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Executive vice-president and managing director, Sage Canada

Small and medium businesses are the backbone of the global economy, underpinning valuable job creation and growth. Businesses require more than just entrepreneurial spirit, drive and passion to succeed. Utilizing technology is the key to unlocking untapped productive time from our country’s businesses. Before productivity potential can be realized, there are major hurdles we must overcome.

All businesses have a certain amount of administration that must be completed in order to operate. Accounting, HR and billing are all necessary functions but can often distract executives from more valuable work needed to expand their operations. Economic research conducted by Plum Consulting and Sage shows that our small businesses are being drained of important resources through unnecessary administration, wasting an average of 120 working days a year – around 5 per cent of total manpower. If we could redirect some of this time spent on basic administrative tasks back into attracting customers and boosting revenue, we could make real headway in closing that productivity gap.

This could be partially achieved through the reduction of time spent on business administration by adopting technology to help streamline simple but time-intensive tasks. The entrepreneurs and customers I speak with emphasize just how burdensome administrative tasks are for them and how much it removes them from the real, valuable work their businesses demand. Matters such as invoicing, payroll and late payments should not dominate our entrepreneurs’ time in 2018, especially when recurring items can easily be automated.

For example, wider use of cloud-based accounting systems can dramatically improve processes and drive efficiency as the work force becomes increasingly mobile. Cloud accounting enables staff to work seamlessly and quickly, no matter their location. Mobile devices can allow employees on the road to issue customer invoices, process payments and capture expense receipts without the burden of paper copies, resulting in increased cash-flow, stronger compliance and greater collaboration, which will reduce turnaround time and increase productivity.

Additionally, the latest people-management solutions can help simplify, if not automate, many tedious HR processes, freeing up the department to focus on more strategic tasks. Not only do these systems help aggregate and analyze employee feedback more efficiently, they also give employees greater control over their own information and enable them to perform many routine HR tasks, such as recording time off or updating contact information, via employee self-service tools. This is just one way that businesses can provide better work-force experiences as well as improve overall productivity, which in turn can lead to stronger business growth.

While most employees today are tech-savvy and comfortable adopting new solutions to simplify processes, there are employees who may not have adequate familiarity or comfort with newer technology. As such, it will be important for businesses to invest in the proper training to ensure a smooth transition to tools-based processes, and to select tools with intuitive interfaces that are easy to navigate.

Thankfully, the proliferation of cloud-based accounting and supply-chain, HR and CRM solutions means that businesses of all sizes are able to automate many of their burdensome tasks. As an added benefit, the availability of flexible subscription-pricing models means that businesses don’t have to break the bank to implement these solutions.

Businesses interested in embracing technology to increase their productivity should pay attention to two things. First, they should make sure they select technologies that are designed for the future. As mentioned, cloud-based business applications can offer many conveniences. To take advantage of them, businesses also need to ensure that they have the adequate connectivity infrastructure. It is prudent to discuss with IT-network service-providers to gain a better understanding of current and anticipated data needs and the required connectivity speed. With 5G on the horizon, cloud-based business applications will quickly become prevalent, and customers will expect small businesses to deliver speedy services.

The second thing business ought to do is explore the available government resources and supports. The federal government has put a lot of effort into digitizing many of its services. Exploring these services can reveal ways a business could save time on administrative duties. Ottawa also offers grants for small businesses. It’s worth researching these grants and discussing with an accountant how they could be leveraged.

As the global economic climate becomes increasingly competitive, growth from small businesses will only accelerate if we truly adopt a digital-first agenda. Future economies hinge on the success of our businesses today. By shining a light on this, I hope that entrepreneurs will be encouraged to look closely at the productivity issues and the impact a holistic cloud approach can have on their companies’ chances of survival and growth.

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