Do we recognise present and emerging trends and threats in our business processes?

SWOTBusiness improvement applies to so many different business processes from customer service and handling complaints to business development and risk management. Not all processes in a business are formally recorded, but of course those that are governed by legal requirements generally are, even within organisations where there isn’t a legal requirement to do so. Obviously this is because business leaders fully understand the risks associated with non-compliance. My experience is that the breadth and detail of the processes associated with the way a business operates depends on how seriously they take a particular aspect of running their business, or how important something is in respect of the negative and financial impact. However, as business leaders, particularly of small businesses, we are not always aware of what could have a negative impact or bring an opportunity when it comes to emerging trends and threats. I know that keeping well informed about these things is challenging and of course there’s the old saying that ‘ignorance is bliss’, well I guess in some cases it is until a catastrophe happens. Certainly as an MD of a relatively new e-commerce company trading in a global market, very different to other businesses I have led, it has been a steep learning curve to fully understand the legalities, sector trends and the changing competitive market which can bring possible threats and opportunities to the business.

Business improvement means very different things to different people depending on where you consider your business to be and the market you operate in. At eLearning Marketplace our biggest sellers are compliance online short courses, even though we sell e-learning covering over 40 subjects; not really a surprise you might say and I would agree. Anything to do with legal compliance is high up on the agenda of all businesses. However, if we consider other aspects of the business, such as the use of technology, it wasn’t long ago that basic training in IT application software was greatly in demand, but we have found this not to be the case now, and that advanced IT skills have taken over. But, I don’t believe it’s these types of IT skills that are holding businesses back in developing and improving. As a member of the British Computer Society’s Digital Employability forum and a deliverer of digital employability skills training to other trainers, I believe that the training businesses need in the way of IT skills are around using social media for business, use of mobile devices, cloud computing and online responsibilities etc. Particularly for those businesses that are implementing a BYOD, bring your own device, strategy, I would say that this type of training is critical. Using social media for business and responsibilities online are courses we sell, however I haven’t come across a good online course on the use of mobile devices and security of devices and data, or one that clearly explains to those new to cloud computing what it is, what it means in a business context and the security aspects that need to be considered. Staff lacking knowledge in this area can have an extremely negative impact on an organisation.

Another area of business improvement that can be overlooked is risk, and I’m not talking about health and safety. There are of course many threats that businesses are exposed to and where risk needs to be carefully assessed e.g. fraud, online security, litigation and employment disputes to name but a few. For small businesses just understanding what the threats are to be able to ascertain the risks can be very challenging. Once a business or individual understands the threats it’s important that they follow an efficient process to record the risk, identify the actions to mitigate that risk and put controls in place. But, of course even if one person in the organisation has the responsibility to conduct this process surely all staff should have a good understanding of the threats and how the business expects them to deal with them.  We do it for Health and Safety so why not other areas of risk? Online courses that cover this type of topic either for staff or management are Business Risk and Controls Training, Fraud Awareness Staff Training and Information Security.

If something should go wrong and a customer or member of staff makes a complaint or worse still threatens to involve the courts do you have a process in place to evidence and carry out a thorough internal investigation? Certainly it is something that I haven’t thought about before, however having reviewed the Conducting Internal Investigations online course I realise that it is something that I should really become more familiar with.

We often react to problems in a business and maybe solve the problem, but do we stop it happening again? Rather like taking a pain killer to stop a headache, we stop the pain but don’t cure the cause.  So it seems very sensible to get a good understanding of the processes that can help us stop problems happening in the first place, get to the bottom of why a problem has occurred and raise awareness amongst staff of what these processes are.  Easily said, but often difficult to implement within a busy day to day business environment. I’ve learnt however, that sometimes we really do have to make the time to understand and implement, or improve processes that could protect or move our business forward.

For those businesses that feel they require a thorough knowledge of business analysis there are also online courses to help.