Thursday, 14 July 2016

Is Your Legacy Software Holding You Back?

For many businesses, legacy software is a core component of their business infrastructure. Often, outdated and obsolete applications are entrusted with some of the most critical tasks that the business undertakes. Providing there’s support for a legacy system, and an understanding of the risks, there’s nothing wrong with continuing down this path particularly as many legacy systems benefit from stable platforms due mainly to their limitations and lack of flexibility.

But what happens if you lose the one support engineer that knows how to manage these systems or support is terminated as the product is deemed EOL. And what about that lack of flexibility could your legacy system be holding you back?

Catastrophic Consequences 

Our banking system is built on a foundation of legacy software. Many of the applications used to process transactions were coded more than four decades ago. As banks start to digitally transform their businesses, and as consumers rely on more on electronic access, some of these applications are creaking under the strain.

RBS has suffered a brace of IT problems, including downtime that has locked customers out for days on end. In December 2013, RBS customers were unable to use their debit and credit cards for hours on Cyber Monday - the busiest online shopping day of the year. This is one very clear example of legacy IT being unfit for purpose, and putting the core business at further risk.

The lesson here is that legacy systems need to be well maintained, with a full support package of maintenance with skills on tap and a very low level of understanding in order to achieve any kind of integration, if achievable at all, required to deliver to the demands of todays market. If this doesn’t happen, they are at best a ticking time bomb at worst a dinosaur, huge, cumbersome, eating up resources. The least agile solution you can endeavour to utilise and meet the latest consumer demands.

Unlocking the Potential of Transformation 

Automation and transformation requires different systems to be joined so that data can flow freely between them. Often, it isn’t possible to integrate a legacy system; either it isn’t designed for integration, or the process of integration would expose the legacy system to risk.

As such, legacy systems can hold back attempts to digitally transform a business, and they prevent it from exploring opportunities like process automation.

When you have one system that is isolated – often by necessity – you have a situation where data is going to be siloed, which also introduces compliance and data quality problems. There are three routes out of this trap: spend money on replacing the systems you have, migrate the systems to a new platform, or spend money recruiting people with the rare technical skills to continue as you are, treading water and getting left behind with the service levels and cost savings your competitors will be equipped to achieve with a more agile solution.

Embracing Change 

In July 2015, Microsoft discontinued support for Windows Server 2003. Businesses had to decide whether to pay for expensive, customised support packages, or invest that money into new systems.

Smart businesses use this as a driver for innovation. Many upgraded to Server 2008 or 2012, and treated the expense as an opportunity to improve the application, while others used the situation as an opportunity to move systems into the cloud.

Another group of businesses chose to place servers in a quarantined state. While this is certainly the cheapest solution on paper, those businesses continue to be frozen in time, unable to take advantage of transformation opportunities.

Retaining knowledge, and acquiring new skills, is a tall order. We’d certainly argue that digital transformation pays dividends long term. If you’re at a crossroads, contact OneFit for advice about your next move…it may not be a scary as you think with expertise in the latest technologies whilst understanding and able to offer quick routes for data transfers wherever possible to minimise the impact of implementation you may be surprised how quickly you can get an ROI from taking that important and innovate step into the future.

How to Deal With a Cashflow Crisis

Almost one-quarter of SMEs have come close to insolvency due to the plague of late payments. According to a survey commissioned by Tungsten in 2015, 23 per cent of businesses came close to financial disaster. 22 per cent of the companies that were surveyed said that large businesses owed them money, while 8 per cent were chasing debts from their public sector clients.

Late payments are a drain on resources, and create a nuisance that most SMEs can do without. But when late payments actually threaten the existence of a business, the fragility of their cashflow becomes clear. As many as 50 per cent of startups go bankrupt within the first 5 years, but a proportion of them could have been saved with better planning.

Good Habits 

Many large businesses have developed habits of paying late to make their own accounts look better. Some will pay after being chased. Others will hold out longer and make excuses. We only have to look at Tesco’s “unreasonable” practices to see this practice executed to an extreme.

SMEs are reluctant to rock the boat when chasing their largest customers. They know that they need the client more than the client needs them. But being paid on time is crucial to avoid a crisis that can eventually shut down a business.

Good habits extend to both sides of the equation. Late payers should certainly be brought to account. But suppliers also need to put measures in place to prevent a crisis, and choose software that will nurture a healthy financial position.

Crisis Point

If your clients aren’t paying, and you can see trouble on the horizon, acting quickly is essential.

Clients with a habit of paying late should be closely monitored for signs of insolvency, and if they continually pay late, you need to consider pausing their work for that client. This can protect against a situation where one client’s debts climb over several months, which is one of the biggest risks to supplier cashflow.

Once invoices are late, late fees and interest need to be added, providing you have given fair warning. This is your right in law. Short-term business loans can also bridge cashflow gaps, but should not be used to prop up a business that is not managing its cashflow proactively, since the interest payments could generate a secondary burden.

Future Proofing

Many payment problems can be prevented – or at least curbed – by using the right software to handle accounts. Your accounting tool should track everything, from your sales and purchase ledger right through to your late payer details, and it should pull in your bank controls and activity so you always have a complete picture.

Credit control functionality is also an essential, because it boosts your chances of getting paid without requiring extra resource from your team. This is particularly crucial in a small business, where one person will be covering multiple roles and is likely to be feeling the strain. The more focussed and informed the credit controller is the quicker credit is managed and cashflow becomes healthy. Automating credit control routines to minimise effort whilst increasing the return is crucial.

If your business is struggling with a cashflow crisis, OneFit’s accounts solutions could help you to deal with client debts more effectively. Get in touch today to find out how we can help.

Monday, 16 May 2016

How to Improve Your Cashflow in 3 Simple Steps

In the UK, half of all start-ups will fail to survive their first 5 years, and more than 20 per cent will close before their first annual return is due. For SMEs and micro-businesses, cashflow is key, and just one late payment can send your accounts into complete disarray.

European law dictates that all invoices should be paid within 60 days – or 30, if the client is a public organisation. That’s all well and good, but larger businesses still hold all the cards in this arrangement, and if they choose to delay payment, there’s often little you can do.

For every SME, preparation is key, and cash flow is no different. These 3 tactics are proven to improve your chances of getting paid on time.

1. Set Up a Contract 

Many SMEs and micro-businesses shy away from paperwork, and struggle to find the time to set up lengthy legal terms. But a simple contract is your best weapon against late payment, and it can ensure your client knows you’re serious about getting paid.

You can specify any payment terms that are suitable for both parties. Providing they are fair, they will stand up in a court of law. If you want to be paid within 14 days, your terms will override EU law, and your client must comply to ensure they don’t get charged late fees and interest.

2. Take Staggered Payments

For many small businesses, waiting for an invoice can stall growth and productivity. It’s better to avoid this by getting payment in pre-planned milestone payments.

The way you approach this will vary depending on your business type, but it’s very typical for a small company to ask for 25 per cent, or 50 per cent, upfront. You can then follow this with a requirement for payment at key milestones in the project.

Staggered payments help in three ways. They ensure your business is getting a steady flow of cash. They help to ensure client commitment. And they also give you the power to pause a project if you aren’t paid at any given milestone.

3. Use Automated Reminders

Many small businesses are reluctant to chase their clients for payment. One poorly-worded email can spell the end of a lucrative contract, so it’s hardly surprising. But you can use automation to take some of the sting out of chases and reminders.

Many of the latest technology accounting tools accommodate pre-written email templates. Optionally these can automatically fire if payment hasn’t arrived by the agreed date. If more sophistication and control is required Credit Control focused routines that can recognise groups, categories or other criteria in addition to credit state can deal globally with progressive and suitable ‘debt collection’ with minimal effort. All good credit control functions should cut back on admin, but even more importantly, make chases less personal and more formal because the automation takes the process out of your hands.

Maintaining a healthy cashflow shouldn’t be an optional extra. Getting paid on time could save your business from catastrophe in a few months’ time. And for cash-strapped, time-pressured entrepreneurs, a little automation can go a long way to ensuring your business runs smoothly.

At OneFit, we’ve seen the benefits of automation and integration, and we understand how to make your business more productive and profitable. Get in touch to find out how our solutions can support the continued growth of your SME.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Why Unified Communications Is Finally Within Reach for SMEs

Unified communication used to be marketed squarely at big enterprise clients, with ease of management at the core of its benefits. Big companies, with multiple sites, tend to have expensive, legacy PBX systems, so unified communication provides obvious benefits in comparison: less support, less complexity, lower overheads.

But SMEs have been slower to adopt unified communications, when taken as an average across the market. That’s unusual, because SMEs tend to be very quick to give new technologies and innovations a chance, and this has been proven time and again with other types of cloud solution.

What has changed? Why have SMEs suddenly started to tap into unified communications as a service? The answer is all in the marketing and maturity of the services available today.

Comparing SMEs and Enterprise

Every new solution goes through a period of evaluation in its target market. During this phase, the media gets excited, but it then begins to report on the drawbacks as the solution begins to mature. Smart businesses only choose to adopt once the dust has settled, so they can contain the risk and avoid having to change their strategy if the solution fails to live up to the hype.

In the cloud, we’ve seen SMEs pick up cloud technologies first, in many cases. SMEs have fewer barriers to adoption, in terms of regulatory compliance, and they tend to be attracted to the bite-sized pricing model that makes the cloud so accessible.

As such, SMEs tend to be the guinea pigs who are keen to try new technologies.

Unified communications is different. It’s been marketed almost solely to large businesses, leaving SMEs to rely on consumer grade products like Skype, or Google Hangouts. These aren’t true unified communications solutions, and they lack many of the key benefits, like presence awareness and capable IP telephone hardware.

But for many SMEs, that’s all they need. Unified communications have never been effectively marketed as a productivity-enhancing tool. It appears to be too complex, too expensive, and too murky a market. And if Skype does the job – why change it?

An Evolving Market

We’re slowly seeing unified communications providers understand what SMEs want, and this is making a huge difference to the way these solutions are sold. This, in turn, helps SMEs to see real potential for ROI.

A simple set of changes is driving this shift: a better description of unified communications, more accurate definitions and reference points, and an approach that’s more targeted to the needs of small businesses.

Unified communications is still a valid alternative to the PBX, but it’s developed its own USPs that deliver benefits to SMEs who may not be entering the market via that route. We now know that unified communications solutions can be compact and simple, without dropping the core features of more complex solutions. In turn, this has helped to refocus marketing campaigns and tailor unified communications to the small businesses.

Customised Benefits

SMEs are finally realising what unified communications can offer them, and resellers and vendors are finally understanding which of the benefits are most important. When it comes to adopting new technologies, or marketing new and innovative solutions, we can all learn lessons from the way the market for unified communications has evolved.