Small Business Owners: Utilizing Technology to Improve Profits

If you really want to become more profitable and improve operations in your company, you have to shift your focus from the following limiting thoughts about technology.

  1. If I buy the latest production software we will be in good shape
  2. We don’t do that here
  3. We are unique, we don’t have competition that use technology to help them generate profits
  4. The plan is in my head, people will steal it off the computer
  5. All I need is more sales to make more profits

You’ve got to get the right mindset by eliminating restricting thoughts, and then you’ll be ready to improve people, processes and profitability.

Do you ever wonder how a company can start out with just one idea, a passion and a vision, then 10 to 20 years later have thousands of employees and millions in sales?

  1. What did these companies do to become so successful
  2. Are the owners smarter than you?
  3. Do they work harder than you?
  4. Did they have better equipment or people than you?

No. But they do use better technology tools to drive operation (the people and the process). Operations represent about 60% or 80% of all your overhead costs but they’re the least understood by US businesses.

For decades, the Japanese have focused on operations that have driven innovation and a culture of continuous improvement. In the right small business owner hands, operations and technology can be a competitive weapon.

Now, ask yourself how can your small company— with just a handful of employees and limited resources — turn operations and technology applications into a powerful weapon to beat competition and learn to grow and thrive!

Why invest in technology / What are the benefits

The bottom line is, if you’re suffering from tight cash flow, exhausted lines of credit and top-line growth, then you have weak operations and have underutilized the technology applications onsite or off-the-shelf that can help you.

First step to rapid profit improvement is to start by questioning your employees. They usually know where costly blocks and bottlenecks are hidden.

Technology can store employee survey results that help you to plan profitability.

Employee Questionnaire(sample)

  1. Are your interests and ambitions being challenged
  2. Does each department in this company have measurable standard designed to increase profitability? Does each area have documentation of process flows and procedures of how it should work?
  3. Does everyone in this company share the goal of improving the company profits? Does the CEO hold town hall meetings about ‘planned profits’?
  4. Are you regularly told when you do good work?
  5. Do you get the help you need to do a good job?
  6. As an employee, do you feel you can trust your direct supervisor/manager?
  7. Are owner/managers open and honest with employees?
  8. Does the company provide you with continual training in areas that will make you a better employee? Has it trained you on how to cut operating expenses or increase revenue to improve profits in your area?
  9. Are your responsibilities generally explained, well planned and organized?
  10. Is poor performance tolerated by management? i.e., worker performance, operations bottlenecks and customer relations.

The following are other ways business productivity software drives business processes more efficiently to gain optimal results:

Create an open and communicative environment.

By storing appraisal information within a formal database, managers can more easily communicate business strategy and create measurable goals for their employees that will support overall company objectives. In allowing employees to see the whole picture and understand better how individual goals fit into the company’s business objectives. This can create a energized and engaged employees, thereby raising the business productivity of the company.

Motivate your employees using technology.

Based upon the information gathered in an online performance evaluation, managers can compare current skills with those required for advancement or other recognition or reward opportunities that present themselves as the manager tracks progress on employee goals throughout the year. You may also find you need to redirect employees to different departments if you feel their business productivity could increase elsewhere. If there are impediments to better performance, the company should review why it is happening and try to eliminate these through better allocation of resources or additional training.

Monitor business productivity and employee progress on goals.

Business productivity software solutions enable managers to more easily track progress during every phase of goal completion and offer immediate reinforcement or coaching to keep performance and deadlines on track in daily operations, and utilize performance measurements for strategic planning.

Electronic Commerce

There are many business applications related to e-commerce, from setting up your online storefront to managing your supply chain to marketing your products and services. These technologies fall into three main categories:

Business to Business(B2B)

  • Purchasing indirect supplies
  • Look for catalogue-based websites offered by suppliers for corporate purchases, similar to business-to-customer websites, for purchasing indirect supplies such as office furniture, pens, paper, and general office equipment.
  • Leveraging your existing Web presence
  • Improve your existing business-to-customer e-commerce website. Greater sophistication can be added into your online store to target your business clientele.

Business to Customer(B2C)

The global reach of the Internet has allowed many businesses to sell their products and services online, both at home and abroad. An electronic storefront is a website with many pre-built e-commerce components like electronic shopping carts and secure payment gateways that you can use to set up an online store.

Internet Marketing

Everything you do to promote your business online is Internet marketing. For example, Internet marketing strategies include (but are not limited to) website design and content, search engine optimization, directory submissions, reciprocal linking strategies, online advertising, and email marketing.

How to Implement Technology to increase profits

IT implementation can be a valuable tool for increasing workplace productivity, but without a careful selection of the right technologies for your specific industry and comprehensive employee training, it can also serve to reduce productivity, profitability and employee satisfaction. The return on investment will depend on whether the technologies implemented are right for a given business’ needs and how prepared employees are to use them.

Step 1

Brainstorm a list of business process improvements you may be able to realize from a technological implementation. Your list should include three categories: improvements that you know to be possible, and which are core requirements for your expense; a wish list of things you would like to have, but which may be future development efforts; and a list of things which would transform the way you do business, but which may not be possible. These three targets provide you with a present-day implementation goal, as well as a future development target–and it may be that your transformational goals could be far easier to reach than you expect.

Step 2

Determine whether you intend to develop these technologies using in-house resources, or through outside consultancies. Nearly every major workflow technology requires extensive customization, implementation procedures and training. Small businesses can sometimes get by cheaply using staff members technologically proficient–but mistakes made at the beginning of the process can ramp up costs later on when you turn to professional outside support.

Step 3

Avoid specifying particular technologies if you do not have the technical expertise to evaluate them properly. The purpose of the managerial process at this stage is to define goals and budgetary constraints; non-technical managers who wed themselves to specific technologies too early can miss out on substantial cost savings, and choose a technology not the best suited for the work.

Step 4

Circulate your request for proposals among outside consultants and implementors, or establish an internal process for doing the same among your staff if you are keeping the work in-house. Major technological implementations will not succeed if they are added to the existing workload of an employee. Proper technological implementations can be more than a full-time job in and of themselves. Staff members shifted to technology implementation should have their existing duties moved to other staff resources.

Step 5

Negotiate a time frame, budget and implementation benchmarks with your external or internal staff resources. If you are working with an outside consultant, your contract should include protections against running over budget and over schedule. Likewise, the consultant will protect his own firm by setting specific terms of the work to be completed, and charging you extra if you change them over the course of the contract.

Step 6

Develop an implementation timetable, including the following steps: test deployment to review the work; training, if necessary; a transition phase from the current workflow to the new technology; and production deployment of the completed technology. This last phase is typically followed by an iterative process, in which improvements to the technology are collected from the staff who have direct experience working with it. When budget and time allow for it, apply a new cycle of upgrades to your technology to ensure that you are getting the most out of it.

Associate Degree in Information Technology

An associate degree in information technology will provide graduates with the skills and knowledge they need to work efficiently in many workplace settings. The curriculum has a good foundation for many areas of work such as programming, learning about technology applications, and legal and ethical issues. Those who graduate with an associate degree in information technology will learn about computer programming, network support, software design, web design, network security, and much more. IT is a global field because it is on the internet, major players such as China and India are contributing to the field tremendously. Information technology has a huge array of careers available, and graduating with an online degree can help you get a great career.

Most roles in IT are in offices, so you will be spending a lot of time on the phone or on a computer. If you enjoy working in a team, employers will look upon this very highly. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics states that IT professionals have many career opportunities in business and communications. They also predict that the amount of jobs available will grow 16 percent to 2016 which is must faster than most other industries. Employers require a college degree for any position in IT. Many people have a bachelor degree and work for IT, however, an associate degree can qualify you for many entry level jobs as well. An online degree can be the first step toward a career in IT. The salaries for IT workers is great as well, according to the BLS, network administrators earn around $64,000, while network analysts can earn around $68,000!

Oliver Lawal: A UV Technology Innovator

Oliver Lawal is like many scientists and engineers in the UV technology field, with intellectual interests that span a wide range. At the University of Manchester England, where he studied electrical, mechanical and software engineering, “I couldn’t decide on one field of study,” recalled Lawal, “so I graduated with multiple degrees and an understanding of several areas.”

Since then, Lawal has lived and worked in six different countries and his expertise contributed to many important projects in UV technology applications. “My first involvement with UV was as a Project Manger in the United Kingdom. I worked on the first large-scale UV installation using variable power electronic ballasts driving low-pressure amalgam lamps,” remembered Lawal. After this, he worked on a UV installation at a nuclear power station in France. Lawal then went on to work on the largest UV wastewater project in the world (at that time) in Auckland, New Zealand.

All of these endeavors have contributed to Lawal’s outlook and vision for UV technology. In this growing field, technology is evolving quickly. Lawal refers to this growth as the water-energy-technology nexus. “We have the ability to help ensure sustainability of our most precious resources for future generations by developing better and better technical solutions to our water and energy stresses,” commented Lawal.

Oliver Lawal’s family has been involved with the energy industry for some time. His grandfathers were motor sport enthusiasts and this helped to stimulate his initial interest in technology and engineering. Yet it was Lawal’s parents’ interest in environmental issues that ultimately led him to a career in water. He recalls his father’s comments about the difference in experiencing oil or water shortages expressed this way: “If we run out of oil tomorrow, we’ll all be driving electric cars. But, if we run out of clean water tomorrow, driving will be the least of our problems.”

Lawal’s professional life is challenging and rewarding. Today, he’s a board member with International Ultraviolet Association (IUVA) and he is president of Aquionics Inc., a company with a 30-year track record in selling and maintaining UV water disinfection technology to municipal and industrial water and wastewater markets in North America. Lawal shares a birthday with Amelia Earhart, and he professes to have the same sense of adventure as her. In his leisure time, he enjoys riding motorcycles and driving racecars, activities that reinforce his passions for technology and adventure.

The UV technology industry has changed since he began his career in the late 90s and it will continue to evolve. “From the perspective of equipment design and operation there is no question that our ability to more accurately predict and control process performance has increased dramatically,” notes Lawal. New techniques such as computational fluid dynamics, microbiological assays, power control and UV-C monitoring are more refined and more commonplace now. “This has resulted in great improvements in energy consumption and a reduction in operational risk,” observes Lawal.

Lawal believes that growth and improvement in UV water disinfection technology has a direct impact on the public health, by controlling pathogens in public water and wastewater supplies. “The sheer breadth of applications seen today, targeting very specific results, is staggering,” says Lawal. “The reduction of endocrine disrupting compounds, total organic compounds, ozone, chloramine, chlorine, cryptosporidium and viruses are commonplace and the applications using them expanding,” he added. Applications that are directly impacted include: ballast water, combined sewage overflows, aquatics, hydraulic fracturing, medical devices, semi-conductors, pharmaceuticals and more.

As president of a leading provider of UV technology, Lawal maintains a focused approach with a close eye towards ethical concerns. “It is important that we do not take shortcuts for short term commercial gains,” he says. “As the sphere and influence of UV technology grows, and new technical solutions like UV-LED’s become available, we need to ensure all stakeholders: regulators, process designers and users understand the critical issues. Regulation is important – it must be robust yet enabling. Process design must be sound and ensure seamless integration with other technologies. And ultimately the technology must be executed in a manner that allows safe and reliable operation.”

There is no doubt that the cleanliness of water impacts the lives of people worldwide. By focusing his life’s work on improving the quality of public water and wastewater with UV technology, Lawal is reiterating his parents’ vision for a cleaner environment and taking the necessary actions to implement this by working towards these goals on a daily basis.

Technology in and For the Instrumental Music Classroom

Music education, in some form, goes back as far as education itself. While sometimes struggling for legitimacy, it nonetheless has had its champions. More recently, as technology has flourished within education, technological applications designed specifically for the teaching of music have been developed. While much of this technology is designed primarily for the classroom there are programs designed for the student to utilize in the home, albeit limited to those students with a home computer and internet access.

The teaching of music in the American educational setting dates back 1838 when Lowell Mason introduced singing classes to Boston grammar schools. Instrumental music appeared in fits and starts over the next fifty years but was never included during the school day; rather, it was relegated to the ranks of extracurricular activities. Around the turn of the century, instrumental music began to see some acceptance into the classroom, though often was taught by those untrained in the area of music education. Moreover, little if any standardization of the instrumentation or music literature existed. (Rhodes, 2007)

Near the conclusion of World War I the quality of school music began to increase. This was due primarily to veterans who, after having been musically trained in the various service branches, began to fill music teaching positions in the schools. Band, however, was still regarded as an extracurricular activity. (Ibid)

In 1907, the Music Supervisors National Conference or MSNC, (now known as the Music Educators National Conference or MENC) was organized to support school music. In 1912 a proposal was made to include, as accredited subjects, a number of music activities including choruses and general music. Band was included – but at a much lower priority. Later, however, at the Cleveland MSNC conference in 1923, Edgar B. Gordon stated,

“The high school band is no longer an incidental school enterprise prompted largely by the volunteer services of a high school teacher who happens to have had some band experience, but rather an undertaking which is assigned to a definite place in the school schedule with a daily class period under a trained instructor and with credit allowed for satisfactory work done.” (Ibid)

In the same year, and likely due to the increase in both acceptance and importance, Carl Greenleaf (then head of C. G. Conn Ltd.) helped organize the first National Band Contest in Chicago. Later, in 1928, he directed the Conn company to contribute to the founding of the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan and later supported publications designed to support band directors. While these endeavors may have appeared somewhat self-serving in light of his position with Conn, they nonetheless helped establish school band as a significant part of school curriculum. (Banks, 1997)

Despite a gradual, while still limited, acceptance of instrumental music within the school curriculum, budget cuts have often curtailed or even eliminated these programs. Further, with the recent increased emphasis upon “teaching to the test” due to the pressures of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and similar state requirements, support for the inclusion of music in schools has begun to wane. Michelle R. Davis, in “Education Week,” stated “The federal No Child Left Behind Act is prompting many schools to cut back on subjects such as social studies, music, and art to make more time for reading and mathematics…” (Davis, 2006) This is most unfortunate considering that the study of music, especially instrumental music, has proved to be beneficial for all students – even increasing their ability to reason and problem-solve.

Many theorists have contributed to the elevation of music as central to education, or at the very least, demonstrated that limiting the school environment to the “Three R’s” is short-sighted. Howard Gardner postulated his “Multiple Intelligences” theory with the understanding that children do not possess identical propensities for learning. Not only do they have differing capacities for learning but have differing capacities for learning in many areas. These areas, as he explained, are the varying intelligences of which he speaks. Originally describing seven intelligences (of which music is highlighted) he identified two specifically (linguistic and logical-mathematical) as “the ones that have typically been valued in school.” (Gardner, 1999, p41) Obviously, Gardner recognized that the educational system was not reaching all students – only those that could “do school” well. Gardner did not limit his study, of course, to the mere existence of multiple intelligences but demonstrated that a given person can be strong in more than one, enabling those intelligences to interact one with the other. He explained that, “there are other ways in which different intelligences can affect each other…one intelligence can mediate and constrain the others; one intelligence can compensate for another; and one intelligence can catalyze another.” (Gardner 2, 2006, p219) He further extolled the advantages of a musical intelligence by explaining that “…a strong musical intelligence may lead a person engaged in a linguistic task to be more sensitive to the rhythmic properties of language as well as its meaning.” (Ibid, p223)

While many may assume that music and the study thereof is associated primarily to that which is heard, it is also related quite closely to mathematics. Dahlhaus, reflecting Rameau stated that “music had its origins in the Pythagorean proportions; (i.e., music is a mathematics).” (Gargarian, 1996, p137, 138) Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the theory that music is mathematical in toto, there should be little dispute as to the relativity of music notation to mathematics. Indeed, introducing the coordinate, or Cartesian, plane appears to aid the new music student in understanding the horizontal (x), and vertical (y) axes of music notation. Simply stated, the horizontal (x) axis on the music staff relates to duration while the vertical (y) axis relates to pitch. This, of course is a reflection upon Gardner’s aforementioned theory of intelligence interaction.

There is further evidence that instrumental music study is advantageous for the student. In 1995, Gottfried Schlaug, et al, published a study, “Increased Corpus Callosum Size in Musicians” wherein they described an increase in neural fibers across the Corpus Callosum (CC), contributing to its enlargement. They further were able to determine that this increase in fibers/CC size was attributable to instrumental music study. (Schlaug, et al, 1995) Obviously, the supposition can easily be made that, if there is greater cross-talk between the two hemispheres of the brain (specifically, the left – thought to be the analytical, and the right – thought to be the creative) the result would be a person with a greater, more creative, problem-solving ability.

Reflecting upon Gardner’s theories, as well as those of Schlaug, et al, it should surprise no one that others have confirmed links between music and other skills. Bahr and Christiansen in their article “Inter-Domain Transfer Between Mathematical Skill and Musicianship” published findings demonstrating that students who had studied music demonstrated superior performance on mathematical tasks provided there was some structural overlap with music. (Bahr, Christiansen, 2000) This “structural overlap” could be nearly anything, including the relationship of dividing measures or notes into fractions, relating pitch to frequency, or, as aforementioned, establishing the link between the coordinate (Cartesian) plane and the music staff.

With this enhanced problem-solving ability; this increased awareness of mathematical concepts, it would not be a grand leap to assume that music students might perform well with classroom technology. Indeed, music students should be expected to do at least as well as other students with regard to technology. If that is true, then the next step would be to assume that they would do especially well with technology geared especially to them.

Somewhat recently, technologists, recognizing a dearth of technologically-based music applications began to develop computer programs for music education. Music theory websites began to appear, many having been produced by, and linked to, symphonic organizations. Others have been produced by teachers and graduate students either as part of coursework or perhaps for their own use (and anyone wishing to utilize the application). A quick search of the internet reveals that there are quite a number of available technological tools produced and published for the music student. There are interactive music games, in-class keyboard music theory applications, countless online pitch and rhythm websites, and, perhaps most powerful, applications known as “computer assisted instruction” (CAI)” specifically for the music classroom and student. In January 2005, Steven Estrella published the findings of a study demonstrating how music teachers in the U.S. used music technology. Among his findings, he discovered that approximately twenty percent of the survey participants used some form of CAI as part of their instruction. The survey further discovered that the predominant software application was “SmartMusic.” (Estrella, 2005)

SmartMusic is a teacher/student interactive application allowing students to practice, at home, with a synthesized band or orchestral accompaniment. The program can also, with an included microphone, record the student’s efforts and grade them using rhythm and pitch data. The student can immediately see their results and can retry if they wish. The recording and the accompanying grade are then emailed to the student’s teacher/director and automatically entered into the teacher’s database grade book. The program includes accompaniments for around thirty-thousand compositions including band and orchestra method book pieces. (Nagel, 2007) While early reviews of the program were mixed, the company that produces SmartMusic, “MakeMusic,” was apparently responsive to teacher/consumer complaints and suggestions. The program requires that the home version be installed on the students own computer and, in earlier versions, installation, setup, and microphone placement were problematic. In the latest version, SmartMusic 11, many of these issues were addressed either by simplifying the process or with enhanced user guides. (Whaley, 2008)

For the classroom, SmartMusic holds a wealth of applications. The most basic functions of the program include a displayed tuner and metronome. (A music classroom with an interactive whiteboard can make excellent use of SmartMusic’s utilities.) The teacher can then play a pre-recorded version of a piece to be studied and, while the students are playing along, can instantly record them independent of the pre-recording for later playback. The program also includes fingering charts for all instruments so a quick check for the students perhaps needing additional instruction is easily accomplished. Keys and tempi can be changed easily, if necessary, and if a single performer wishes to play with a pre-recorded accompaniment, that accompaniment, “listening” to the performer via a microphone, can follow the performer’s changes in tempo – not unlike what the conductor of a symphony orchestra would do in a live performance.
As important and powerful as SmartMusic is in the classroom, its most powerful application – and the primary purpose for which it was intended – is that of a home practice and assessment tool. There are literally thousands of accompaniments and scales included in the software as well as thousands of music titles. Once the students have subscribed, downloaded (or installed from a CD), and set up the home version of the program, the teacher can design playing assignments which the student then accesses at home on their own computer.

Playing through a microphone to the program’s accompaniment gives an instant visual and aural response; while the recording of the student’s performance is played, their correct notes are displayed in green while mistakes are displayed in red. The student can decide upon and set their own tempo, then practice with the computer-generated accompaniment as many times as they wish prior to recording for a grade. In short, the student is in control while at home. Students having access to broadband internet and a reasonably up-to-date computer can fully realize the potential of the program – as well as their own. (Rudolph, 2006)
But what of those students not fortunate enough to have a computer at home – let alone internet access?

Obviously, the power of SmartMusic would be largely lost on those students without a home computer or internet access. The cost of the home version is small, and some districts have even provided the subscription free of charge for their students. (Nagel, 2007) However, can districts provide a workable computer and internet access or all of its students?

David Thomas stated that schools have made great progress in the introduction of computer and internet access. However, that access, for disadvantaged students, remains at school. (Thomas, 2003) Thomas further quoted then U. S. Secretary of Education, Rod Paige:

“We need to address the limited access to technology that many students have outside of school. There is much more we can do. Closing the digital divide will also help close the achievement gap that exists within our schools.” (Thomas, 2003)

A 2007 study in New York revealed that between seventy and eighty percent of students have computers at home. (Traber, 2007) One might suggest that the real numbers cross-country are actually much lower.

There are many music students dependent upon school-provided instruments, method books, and even instrument supplies such as reeds and valve oil (usually provided out the teacher’s own pocket). These students are already behind their more affluent counterparts and cannot afford private lessons, let alone a workable computer and internet access. These are the students who could benefit most from a program such SmartMusic. However, as useful and powerful as SmartMusic is, it cannot by itself bridge this “digital divide” that still exists.

Educational technology holds great promise for the student musician but until a method for equitable access is discovered, disproportionate achievement will persist.

References

Bahr, N. & Christensen C.A. (2000). Inter-Domain Transfer Between Mathematical Skill and Musicianship. In Journal of Structural Learning & Intelligent systems (Vol. 14(3), 2000, pp. 187 – 197). US: Gordon & Breach Science Publishers

Banks, Margaret Downie (1997). A Brief History of the Conn Company (1874-present). The National Music Museum.

Davis, Michelle R. (2006, April). Study: NCLB Leads to Cuts for Some Subjects. Education Week.

Estrella, Steven (2005). Survey of Music Educators and Music Technology. Shearspire.

Gardner, Howard (1999). Intelligence Reframed, Multiple Intelligences for the Twenty First Century. Basic Books/Perseus Books Group: New York

Gardner, Howard (2006). Multiple Intelligences – New Horizons. Basic Books/Perseus Books Group: New York

Gargarian, Gregory (1996). The Art of Design. In Kafai, Y., & Resnick, M. (Eds.). Constructionism in practice: designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Nagel, Dave (2007, August). Tucson USD Gives SmartMusic Subscriptions to Students, THE Journal.

Rhodes, Stephen L. (2007). A History of the Wind Band – The American School Band Movement. Lipscomb University.

Rudolph, Tom (2006, February). The Wide World of SmartMusic. Music Education Technology.

Schlaug, Gottfried; Lutz, Jäncke; Huang, Yanxiong; Staiger, Jochen F., Steinmetz, Helmuth, (1995). Increased Corpus Callosum Size in Musicians. Neuropsychologia, Vol. 33, No. 8, pp. 1047-1055, Retrieved June 19, 2008 from http://www.musicianbrain.com/papers/Schlaug_CCallosum_1995b.pdf

Thomas, David (2003). Internet Access Soars in Schools, But “Digital Divide” Still Exists at Home for Minority and Poor Students. U. S. Department of Education.

Traber, Chris (2007, September). Poor Students Struggle In Class. YorkRegion.com News.

Whaley, Roger (2008, September 10). SmartMusic 11! – MakeMusic has released SmartMusic 11!. The Band Ed Tool Shed (Weblog).