The latest tech systems and cutting-edge software can open new markets, increase productivity, and result in significant cost savings for small businesses. None of that can happen, however, without a key non-tech component: a management team that can tailor the system to a firm's unique needs and bring its workplace culture up to speed.
"The challenge for small businesses is to be able to sort out what works and what doesn't work," says Antonio Grijalva, founder and CEO of Houston-based outsourcing firm Grijalva and Allen. "And to realize that computers and communications are only as good as the rules you establish to use them."
Actcom, a Virginia security firm servicing government, military, and commercial firms, recently installed a comprehensive tracking system for its fleet.
"It's a very valuable management tool," says president and CEO Ray Lorenzo. "You get the immediate benefit in that you can have a Big Brother that watches everyone all the time. For the technicians in the field, just knowing we have the capability leads to some immediate improvement."
That same Big Brother could be a concern for some employees, of course.
"We're very open about it," Mr. Lorenzo says. "We make it very clear in the pre-hire interview process that we do this. The technicians accept it and buy into the practice."
Now, he says, the employees have embraced the tracking system.
"Instead of making management decisions at an upper level, this takes it down to where the rubber meets the road. It has pushed the decision process down to people who can really make a difference, down to real time."
TriNet Communications, a telecom equipment distributor, has found a system that provides software upgrades for its remote sales team, its warehouses, and its California headquarters, all at the same time. TriNet has eliminated the need for an information technology department and given its employees greater ability to tap into the firm's database.
"The main thing we wanted to do is give people access to our accounting system and inventory management system from essentially anywhere," TriNet president and CEO Jon Fernandez says.
These three Hispanic-owned companies have improved productivity and saved thousands of dollars by not only identifying and investing in high-tech solutions, but by applying them in a manner that was right for their firm and their employees.
Keeping tabs on a mobile workforce – technicians driving a fleet of trucks across several states – might sound like a daunting task. And it was for security specialist Actcom, until the company installed Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking on its truck fleet. Now, dispatchers and management can monitor the position of every truck, in real time.
Offering access control, intrusion detection, and other security services to commercial, military, and federal customers, Actcom, headquartered in Virginia Beach, has 24 trucks that sprawl from the Carolinas to metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C.
"We have a visual map. We can see the whole fleet, or view one vehicle, zooming down to the street address they're at," says Bob Matson, vice-president of operations. Actcom has been tracking its fleet with GPS since April 2003.
"We started on a trial basis with five trucks and fell in love with it," Mr. Matson says. After 90 days, the company implemented tracking across the fleet. In addition to the visual map, a running service ticket shows how long a technician takes to arrive at a job site and how much time they spend there. Any diversions, and even how long they take for lunch, are tracked as well.
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