MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE : Customer focus in software solutions

New trends in management software we are arising out of an ever-tightening market, says Simon Bright, chief operating officer at Intergen, which provides information technology solutions to industry.
Bright, who also heads up the company’s Microsoft Dynamics practice, says across the information technology industry, he’s seeing consolidation of applications as companies move from number of disparate applications to single application, or to set of applications that are tightly integrated.
“We are seeing increased competition in all sectors, so it’s important for organisations to be close to their customers. They need good handle on who their customers are.”
That means sourcing information from many different parts of the business, he says. “It’s really important that you bring all of that information together. You need to form picture of how you deal with and retain these customers. As the economic situation tightens every year that goes by, businesses are looking for solutions that help them retain these customers and work more efficiently with them.”
Having greater customer focus means you have to put more time into each customer, says Bright.
Another trend he is seeing is business process automation. “It’s about taking the multi-touch aspect away from the way you deal with interactions through the business,” he says.
“There is lot of focus on automating processes using workflow technologies which allow you to bring together business processes that fit in different systems across your organisation and help you better interact from technology-to-staff perspective.”
Other trends are around knowledge-based organisations, particularly in the professional services sector.
Knowledge bases are about building knowledge and IP within business, says Bright. “We’re seeing differences in how you mine that information, using the concept of ‘search’.”
We all use search functions in our day-to-day work, Google, for example, he says. Now you can use searches in your enterprise – rather than collating data into one place, consolidating the process.
“Take the legal profession, for example, where you’ve got different departments, one with contract information, one with customer information, one which interactes with the customer. When you’re about to visit that customer, you can use search and see everything about them, and have the results on single page. It is about presenting information back in usable form
“Or you can search for the last four interactions and it will provide all of that information for you.”
The other area Intergen works in is retail, where there have been dramatic changes in the way businesses work. Says Bright: “If you think about where retailing has come in just five years, it used to be bricks and mortar, now businesses need to compete in different way. The traditional bricks and mortar retailer is competing with online businesses, websites, catalogues and even purchases accessed through mobile devices.”
He says traditional retailing is moving to multichannel retailing, so retailers can compete with telesales and the online experience, driving consistent customer experience.
“If I go online and purchase product from an online retailer and I am not happy with it and want to take it back, I want to take it back to store – and I want them to know that it’s valid purchase that I’m returning.
“It’s about connecting channels and making the experience seamless. It’s an evolution. Some retailers have gone into an online presence, and now it’s about how to extend these online channels.”
For example, social media messages can send people on to online media or telesales.
“There are challenges in the retail sector,” says Bright, “but there are also opportunities. Five years ago you talked about the retail sector, now you talk about retail wholesale distribution. To be multichannel retail wholesale distribution company is where the market exists for retail companies now.”

There was time when every person working for corporate had their own desktop computer, full suite of software that was purchased outright – and they finished work when they shut the office door behind them.
That scenario of the traditional office has been left far behind, replaced with changing technologies that make investing in software and hardware less practical, says Peter Beattie, managing director of Equico, company that specialises in leasing in the ICT sector.
He says many companies have turned to leases at time of rapidly changing technologies.
“Leasing, simplistically, is decision about whether you want software residing on your balance sheet or out of your operating budget. Software has limited life, similar to the life of hardware. Many companies find the benefit is to get it off the balance sheet, to free up cash to invest in your business.”
Many larger companies, says Beattie, have been turning to cloud computing, where business functions and software reside offsite and are accessed over the internet, allowing much greater storage capacity, and sharing of resources.
“Quite lot [of the hosting] is being done in New Zealand – it’s growth business. That’s changing the needs for the larger customer, but it hasn’t yet filtered down, from what I can see, to the SMEs. But it’s trend that will happen.
“We will see shift from one type of customer to another.”
Beattie’s business lends money in the ICT sector to educational and health institutions, SMEs and corporates, so he quickly sees some of the biggest trends that are affecting the technology business.
One is the move from fixed to portable equipment. Already the laptop has become the computer of choice in most offices, able to be used when travelling overseas, or taken home so teams can continue working on projects after hours.
“We’ve seen enormous growth with the laptop, that for some time has been replacing desktops. Now netbooks and smaller portable devices are becoming popular, particularly in the health sector.”
Another game-changing device will be the iPad. “It has only just been released to the retail market, not to the commercial and education markets, because we don’t have the stock available.
“But when they do there will be enormous application for its use in the health sector, health management and education.”
Beattie says it’s an ideal tool for students and some private schools are already in discussion with Equico on issuing one to every student in the school.
He says low cost is factor. “The entry point is not that high, compared to high-spec laptop. It lends itself to what student needs. We will see lot of applications and opportunities for it in the future.”
When ultra-fast broadband is available to New Zealand businesses, Beattie believes we will see another seismic shift. “Like everyone else, we’re waiting to see ultra-fast broadband roll out. It will create great chance in the next 15 years for new technology and for new hardware.”
As hardware needs change, so do insurance needs, he suggests. Group insurance can involve high excesses, as high as $10,000 claim, so his business offers product to insure the hardware that it leases, both static and mobile.
Extended warranties have also become more popular as firms look for cover to last the life of equipment, which he estimates at around three years.
With that prognosis, it probably pays to lease, he laughs. “You have to identify what is the useful life of the asset.”

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