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Why getting systems right can take a business from an SME to a FTSE 100 company

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Peshkova)

Anyone who’s ever been involved in a startup knows that things can be pretty chaotic. Late nights, big personalities, and occasional technology meltdowns, are so common that it’s easy to imagine that’s just the way things are meant to be.

After all, today’s big tech giants all went through the same thing. Apple, Google, Facebook, all of them went through periods where they were flying by the seat of their pants. Apple, being the prototype for most contemporary startups, provides perhaps the best example. Working out of his father’s garage, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak spent hours building every single Apple I by hand to deliver the first 50 units to the hobby enthusiasts who’d ordered it.

But to move from a backyard startup to a global player, each of these tech giants had to get serious about putting systems in place.

And, if you want to take your business from SME to FTSE 100 competitor, you should follow suit.

The adult in the room

For many startups, getting the right systems in place has meant hiring someone to be the “adult in the room”.

Perhaps the most notable example of this is Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin hiring Eric Schmidt in 2001. A Silicon Valley veteran, Schmidt knew what it took to grow a company and make it profitable.

Without him, Page and Brin’s brilliant product may well have been consigned to the annals of history rather than an integral part of our everyday lives.

For an example of what happens when a company founder doesn’t understand the need for someone who can implement these kinds of systems, just look at WeWork. As soon as it made the preliminary filings for its IPO, it became obvious that its business model was unsustainable, despite the promises of founder Adam Neumann. As a result, Neumann is out, the company is worth a fraction of what it once was, and investors are scrambling to save it. 

Over time, your company may find itself in a situation where it needs a similar kind of adult in the room. You may, for instance, find that you have lots of disconnected, disparate systems in place, often making it very inefficient to complete business functions or difficult for employees to get things done.

You may also find that company processes span multiple systems and keeping the systems in sync is often a challenge, resulting in duplicated efforts and mismatched data.

Equally, if you find that employees involved in the same process are quite often in different departments and not in direct contact with each other, causing miscommunication, unnecessary delays, and poor business performance, it’s time to take action.

The adult (or adults) in the room has to be someone willing to take control of this chaos and put proper systems in place.

If you’re the business owner and you’re not in a position to hire someone else, that person may well have to be you.

Putting systems in place

Even if that doesn’t come naturally, there are a few basic actions you can take to get started:

  • Get together the process owners or process experts in your business - anyone on your team who can input on the way a system is working (or not working)
  • Map out the high-level steps involved in each routine you do
  • Identify which software or manual efforts are used to do the routines
  • Identify what gets done or captured at different points and in different processes
  • Look for crossover – is the same thing being done in different places?
  • Identify inconsistent approaches - is the same thing being done in different ways?
  • Start realising which methods can be standardised, what data should be shared between processes, or what efforts can be removed entirely.

Put these steps in place and you’ll find that your business will run more efficiently and your staff will be more productive and in-sync.

Poised for growth

With the right systems in place, not only will less time be wasted on unnecessary efforts, everyone in the business will have more time to focus on the steps needed to ensure growth.

Thankfully, an array of affordable technologies make implementing these systems simpler than ever.

Workflow solutions, for example, can eliminate unnecessary or duplicated efforts in processes, any uncertainty around responsibilities and requirements, discretionary action in processes, process conclusion left to chance or abandonment.

They can also help to reduce many of the common glitches that thwart small businesses, thereby reducing the turbulence on your journey and streamlining the document-driven business processes that will help get your business practices on course and heading towards success.

As a result, SMEs are able to compete on a more even footing with even the biggest companies. And, because they’re generally leaner, the best-run ones can overtake legacy players and do so quickly.

Adam Shapiro, CEO, AutoCollect (opens in new tab)

Adam Shapiro has been in the IT industry since 2000, co-founding pilotfish digital, a software house specialising in SharePoint development. In 2014 he went on to establish Autopilot, a cloud-based workflow automation company and more recently AutoCollect He loves sports and has represented South Africa a number of times for kneeboarding. He has also swum from Robben Island to Cape Town and has completed a number of marathons including the Comrades (89km) , New York and Greenland Marathons.