typically aren’t integrated with whatever software solution the rest of the organization is using.

Mobile Technology
The last area I want to discuss is mobile technology. If your company has gone 100% digital, incorporating process workflow, utilizing collaboration tools, and integrating all your solutions, the value realized using mobile technology will be astronomical. There is no question that rapid expansion in mobile technology and applications has increased the usefulness of gadgets in the field. The ability to read plans, zoom in and out on details, record timesheets, enter daily logs, note safety issues, document progress, capture images, prepare and review RFIs, approve change orders, authorize invoices ,etc. is driving an increase in continued field acceptance. Incorporating all the ideas we discussed previously will allow information to be obtained from the field at any time from any location. Field teams will be able to perform research and project reviews at their convenience without waiting for a request for data and reports from the office. Mobile devices will be used as intended. To obtain business intelligence, improve communication and realize efficiencies. No more just a one way data input device from the field to the office.

In Closing

Hopefully this has sparked some good New Year Resolution ideas to accomplish by 2015. Start now and take the initiative to transport your company into the future. By the end of the year you, your department, and your company will be well on the way to differentiating from the competition.

Posted by Tim Gray