In today’s world businesses of all sizes are having to shift into the digital realm to remain competitive and prepare for a tech-driven future. With e-commerce transactions estimated to be worth R225bn by 2025, new online businesses are exploding, and many others are digitising traditional operations to survive.
Digitisation across the business happens in all departments from operations, sales, marketing, customer service to inventory, accounting and human resources.
Warren Bonheim, Managing Director of Zinia, a leading ICT and telecoms provider, who is passionate about helping businesses grow and gain a competitive edge, shares his top technologies every online business must have.
While working virtually will save money on physical network infrastructure, employees still need high-speed internet connections and good quality computers to do their work. Whether you subsidise employees for high bandwidth broadband internet or not, you need to ensure that your virtual workforce can operate at their optimum.
A traditional phone system will also not provide services to remote workers and your customers in a seamless and professional way. So, look out for cloud-based phone systems to handle inbound and outbound calls.
The emergence of software-as-a-service has become the best thing for virtual businesses, and these cloud-based offerings offer a variety of apps where your data is stored on servers located with an external provider – either in a public or private cloud.The cloud acts as a virtual 24-hour office for virtual employees, and reduces your cost of a dedicated IT infrastructure. Do make sure your provider has the available capacity to avoid network outages and that your data is backed up in the event of a failure.
Company processes and standards
When you keep information separately it cannot be shared across the company which is very inefficient, so it is important to pay attention to how you centralise your data and digitise your processes. By using technology streamline processes, setup workflows and automate tasks, you can free up teams to focus on more critical tasks.
While not a technology per se, in the virtual world standardisation and processes are critical when your team is working outside a traditional work environment. These answer the questions such as; Where are your files stored? How do you communicate internally and externally? How do you collaborate and share as a team? What is the expected times teams need to be available and respond?
With employees working from home or coffee shops they need to access data from home internet or WiFi connections, and so security is a critical factor. Offering a VPN for access to private cloud systems would be critical, and multi-factor authentication, URL filtering, and security agents are needed to ensure secure remote computing. Also, ensure that your security policies and awareness training is in place so that employees are aware should a suspicious email arrive in their inbox.
Work collaboration tools
It is important that you have collaboration tools to enable centralised group communications, there are a variety of tools like Slack, which is free, Huddle and many more. Ensure you have project management tools for planning, scheduling, assigning, tracking, and managing tasks centrally such as Microsoft Project, Basecamp, Monday.com, and Asana.
For creating documents, storing files, and sharing tools there are many good tools such as Microsoft Azure, One Drive, Google Drive, and Box. For virtual meetings, video calling and video conferencing there are apps like Microsoft Teams, webEx Meetings, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts. And for real-time chat Skype, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, HipChat, and others.
The most important consideration it to choose a technology vendor that offers the full collaboration suite so there is minimal integration required.
Customer Communication and Engagement
As an online business your communications have to be digital, resist the temptation to direct communications offline. You will need to respond and deliver quickly as this is what customers demand from you. A two-way conversation is expected and there are many tools to help you.
Building a website that is highly service oriented is a must. This is where your customers will engage, search for products, and also make purchases, by using simple tools to automate the interaction you can provide 24/7 service and increase your sales. Automated chatbots, live chat, social messaging, contact forms, explainer videos, all provide a way to engage with customers quickly.
Also, use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool to centrally manage your customer interactions including sales history, pipelines, and uncovering trends in revenue. Use lead-generation tools to grow your customer base and convert a customer from consideration to sales – there are many affordable tools like HubSpot, FreshWorks CRM, and Zoho CRM.
The tools above are just some of the essential ones for most online businesses, however you can also use digital tools for Call Centre Ticketing, Human Resources, Supply Chain, Accounting, and Payroll. While it may seem daunting at first, by partnering with an established provider to assist you, your online business will be thriving in no time.