By Brian Sherman
Many IT service providers fail or don’t realize their potential simply because they don’t appreciate and don’t implement good processes. It takes time to develop and maintain actionable business procedures that will ensure a company’s operations are up to date and highly efficient. Failure to implement quality controls or the “checks and balances” needed to grow a business profitably are often the demise of what could have been a great company.
Research shows businesses that strive for operational excellence are more likely to be structurally and financially sound, and able to scale. As a result, their customers receive more touches and closer attention, resulting in higher retention rates, and their employees often seem more fulfilled and less stressed. And these results are exactly what members of the Trust X Alliance Operational Excellence Think Tank are looking to achieve.
Facilitated by long-time peer-to-peer IT services expert and founding member Jane Cage, this group of like-minded individuals are laser focused on identifying and implementing greater process efficiencies. Members attend monthly virtual meetings to share ideas and insight, and hold face-to-face discussions at the Ingram Micro ONE events.
Their latest Think Tank took place at the Ingram Micro ONE event in Nashville and included lively discussions around several operational best practices, with Cage posing a specific question for each topic. She capped off the meeting with a best customer service idea contest in which everyone offered useful concepts that every IT services business should consider putting in place.
Put Best Practices in Place
What did I learn from spending 90 minutes with this group? First of all, be sure there’s a process in place for every repeatable activity in your IT services organization and be sure that each is well documented. When procedures are not written down, others will have a harder time effectively replicating and improving them. It may not be rocket science, but every organization should have a policy and process for updating manuals and employee handbooks with that information.
Commitment by every owner, manager and employee (and clients, in many cases) is crucial. Operational excellence is a multifaceted target with numerous opportunities for improvement. The Think Tank discussions covered a number of these business critical areas including:
- Financial controls --- What processes are in place to protect your company’s cash and credit? Group members offered up a number of examples, such as requiring one employee to open mail and input checks, while another reviews the information and makes the deposits. That process is then verified and reconciled online by a company executive. Another key takeaway: Limit access to bank account numbers and restrict check-writing abilities to as few employees as possible (and frequently review all their activities).
- Access Controls --- Limit accounting information by role and audit periodically. One suggestion was to log in using a dummy account to see what information you could access. This helps validate that the controls work and allows you to address any issues that are uncovered.
- Documentation --- How does your company collect receipts and audit expenses? One recommendation was to review Easy-Pass statements to verify employee mileage claims. Use mobile apps to simplify and speed receipt collection processes, which tend to improve the quality and quantity of expense details (they won’t have time to forget).
- Approvals --- Most have a nominal expense cap to speed processes. In addition, log activities and follow audit trails within the accounting systems.
To wrap up the meeting, Cage asked every IT service provider in the room to throw in an idea for the customer service contest, and each made a compelling case for the win. Without giving too much away (join a Think Tank to get all the details), the top prize went to the company that went all in on its customer service manual, with a daily team huddle (15-30 minutes) where one piece of it is reviewed and discussed in depth.
It’s that type of commitment, control and collaboration that helps make a good IT services business a great one. To read more news from the Ingram Micro ONE event, visit http://www.ingrammicroadvisor.com/one, follow @IngramMicroONE on Twitter and search the hashtag #ONEIngram.