Service Center IT Strategies
for Difficult Economic Times
The IT choices you make today will likely determine whether your service center emerges from this downturn lean and competitive, profitable or not.
No need to get into how tough it is out there. It appears the metal service industry will be one of the last to climb out of this recession. But these challenging economic times and cost pressures are driving service centers to find innovative strategies to hold and gain market share, retain customers and compete more effectively. Doing more of the same is not an option.
Even in uncertain economic times, service centers recognize that information technology has evolved into a strategic asset (if you get it right), and investment in IT is often a key competitive differentiator. Service centers need to focus on improving their use of technology to adapt to the changing market conditions—not only now but as economic conditions improve. IT’s contribution to service centers’ success will only increase in the future.
The economic downturn offers the perfect opportunity to conduct a major evaluation of your IT infrastructure to optimize its value. Making focused enhancements or purchasing an entirely new enterprise resource planning or business management system can lower your costs while enhancing your overall operations and improving profitability as the economy improves.
Following are just some of the steps you can take to make sure your business keeps going, and even prospers, during the downturn:
n Adopt Windows systems—For both servers and client work stations, get your employees on the world’s most common user interface now.
n Utilize cloud computing— Instead of running your own network, run your applications on a shared Internet-based data center. Cloud computing is scalable, provides a simplified user experience and can significantly reduce IT costs and complexities.
n Make Website enhancements—Give your customers the ability to “self-serve” anytime they want via your company’s website 24/7.
n Enhance your sales department—Review what your salespeople use to enter quotes and orders, and how much extra time and work is currently done manually. Sales tools for quoting and order taking have come a long way, and in sales speed and accuracy pay big dividends.
n Enhance your sales department’s CRM tool—Customer relationship management software will help salespeople capture key pieces of information and stay in constant touch with prospects and customers.
n Barcode your inventory—Bar-coding is not a simple step and may even require evaluating your entire ERP system, but efficient inventory control is your business.
n Simplify remote network access—Empower employees with access to information when they need it. Provide faster and easier access to critical business information for all of your employees from anywhere they may be located.
n Get smart phones—At the end of 2010, 1.2 billion people will carry handsets capable of rich, mobile commerce, providing yet another setting for the convergence of mobility and IT. Shouldn’t your key people already have smart phones?
n Consider Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS)—Microsoft’s version of cloud-based computing for office tools (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, etc.), plus a new set of hosted messaging and collaboration services, are all available via the Internet and designed to maximize the value of web-enabled service-based computing.
n Unify business communications—Unify business communications across all applications and devices for messaging, voice and video.
n Standardize, optimize and automate—Enhance efficiency and lower costs through overall infrastructure modernization and standardization. Reduce IT labor costs by standardizing hardware and software configurations across desktops, clients and mobile devices.
n Utilize a document management system—A paperless office will save you money, increase efficiency and save space.
n Simplify document distribution—E-mailing or faxing invoices and other documents instead of using a “stamp and envelope” approach is a sure money saver.
n Outsource IT services—Lower operating costs and still keep projects moving forward without increasing capital spending. Today you can outsource almost everything necessary for optimal computing.
n On-going training for employees—Training is a critical component of a company’s efforts to optimize its IT infrastructure. Employees work smoothly when processes are automated or incorporated into the technology itself, but systems fail if employees don’t make the necessary changes in process and workflow.
Even in tough times, there are opportunities to better utilize existing IT resources, as well as to invest in new technology, to save money and create value. IT’s ability to affect the success and capability of a company goes well beyond the automation of routine and standard tasks. IT has the power to streamline critical business processes that are the “essence” of a company’s business. Building a plan for an optimized IT infrastructure is crucial for metal centers empowering people to turn data into insight, transform ideas into action and turn information into opportunity.
Enmark Systems Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich., offers the Eniteo ERP system for metal service centers. For more information, visit www.enmark.com.