Help from on high for SMBs feeling disorganized and overloaded

The rapid expansion and adoption of the cloud has changed the game for businesses. These tools have vastly improved business functions throughout organizations, from financial management to workflow, collaboration and more. While cloud-based solutions have largely been adopted by enterprise organizations first, the scalable nature of the cloud allows small businesses to take advantage of these offerings as well – and for huge benefit.

In the coming years, we will see small businesses adopt cloud-based enterprise tools at the pace that enterprise-sized organizations have, enabling them to enhance business functions as well as position themselves for rapid growth. Among the many tools that exist, here are five types of enterprise tools small businesses should consider adopting.

Enhanced communication tools

One of the biggest trends in business is enhancing communication, collaboration and productivity. As the adoption of tools for this have grown, additional functionalities have been incorporated. For example, Slack is a collaboration tool that many small businesses are already using to share ideas and work together on projects in real-time. As Slack has grown in popularity, other enterprise solutions have developed Slack Bots, so that Slack users can perform any number of tasks – such as expense reporting and file management – without leaving the platform. Using apps that are integrated into the places where employees are already working means that teams can maximize their time and focus on strategic activities that matter to the business.

Expense fraud and compliance tools

Expense management systems and processes can feel like an afterthought for many small business owners. Without a formal structure in place, many employees will spend company dollars they shouldn’t, whether intentional or not. According to a 2016 survey conducted by SAP Concur and Wakefield Research, employees with accounts payable responsibilities at small and medium-sized companies believe that, on average, about 18 per cent of submitted expenses are personal expenses. Moreover, the average organization loses five per cent of its annual revenue to internal fraud. That’s a significant number for small businesses, where every dollar counts.

Small businesses can’t afford to spend money where they shouldn’t, and cloud-based tools can put the control back in the hands of the business. Employing a smart fraud and compliance risk management strategy that combines technology and policy can save businesses significant dollars down the line. Cloud-based expense management solutions can automatically create an audit trail for every employee-initiated action. They can also sync with fraud detection tools to recognize and alert finance managers to potentially fraudulent expenses before they have a chance to impact the bottom line.

Integrated, automated cash flow management tools

To maintain healthy finances, it’s vital that small businesses have visibility into where money is going, and the ability to compile and analyze spend data. Having access to this information enables businesses to have greater control over spend by proactively managing it to drive greater savings. A comprehensive and up-to-date view of all spending, including expenses and invoices, makes it easier to spot trends, forecast budgets and plan for the future. Automated cash flow management tools collect all this data in one centralized place, providing detailed and customizable reporting to suit individual needs.

In addition to providing greater visibility, automated tools also significantly speed up the time small businesses are spending on finance functions. A 2017 SAP Concur study found that on average, Canadian small businesses are spending 17.3 hours a week on supplier invoice processing. If they automated accounts payable functions, they could save 56 per cent of that time. That’s almost one day a week.

Tools with voice-enabled technology

Over the past few years we’ve seen the market for voice assistants grow rapidly; it’s estimated to reach $7.5 billion by 2024. While assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are more commonly marketed to simplify life at home, we’re starting to see businesses take advantage of their benefits, saving significant time and money. Virtual assistants such as Alexa for Business are catching on with small businesses, helping them stay organized and streamline processes. Businesses should expect additional functionalities to be added as voice assistants become more widely adopted.

Corporate travel management tools

Advancements in technology and e-commerce mean that more and more small businesses are growing their customer base beyond geographical borders. As SMBs look internationally, the need for corporate travel has become a reality. According to the Global Business Travel Association, global corporate travel spend is forecast to reach US$1.7 trillion by 2021.

As corporate travel becomes an increasing part of small business operations, cloud-based corporate travel management tools will become critical. These tools help small businesses gain control over their travel spend and have better visibility into the travel health of their employees. Behind payroll, travel and entertainment is the second-largest controllable expense for businesses, so it is clear many cash-strapped small businesses need to proactively manage it. Cloud-based travel management tools can help manage this by ensuring employees book travel within policy. Other tools give small businesses an enterprise advantage, such as pre-negotiated rates that large organizations often have access to because of their size.

Enterprise tools that have typically felt out of reach for small businesses are now more accessible than ever. Scalable models mean that businesses of any size can leverage cloud-based tools. Small businesses can, and should, take advantage of these tools to increase efficiency, improve processes and position themselves for success.

• Brian Veloso is senior director at SAP Concur Canada

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