Improved business productivity is all about the hardware, the software and the ‘chairware’. Donovan Jackson goes in search of some leading-edge solutions.

For a small business owner, productivity is everything. Getting the most out of the working day means precious time freed up for all the other demands of modern life, so making use of the pretty amazing tools available today just makes good sense. It also means the ability to better serve your customers and, arguably, take care of more customers equally well.

In this feature, we look at productivity from three different perspectives: computer hardware, because there’re some really cool devices available today; software, because, as Arthur C Clarke noted, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic; and, because even in this wonderfully virtual world you still need to physically be somewhere in order to work, we also look at ergonomics – perhaps one of the most routinely ignored aspects of small business productivity.

Before setting off on the inevitable discussion of cloud computing, let’s start by remembering that no matter how much of your business you entrust to offsite services, you still need a device to access it all on.

Today’s computer hardware is mature and that means you get a lot of ‘bang for your buck’, with the possible exception of Apple devices. More on that later.

The magic of the cloud
It’s really in the software that the magic happens. Thanks to cloud computing and the emergence of the concept of subscription-based billing models, a vast array of truly remarkable productivity solutions is now at the fingertips of all small business owners.

Ross Hawkins, director at Ignition Development, says that while specific productivity benefits will vary from person to person and application to application, there is also a general benefit. “The cloud increases availability and access to anywhere with an Internet location and a compatible device. In a nutshell, being able to access your stuff anywhere is a big productivity boost no matter what business you’re in.”

And Soltius’ Cloud Business Line Manager, Shay Lambert, says mobility works hand-in-hand with the cloud. “This has enabled businesses to scale up more quickly, without adding a huge amount of IT infrastructure. Cloud-based Software as a Service [SaaS] – which can be defined as applications delivered via a web browser directly by the software vendor and consumed on demand – has increased productivity by allowing people to focus on their business, instead of their IT,” he explains, adding that most SaaS software provides mobile apps out of the box so users can access their live system from mobile devices.

The cloud lets smaller businesses access enterprise software easily and cost effectively.

Whereas traditional on-premise business systems had high up-front costs which included buying servers, implementation, ongoing upgrades and maintenance, SaaS merely requires paying a periodic fee. The software vendor takes responsibility for everything else.

“In this model, the software runs on a global platform. Each customer gets their own instance and can make some modifications to suit their business needs,” Lambert says.
He adds that that while cloud software initially focused on peripheral business processes, in more recent times it has extended to accounting and other business critical operations, including manufacturing and even complete Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) packages.

But it doesn’t have to be big and fancy to deliver serious benefits: Hawkins describes his top pick for personal productivity as pretty boring. “It’d probably be my email and calendar. I live and die by my inbox, so having this available anywhere is key. On top of that, I use Microsoft OneNote for syncing of notes and lists across all devices wherever I am – a key feature which is made much easier by cloud services.”

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As published in NZ Business Magazine, December 2015 Issue