The best software for small businesses (SMEs) - Essential Guide

The best software for small businesses is software designed to help them to run their operations better, cut costs and replace paper processes. The most popular software packages include accounts, office productivity, email and communications, but nowadays, most business activities can be improved through desktop or web-based applications.

The best software for small businesses is software designed to help them to run their operations better, cut costs and replace paper processes. The most popular software packages include accounts, office productivity, email and communications, but nowadays, most business activities can be improved through desktop or web-based applications.

What is the point of business software?

The business software that is most likely to benefit your firm will generally help you to increase or measure your productivity; save time or money, and make your staff or processes more efficient.

Should I go for desktop or web-based applications?

With the growth in adoption of the web and mobile computing, the scope of business software has expanded considerably.

Desktop software tends to offer richer functionality than web-based tools because it can draw on the operating system and storage more easily. However, browser-based applications often carry a lower cost or can be used for free in some cases and staff can access them wherever there is an internet connection.

With the growth of Software as a Service (SaaS), or on-demand applications, everything from office productivity to customer relationship management (CRM) can be accessed via the web.

What can accounting software offer?

Few businesses can do without finance and accounting software, which can often automate activities such as billing, invoices and payroll.

Accounting software provides a way of recording and measuring sales, costs and profits. It can also be used to automatically generate invoices and formal business correspondence.

Some accounting software allows you to carry out analysis on your figures, to see trends and patterns in your business’ performance.

Worth noting is that if you plan to use your accounting package to submit statutory accounts, it needs to meet the relevant legal requirements.

What sorts of office software is available?

The majority of businesses use Microsoft Office for their office productivity applications, and are familiar with tools such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

But suites other than Microsoft are also worth considering, such as OpenOffice.org, or Sun’s StarOffice. These are compatible with Microsoft’s applications and also carry a free or low-cost price tag.

How about communication and collaboration?

Groupware and collaboration is another level of office productivity software, and can help employees to work together by sharing information.

Although not suitable for all businesses, this type of software has its merits and can facilitate teamwork, and increase business process efficiencies.

These tools can help to facilitate electronic communications, so staff can send messages, files, data, or documents more easily, and even send and share voice files.

The sorts of functions that the software can bring are online conferencing, electronic faxing, interactive voice mail, wikis, web publishing and revision control of documents.

Groupware and collaboration software can also help teams to share information in a more interactive way, for example, via internet or intranet forums, also known as message boards or discussion boards.

They can also communicate using online chat, instant messaging and video conferencing.

What other sorts of things can collaboration tools offer?

Groupware and collaboration software has also given rise to a whole host of network-centric applications. These are termed collaborative management tools and they can help a business to manage group activities.

Although small businesses can benefit from these functions, we are now entering the realms of the medium sized or larger business.

Groupware and collaboration software can offer shared electronic calendars; project management systems; workflow systems; knowledge management; extranet systems to collect, manage and share project information; social networking software; and online spreadsheets.

What sorts of software applications do larger SMEs use?

When it comes to other sorts of business software, designed for the larger or more ambitious businesses, the sky is the limit.

The meatier business tools that tend to be favoured by larger businesses include CRM, for recording customer information and finding out trends in buying habits; and sales force automation, which helpful for organising and managing sales teams and leads.

Business may also choose to use human resources software; business intelligence and dashboard tools; database management systems; and enterprise resource planning and supply chain management tools.

However, these may not be for everyone and can add cost and complexity to small businesses’ IT systems.

This was last published in July 2009

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