How do I budget to switch to management software?

Our company is 40-strong, and at the moment our sales, accounts, factory, marketing and management teams all work off spreadsheets. I’d like to get this information synchronised onto one easy-to-use system. What should I be paying, how do I ensure the system does what I want and how should I manage the crossover?


A. John Coulthard of Microsoft writes:

It’s of vital importance that information on key business operations is current, accurate, and integrated across departments. Having different departments work with disparate sources of information presents a number of potential pitfalls, from inefficiency caused by duplicating work through to inconsistencies in the key business data.

However, completely overhauling established ways of working with an unfamiliar system can place unnecessary strain on the business. Given the company’s size, your needs may be better met by encouraging improved ways of sharing the information.

Modern small business servers allow for the creation of online portals, which give employees a single place to share information. Spreadsheets, correspondence and planning details can be stored in an online library on the company intranet to provide all appropriate staff members with full visibility of company information.

Shared online libraries can track updates, log document histories, alert users to amendments and also synchronise with email and online calendars. Regardless of who or how many people are working on it, a single copy of the document is available to everyone. If information from your teams is held online centrally, data held on the business’ spreadsheets should yield all the business information you require.

In terms of cost, a good rule of thumb for apportioning the costs is to allocate 20% for licensing, 20% for the technology, 10% for support and 50% for training. Managing crossover can be accomplished in three stages: determine which items of information the respective departments need access to; centralise the disparate information sources on your intranet and equip staff with the know-how to use the new system.

While there are applications dedicated to processing information from separate company departments, your business probably hasn’t yet reached this stage. Implementing these applications – generally referred to as enterprise resource planning systems – is a big commitment for any business. If your company does reach this stage a key requirement will be integration with your existing technology infrastructure.

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