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Small & Micro Business Community

What does the FD of a SME need to consider when investing in new tech?

Author: Romesh Jeyaseelanayagam and Ian Wyatt

Published: 21 Jul 2022

In this article we hear from Romesh Jeyaseelanayagam and Ian Wyatt, on their own experiences. Romesh Jeyaseelanayagam is founder of the FD Consultant, a boutique CFO Consultancy which has a track record in growing start-ups, scale-ups and high growth organisations, and Ian is an FD and Business Change Consultant. Romesh and Ian share their top tips:

When is the right time to invest in technology?

When you’re investing in technology it’s vital to research what the company really needs. Romesh advises that business owners take a hard look at the processes and consider “are the business operations creaking? If the business gets to the growth you want it to, can you continue to operate efficiently with the technology you have? If not, then understand what the company needs. Ask your staff where their pinch points are; ideally nominate someone to speak to the different business functions to find out if there are any repetitive time-consuming tasks that could be automated”.

Should you bring in consultants to help?

This could be a good option but can be expensive. Romesh has seen it work but would suggest that you do the work up front so that you are choosing the right consultant for you. Romesh comments “carrying out your due diligence is vital. How well regarded is the consultant? Do they understand clearly what the business needs? You need to control the process, understand what your business needs, then ensure your consultant is on the same page. Don’t let them lead you somewhere you don’t want to go.

Ian agrees and has seen many good examples where a consultant has reduced the fear factor for the business owner, after all change is scary and they can provide vision. But he would council that business leaders need to stay in charge. “It’s not about the technology, or system, but what the business needs”.

There are also other considerations – for example, is the consultant or technology provider you are thinking of engaging still going to be around in 10 years? You need to check their financial health as you want to be working with a long-term partner.”

ICAEW Accredited Technology

Next is to ask for recommendations from colleagues and other advisors in your network. A good starting point could be ICAEW’s technology accreditation which lists out software companies that have been independently evaluated for ICAEW by RSM.

What size will a company get to before they need to invest in technology?

From experience, Romesh suggested between £1m to £2m, although this can vary considerably and does very much depend on the number of transactions made, complexity of the processes involved and what the business does.

Romesh shares some advice, “it’s easy to get dazzled by the whistles and bells that big tech solutions can provide, but before you make the leap, make sure they will really add value and also look at what else is on offer. Things can get expensive very quickly.” Perhaps this could be bolt on software, such as Zapier, which is a super flexible process enabler which allows you to automate processes independently. “One of my client FCs recently suggested using this solution and it has been a real winner.” Consider solutions such as this, rather than bringing in an entirely different system – is there any other software that will interact with whatever you are already using? By doing this, you’ll speed up the process and make quick wins such as removing a repetitive and tedious task for a member of staff.

Ian agrees and has seen small changes have big impacts on business. “Just bringing in some basic accounting software can really help a small business. Something that holds a cash book, does basic postings and can send invoices out is often all that is needed as a business grows”. He advises clients “to stay simple, perhaps outsource payroll and other services, you often don’t need to spend a lot of money.”

Take the plunge as the business grows

If the time is right to move the business along and invest with one of the well-known software companies, then there are some key points to consider.

Firstly, getting buy in from both the business leaders and the staff is vitally important. Ian shares his experience of working on a business system transformation project at a well-known travel company and describes the process as a “dream project” as everyone from the MD down wanted it to happen. “This was a big project, but the principles apply to all sizes of business. 99.9% of project success is down to the people involved”.

Make sure that your staff fully understand why and what they are doing, or they just won’t use it properly. Romesh advises “get staff on side from the beginning and you’re halfway there at the start. Get your staff to help drive the process. No one likes change but if you demonstrate the benefits of what a new system can do then you’re more likely to get adoption. Imposing a new process without involving people won’t help.”

Planning and preparation are key as well as defining the project from the start and understanding what you are trying to achieve. Ian has seen successful and failed business transformation projects. The successful ones have all “involved the necessary planning, have all been well scoped, involved open discussions from the stakeholders and there has been an understanding of what needs to be done and in what sequence” but do expect some hiccups along the way.

Finally, Romesh and Ian share some practical advice

Don’t try and do too much in one go. Have a start and finish point.

Look for a supplier that will give you a dedicated account manager? It’s so important to agree upfront that you will have dedicated support. The training and handover is critical when adopting new technology. 

The company you go to for systems and support should be the appropriate size. You want them to be big enough that they have the experience and are not reliant on you but not so big that you are small and ignored. It should be a relationship of equals bringing different skills and experiences to the table.

None of us know it all so look for advisers who listen first and well and then act as a sounding board. They should advise and explain not just dictate or tell you.

Always understand the journey, the vision, if not you won’t know when you get lost.

As ever it is having the right people that makes the difference so select with care. It is not the cost but the value that is important.

*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.
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