To survive in today’s competitive market, many deem it a ‘must’ to employ new technologies to drive efficiency and performance across a business. So it’s heartening to see more timber companies climbing onto the technology ladder.

However, deciding to adopt technology, particularly a business management system, is only the first step. Getting the most out of it is an ongoing challenge. I read recently that businesses use less than 20% of the functionality within their computer systems. Considering the time, effort and money invested in getting software up and running, that is low.

Our experience at ADP Commercial Systems suggests there are a number of reasons why companies underuse business management solutions. For many, the initial decision to move to a computerised environment was a scary prospect and a culture shock. So it is not surprising that companies take baby steps rather than ‘running before they can walk. This is understandable, as long as the organisation doesn’t lose sight of why it invested in the system. It is important to strive continuously to optimise the use of software, building on knowledge and experience as you go. The more you use your system to best effect, the more you glean the rewards.

Lack of faith

Another reason companies underuse them is a lack of faith in their business management solution. Some just treat them as a glorified sales invoicing tool, persisting with unnecessary manual and other inefficient practices, rather than letting the software do its job.

Good examples of this can be seen in stock management. Many companies don’t believe you can truly manage timber stock with a computer system. This just isn’t true. Accurate stock management just requires certain working disciplines and methodologies. You are never going to achieve it if, for example, you break into a pack of timber, cut it to length, despatch the goods, yet fail to record the transaction on the system. How does the software determine which pack was split, how many items were left in the pack, what product was removed or whether it was processed into another product? If the employee had recorded the pick note details, explaining that the timber had changed from one product to another, when they got back to the trade counter or, remotely, via a hand-held terminal, the software would do the rest. Then, by using increasingly sophisticated reporting functions, it could pinpoint specific stock information required.

Reason for reluctance

Another reason for reluctance to use a system to its full potential is the fear that it might expose suspected or recognised business practices a company does not want exposed due to the potential for internal backlash.

Where a pack has been split, and some lengths cut to smaller sizes, leaving some wasted material that can’t be sold or reprocessed, what happens? In many cases, nothing at all. Often companies feel they are making reasonable margins and regard off-cuts as natural wastage. However, the reality is that any waste is a cost and needs to be recorded into the system to generate information that facilitates good business decisions. Imagine the possible wastage and financial implications in the above scenario over a trading year. What if there were several similar products? Are you accounting for the true cost of your stock and could you use the space to provide alternative products with better margins, less processing, wastage and cost? If you had the answers to these questions, would you make the same decisions?

Employee acceptance

Addressing this issue may require a change in business practices throughout the organisation and it would need to be policed properly. This is the hard bit. You don’t want to make loyal staff feel they’re mistrusted or working in a ‘big brother’ environment. But with some timber prices steadily rising, the value of wastage has increased dramatically. Businesses can no longer afford to bury their heads in the sand. Give staff a bit of credit here – where solid training is given and the rationale for change communicated, there shouldn’t be any backlash. After all, profitability provides job security.

The important thing is to leverage your technology. You don’t have to do everything overnight, but have a vision and an action plan to help your business exploit its functions and save time, effort and cost. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you don’t have the in-house expertise, organise training with your supplier. Be brave and amend your working practices if it provides a business advantage. Remember, once in place, these practices soon become part of day-to-day operations.

In summary, don’t fear change, embrace it!