Does 'heritage' constrain good business management?
If you wouldn't mind, we would like to take a second of your day to consider office systems ... we would like to know what you use to manage your projects, timesheets, expenses, and invoices?
We will be willing to bet that the most obvious answer to those questions is spreadsheets. A good old Excel workbook. But of course there are always variations:
You might use accounting software with connected spreadsheets? Project management software packages that incorporate spreadsheets? Or even better ... that well used long-term memory and the occasional ... yes you've got it ... spreadsheet!
Well, we consider the use of spreadsheets for your office and business management systems akin to the buildings that architects like to refer to as heritage, and we have three options in considering where our kind of heritage belongs.
- There is the past, where the office project and invoicing system was created to fulfil a need at that time, a time before fast computers, the cloud and software packages, before apps and AI.
- There is the present, where that system has become surpassed by new, easy to implement technology, but your business continues to maintain its significance as a well-known and comfortable process that new employees pick up in the end and that the more established staff put up with out of habit.
- Then there is 'the future'. The future inherits the present system, which is little different from the past system, and deems it sufficient for the business going forward, because it has passed the test of time (if this was a building you would call it culturally significant) and therefore no further efforts are spent investigating or investing in new project management systems.
The Bottom Line
As time progresses, the catalogue of unbilled hours and untracked projects grows. Much of this is contained within the profits, while everyone remains blissfully unaware of the damage this is doing to the bottom lines. However, as the business begins to take on more projects, and collaborate on more ventures, as remote working increases, and as staff numbers grow, you become increasingly aware that cash flow, reporting, productivity, and effective business management are critically lacking.
This raises a serious question around the cost of preserving systems that no longer perform. In financial climates where bottom lines and profits are fundamental to survival, is it sensible to have a "but it's what we have always done" attitude and put convention before your business's survival?
Implementing a new system is a major challenge and lack of time is the limiting factor in addressing it. The choice to preserve a heritage system will be at the direct expense of productivity and cash flow (both are essential for increases in profits in any business).
Preserving the old system for convenience sake will develop into a habit that becomes unaffordable.
That isn't to say that there is no value in well known, already implemented office systems, but rather that a successful business can't have everything - you cannot continue to persevere with the old because it's easier than implementing the new, and miraculously see the growth and business success that you want and need.
Running a business is fundamentally about making a profit, and whether the systems that you have in place make this happen should be the ultimate measure of their value. If a 'heritage' office system can perform to current software solution capabilities, then it remains appropriate and is more than a 'museum piece'. However, this is not often the case without substantial, and often complicated, levels of alterations and adjustments that will upset previous accounts and confuse any new staff that come into your business.
The irony is that 'heritage' office systems, and their capacity for continued business use, will require alterations, updates, and modifications to keep them performing. This is inversely related to their 'heritage value' (their convenient, traditional, well known, already established features). The more you try to update and expand your traditional system as your business develops, the more confusing and complicated they will become and the more hours and work will slip through the net.
Everything has a place
We are not saying that heritage systems have no place in your business. For example, the speed of production that comes from CAD is not a substitute for the slow hand speed of thinking and drawing that enables careful consideration. Rather that, for everyday necessities that are essential to business profitability and good business management (like time sheeting, invoicing, project management, disbursements, reporting, debtors, and overall team productivity) you will require a complete job costing software solution.
Systems should be evaluated on how well they get the job done, and not preserved purely for convenience and because of other priorities. As today's businesses compete on a constantly expanding playing field, that is at once local, national, and international, ensuring that your basic systems are operating as efficiently as possible and making productivity as high as it can be will put you ahead of the pack.
Undeniably, and by definition, heritage is about the past. The future of your business should be built through innovation and profitability, and now you need systems that respond to these needs.
The Abtrac team are writers, designers, engineers, consultants and analysts. Together we dream, build and deliver an amazing software solution for professional services.