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Tech-based vs. policy-based regulatory compliance—which is right for your SMB?

The growing global economy is impacting local markets in many ways, but making them safer isn’t one of them. All that growth comes with a corresponding rise in criminal activities which, in turn, drives up the proliferation of international regulatory compliance systems.

Attaining and maintaining regulatory compliance with any one of those systems—let alone several of them at once—is becoming harder to do.

Many SMBs are now challenged to establish a set of compliance policies and practices that can protect them from intentional or inadvertent violations as well as keep them in the clear for the foreseeable future. Most find they must choose between two distinct processes: set and enforce an internal roster of compliance requirements or find a technological solution that will do the compliance management for them.

Both strategies provide value, but with so much to think about, it’s difficult to know which option to pursue.

Compliance regulations rise in the face of escalating criminal activities

Not only are markets global, but so are the internationally based bad actors who prey on trusting digital customers and partners. One recent report indicated that fraud and corruption are on the rise in both the developed and developing world:

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In Africa’s emerging markets . . .

The number of fraud complaints is up by 30 percent in Nigeria, and 44 percent in Egypt.

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In Germany . . .

Reported fraud cases have risen by 26 percent.

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And worldwide . . .

The incidences of cybercrime are increasing. In 2017, the ransomware “WannaCry” attack spread through 150 countries, infecting more than 200,000 computers, and costing the global economy as much as $53 billion, according to Lloyds of London, a global insurance leader.

Fraud and corruption are on the rise in both the developed and developing world.

SMBs aren’t immune to the threat

While some SMB owners believe their enterprise is too small to attract the attention of these nefarious characters, the data demonstrates otherwise.

Fact #1

An Australian survey concluded that SMBs are actually bigger targets than their larger competitors because most SMBs haven’t invested in appropriate compliance or defense technology or practices. In the year ending June 2015, reported cybercrimes against Australian SMBs rose more than 105 percent over the previous year, with the cost to each business averaging AU $10,000.

Fact #2

In the U.S., SMBs made up 61 percent of cyber-attack victims in 2017, costing those owners an average of $117,000.

Clearly, the data reveals that even the smallest SMB is a cybercrime target and that many still struggle with how to maintain SMB regulatory compliance while preventing an attack.

Even the smallest SMB is a cybercrime target.

A comprehensive approach that incorporates both policies and practices and technological tools offers the best position for compliance structure from which to defend against an attack.

On the human factor side

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Train your staff

Nothing can replace a well-trained workforce that prioritizes high production quality and appropriate compliance standards. Ensure that your staff knows why following compliance procedures at every step of every process is critical to the company’s success.

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Make it a culture thing

Too many SMBs leave compliance processes to the IT department or hold workers accountable via the HR department. The threats posed today, however, are too significant to delegate regulatory compliance management to any one company division.

Ensure that every element of your enterprise has comprehensive training, materials and protocols in place to achieve compliance and make sure upper-level leadership can coordinate them all into a single, complying whole.

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Document everything

Require and monitor appropriate documentation of all activities, materials, tools and related compliance data. Most regulators require proof that compliance practices are in place, including proof of changes made over time.

Even the most compliant company can trigger censure if their systems are 100 percent compliant but they can’t prove that fact.

Compliance Quote

On the technology side

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Keep it current

Outdated programming that can’t recognize today’s sophisticated attacks poses a significant threat to your business. While updates to current programming may be prohibitively expensive, cloud-based programming and tools can afford better service at an equally better cost.

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Keep ahead of the regulators

Too often, regulations lag behind criminal realities. A body of regulations develops over time and usually after significant research and industry inputs. It’s not unusual for regulatory compliance practices to be in tune with existing rules while being hopelessly ill-equipped to manage incoming digital threats.

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Jump to the cloud

Consider a cloud-based compliance system that can change as threats evolve.

Cloud services are uniquely well-suited to manage regulatory compliance because the programming, management, maintenance and currency of those systems are controlled by specialists whose sole focus is to ensure top compliance capacities.

Unlike your small business’s internal IT department, where your IT crew must also deal with daily glitches, catalog changes and similar business functions, a cloud-based compliance service is always on duty for one specific reason—to monitor your compliance concerns.

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Adopt a quality management system

In many cases, an automated quality management system outperforms every other quality and compliance strategy. This is because an automated system is specifically designed to identify challenges at the earliest possible moment, creating alerts. Often, automated systems will catch a problem before humans are even aware that something is awry.

Implementing such a system offers a second benefit in addition to compliance confidence. It speeds production by guaranteeing the highest quality is reached by every product and process.

Often, automated systems will catch a problem before humans are even aware that something is awry.

Take a coordinated approach

Don’t let your SMB be the next victim of tomorrow’s cybercriminals. The compliance and automation consultants at TechBundle can help you master your compliance and quality challenges.

What does “leveraging technology” actually mean?

Small and medium businesses need to leverage technology to promote growth. However, like many often-used phrases, the catchphrase “leveraging technology” is used in so many ways, it almost loses its meaning.

The question should be, “How can SMBs use technology to establish a long-term competitive advantage?”

SMBs are slow to leverage technology

When a business leverages technology, that digital transformation will make fundamental changes in the way it conducts every aspect of its business. SMBs can achieve that change by leveraging the technologies that are being introduced at an increasing rate.

However, SMBs aren’t the first to do what’s necessary to achieve digital transformation. According to research done by the SMB Group, only 48 percent of SMBs are planning to find ways to move toward transformation, 36 percent have started to do things that will support transformation and 16 percent have no digital plans in place.

It’s critical for SMBs to leverage technology

This lack of progress comes at a time when the need for transformation is becoming ever more important. The digital age has changed the way people interact with one another. As a result, customers expect to have that same freedom with the brands they buy from.

These customer expectations exist for all businesses, regardless of the size of the organization. A number of trends are driving this imperative for digital transformation.

People are changing the way they want to work

The days when everyone in a company worked in the company’s physical location are going away. Today, many businesses need to develop new ways to support employees when they are outside of the office or telecommuting.

The technology needs to support letting employees conduct business from their telephones, including checking email, responding to meeting requests and more.

Customers are changing their expectations

Often, the biggest challenge for SMBs is attracting and retaining customers. Being responsive to customer expectations is a critical factor in meeting that challenge.

Technology can help SMBs improve the customer experience by being accessible online, providing self-serve capabilities, collecting and responding to customer information, and much more.

Technology is evolving to provide answers for companies of all sizes

Strategic business consultants are quick to point out that, regardless of a company’s IT maturity level, management can take the company to the next level with a well-planned cycle of improvement. In today’s environment, there’s no reason why SMBs can’t use the same type of technology that serves large enterprises.

The price of technology is falling and the capabilities offered are increasing, as these examples show:

  • SMBs can use technology to integrate workflow automation to buy back time to focus on critical business innovation.
  • Chatbots can take over customer service tasks that include interacting with customers, answering routine questions and routing telephone calls.
  • Social media management becomes much less time consuming and more effective when software such as Hootsuite is used to eliminate many of the time-consuming and repetitive tasks that are required to maintain a vibrant social media presence.
  • Online project management software is helping companies of all sizes track projects and provide a platform for communication among team members.
  • Cloud-based accounting systems are making it simple for SMBs to produce invoices, send them via email, and keep track of revenue and expenses. These systems also integrate with complex accounting programs like QuickBooks. As a result, business owners no longer need to supply accounting activity to their CPA manually.

This partial list of technology demonstrates how an SMB can transform many of its processes to save time, reduce costs and improve competitive advantage. The results that are produced when companies leverage technology can be truly impressive.

Looking to the future

The things SMBs have done in the past to be successful won’t work as well in today’s digital world. Building a brand, responding to customer expectations and developing a strong competitive advantage is within reach of SMBs who leverage technology and take digital transformation seriously.

5 indications that it’s time for a technology upgrade

Your organization put a state-of-the-art infrastructure in place—years ago. Some systems get replaced over time, but parts of your network are starting to show their age.

Determining the right time for a technology upgrade requires looking for a few telltale indicators.

1. Maintaining current infrastructure costs too much

The expenses associated with a technology upgrade may seem daunting, but they are often far less than the resources it takes to keep older technology running.

For one, you may have a harder time finding IT professionals who are proficient in the older software and hardware that makes up your infrastructure. Beyond that, business processes may need to be tweaked to accommodate the limitations of that software and hardware. That leads to lower productivity and frustrations for your staff.

While upgrades can inconvenient in the short term, the temporary disruption doesn’t compare to years of inefficiency.

“Large and complex application software tends to become more expensive to operate, support and maintain as it gets older, but few IT organizations have any real idea of the future cost of managing their current applications.” – Susan Moore, Gartner contributor

2. Current systems are underutilized

Staff members will inevitably get frustrated with technology that gets in the way of getting work done. As that happens, they may turn to unauthorized applications to fill the gap. That might mean using their own devices, regardless of authorization. Or that might mean using free solutions that may or may not work well with your network.

Either way, it’s never a good thing when staff uses technology without the knowledge and approval of your organization’s IT department.

Up to 50% of your IT budget may go to these so-called Shadow IT solutions. The primary infrastructure is underutilized in this scenario. You end up wasting resources on systems that no one wants to use rather than turning to a technology upgrade.

3. Falling behind competitors

Some industries have a technology arms race between companies, while others lag behind on bringing in new solutions. No matter which pace your market follows, you need to keep a close eye on the competition.

If your competitors are early adopters of the latest and greatest technology, then you put yourself at a competitive disadvantage by relying on older systems.

Keep an eye on your industry’s news to see the latest developments and partnerships taking place with your competitors. As it becomes common to leverage certain types of technology, work with your own IT  support to develop solutions that keep you competitive.

You need agility and the right resources to stay ahead.

4. New business needs

Technology can result in entirely new business models. Just look at the transformation that ridesharing apps had on the taxi industry.

You can’t always predict the direction your company will take in the future. Your technology upgrade may need to accommodate a total pivot of your operations.

If you try to force old systems to support your new needs, you end up with a lot of makeshift solutions that may cause major problems. In some cases, it’s impossible to use your current infrastructure for new business models.

5. Changes in customer requirements

Your customer base has their own set of expectations. What customers want can change based on developments in your industry, advancements, what’s in style, what’s convenient, and more.

Your market may not typically use cutting-edge digital experiences or rely on a mobile-first approach, but if your customers start to want either, you better be ready to deliver.

Technology upgrades that make sense

Keeping up with the latest technological developments may seem like a never-ending race. Training staff on new systems, implementing solutions and phasing out old technology is an extensive process.

Knowing when to upgrade is a strategic advantage. This is how you maintain better productivity, greater agility and strong competitive positioning.

 

4 ways to maximize your business technology

Dawn Kirchner-King joined Armstrong Building Products in 2015 as their CIO.

She described the company as “a black-hole cost center,” where company leaders didn’t know how to maximize the use of their existing business technology. Dawn changed that.

She used tactics like standing meetings and proven project management practices to increase employee output and boost company efficiency. She also improved the Armstrong Building Products’ CRM suite, streamlining processes and enhancing the company’s customer service capabilities.

Essentially, she used the resources she had in order to help strategically grow Armstrong Building Products.

You don’t have to be a multimillion-dollar company to get the most out of your business technology. But you do have to use IT solutions strategically to grow your company. Part of that is making the most out of what already have.

To help you maximize your current resources, we’ve created a list of 4 different ways you can get the most out of your existing tech.

1. Implement automation

A great way to increase efficiency using your existing business technology is to harness the power of automation.

Even with the advancements in machine learning and robotic process automation, there are some jobs robots will never be able to do. Closing deals, brainstorming ideas, and developing company culture will always require human collaboration.

However, automating simple processes saves your employees time and allows them to focus more energy on mission-critical projects. Automation also reduces errors in tasks like data entry, posting to social media, and sending standard email replies.

2: Use dual monitors

While it may seem like a simple suggestion, giving each of your employees a second monitor increases their productivity by 20-30%. Why? With two screens, employees don’t have to spend time continually switching between different documents and browsers to enter data or compare information.

If your employees spend 3 minutes per day switching between documents, a second monitor can save them 13 hours of work per year. Multiply that number by every employee in your office, and you’ve saved yourself days of work.

Most monitors aren’t that expensive. Spending $100-$200 on a second monitor for every employee has the potential to save you thousands of dollars per year, every year.

Plus, if your employees have a work laptop, a video cable can easily turn their desktop into a second screen.

3: Train your employees

Training is a necessary expense. It’s an investment in your company’s growth. When your team is using your business technology correctly, they’re more efficient. The more efficient your employees are, the more productive they are. The more productive your team is, the easier it is to grow your business.

Training employees will greatly reduce the amount of time you’ll spend fixing policy and process-related mistakes down the line. Plus, it’ll boost your network security. When your team employs security best practices, the less likely they are to accidentally compromise sensitive information.

That being said, effective training is an ongoing process. It’s not something to do once a year. Your policies and processes will change. And as business technology evolves, you’ll use new solutions in your company. Employees need to be trained every time there are new policies, processes, or technology that affect how they perform their job.

It’s best practice to have the materials you went over in training accessible at all times. That way if your team needs a refresher, these resources are readily available.

4: Test your backups

Testing your backup methods regularly may seem obvious. However, many business owners don’t and suffer negative consequences later.

Downtime costs businesses up to $8600 per hour. It’s no surprise that 93% of companies that lost their data for more than 10 days filed for bankruptcy within a year.

Hardware fails, employees accidentally delete crucial documents, and rolling blackouts happen. If your data isn’t backed up, any one of these disasters has the potential to destroy your sensitive business data and your company’s reputation. Plus, if you can’t get back up and running quickly, your competition is more likely to edge you out while you play catch up.

That’s why it’s critical to test your backups often. We recommend testing your backups on a monthly basis at the bare minimum. You should also perform restore tests whenever you install a new application, or when an application is updated or patched.

To make sure you don’t forget, you can automate your backups. Some solutions even let you do this without interrupting employee productivity.

Using business technology to gain a competitive edge.

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There are many simple things you can do to get the most out of your current business technology. This list is a great place to start. If need further assistance, a business consultant can help you strategically get the most out of your IT solutions. And they can help you pick new, cost-effective technology that will drive your business forward.

IT maturity: What it is and why you want to improve it

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 as an online bookstore and initially ran it entirely out of his garage. In July of 1995, he sold his first book. Two years later, he issued the company’s IPO. Today, Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer and is on track to be a $1 trillion company by 2022.

How did Jeff Bezos achieve such success?

Through hard work and dedication, of course. But there’s another critical component to Amazon’s success story that every business should pay attention to: Jeff Bezos harnessed the power of technology to continually fine-tune his strategy and improve company-wide operations. In other words, he improved Amazon’s IT maturity level.

The 5 Stages of IT maturity

IT maturity is essentially how well an organization uses information technology to achieve business objectives.

Organizations with a lower IT maturity level tend have inefficient operations, inconsistent quality of work, and trouble adapting quickly when business needs change. Companies with a higher level of IT maturity have standardized processes, consistency in their quality of output, and the ability to adjust to business growth more easily.

At TechBundle, we define the five levels of IT maturity as follows:

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Level 1: Chaotic

Organizations at this level are in a constant state of disorganization and approach IT in an unpredictable manner. There is no cohesion between their minimal IT infrastructure and their business operations. These organizations are reactive, unable to predict issues,  and cannot develop standards for resolving problems.

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Level 2: Disciplined

Companies at a level two are more aware of how effective IT solutions help them achieve success. They have begun to implement minor technology best practices. However, these companies primarily take a reactive, ad-hoc approach to issues and are constantly putting out IT-related fires.

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Level 3: Predictable

At this level, organizations automate maintenance, implement proactive IT support, use asset management, and adopt process standards. IT issues are now predictable and have standardized processes by which they are addressed, meaning that problem resolutions are consistent and effective. Additionally, these businesses track performance analytics, making it easier to optimize their technology over time.

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Level 4: Integrated

Businesses at this stage of IT maturity are highly efficient and completely embrace process and technology best practices. They thoroughly document their IT environments, have guaranteed SLAs in effect, and use available resources efficiently.

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Level 5: Strategic

Businesses operating at this level strategically leverage IT innovations to continually optimize processes, efficiently achieve business outcomes, and gain a competitive edge. Additionally, they link information technology and business metrics, allowing them to make informed decisions in regards to ongoing improvements.

The more mature your organization is, the better its bottom line. In order to determine your organization’s IT maturity level, you need to start with a maturity assessment.

Discovering your IT maturity level

No area of your organization is an island. An objective view of how you currently use technology versus how you should be using it will help to pinpoint the areas in need of improvement. A great way to get this perspective is through an IT maturity assessment.

There are a variety of IT maturity assessments available. At TechBundle, we have our own process for determining IT maturity. Here’s how we do it.

The assessment

First, we interview everyone in the company who uses any kind of technology on the job, starting with the people on the front lines. That’s the core of your business operations. Then we talk to your leadership team. We want to know where they feel you are and where they see the business going.

In each conversation, we’re looking for the underlying business processes that guide the flow of data through your organization. This is followed by an in-depth technical assessment to determine the current state of your infrastructure, cybersecurity and disaster recovery plan.

The analysis

After completing the assessment, TechBundle analyzes all of the results. We compile our findings and present you with a maturity level for each of the main departments of your company—Finance, HR, Operations, Sales and Customer Experience, for example. We’ll also report on the IT maturity of the three major technology areas of your business—infrastructure, cybersecurity and disaster recovery.

The strategy

Of course, in-depth analysis doesn’t do you much good if you don’t know what to do next. That’s why we also provide an actionable list, prioritized based on business goals, financial risk and technology best practices. Our recommendations also include cost estimates to allow for easy budgeting.

That way you have all the information you need to strategically leverage technology to enhance your maturity.

Moving your business forward

As a business owner, you know that heavily focusing on one area of your organization typically means that other areas will suffer. This same idea rings true when it comes to improving your IT maturity level.

Said another way, it’s very difficult to accurately gauge your own IT maturity. That’s the advantage of bringing in a skilled IT consultant. They can help you more effectively facilitate the implementation of new technology, while simultaneously optimizing your business strategy and its components over time.