Network and IT Technologies and Programs to Improve Small-Firm Efficiency and Staff Satisfaction
The networking needs of a small organization are just as vital to that firm's operational success, and in many instances are even more essential to their efficiency and degree of employee satisfaction. At Knobs R Us, a lack of common technologies and basic network interfaces is creating an unnecessarily slow workflow, with inefficiencies that both limit the competitiveness of the organization and limit worker satisfaction amongst the staff in the performance of their duties. The implementation of an organization-wide network and consistent technologies and IT practices throughout the various locations and departments of Knobs R Us staff and operations will allow for greater efficiency and worker satisfaction at minimal cost and risk to the firm, placing it at a better competitive advantage.
Access to technology and networking interfaces vary considerably from department to department and even individual to individual within the Knobs R Us organization. The office manager and assistant both work on Apple computers, the design and project management staff share four off-line computers (presumably PCs), the two sales and marketing agents in Hong Kong have networked laptops and iPhones, the owner has both a PC and a laptop as well as an iPhone, and the assembly and packaging staff has nothing. A few very simple and relatively cheap changes can be implemented that will greatly reduce the inefficiencies of current communications within the organization.
The creation of a company-consistent network and an increased availability of technological access will allow for faster communications between sales, design, and management staff, increasing workflow and giving Knobs R Us improved efficiency and performance. The benefits to a small business of establishing a working, comprehensive network are well established in the literature; the lack of a network in this business age is an unusual detriment, and establishing such a network improves not only the efficiency and workflow of small firms but also enables greater flexibility and adaptability, which in turn is linked to a faster pace of innovation and internal improvements (Van Heck & Vervest 2007). For Knobs R Us, the creation of this simple network is one of the greatest and most cost-effective steps that can be taken in order to improve the company's performance.
As much of the staff already works on Apple computers and iPhones, converting all network computers to Apples is recommended. Though up-front costs for hardware are higher for Apples than for PCs, the simplicity and security of the Apple networks as well as the ease of set-up, and the integrity of the hardware itself, will lead to long-term savings. Overall costs to replace existing computers and add an additional printer and plotter to the design office, as well as adding computers to the German office, will cost approximately $20,000 (Apple 2010). The plotter represents a substantial portion of this cost, with a smaller mid-range plotter costing over $3,000; this will allow for greater flexibility and diversification in the main office.
There are very few risks associated with the creation of an Apple-based communications network within the various departments of the Knobs R Us organization. The initial cost outlay represents the only real risk in this part of the IT improvement plan for the company, and these are fairly standard and relatively low costs that would have eventually been incurred during the normal progression of business. Though the capital needed for a complete updating/overhaul of the company's technologies at one time rather than piecemeal over a period of years might carry somewhat more financial risk, the payoff in this instance will also come sooner. The stricter administrator controls of Apple's operating system also creates a greatly reduced risk of disruption of operations or the unauthorized access of sensitive information transmitted via the network and stored on company computers, limiting the risks of a move to greater dependence on Internet- and computer-based communications between the company and its customers/vendors and within the company itself (Kind et al. 2009).
Competitive Business Advantage
The network overhaul described above will streamline Knobs R. Us' operations, providing increased competitiveness, but there are other IT advances that will increase the company's competitiveness within the industry even more. Portability leads to adaptability, and adaptability is a key feature to competitiveness for small firms especially. Adoption of technologies such as the iPad or even the purchase of iPhones for other team members will provide customers and the members of the Knobs R Us organization with near-immediate access to project information, timelines, etc., giving the business a distinct competitive advantage over less-mobile -- and therefore less flexible -- organizations.
Research has shown that the introduction of product personalization and mass customization leads to the establishment of dynamic rather than static business networks, wherein each part of the business -- from suppliers to designers to customers -- interact in a more streamlined and a more innovation-driven manner (Hoogeweegen et al. 2006). This type of interaction can be achieved in a real world case such as the Knobs R Us scenario with very little cost; iPads currently retail starting at $500, with iPhones only slightly more expensive; an investment of another several thousand dollars would provide easily-synchronized and interconnected data sharing and general communications between all team members, enabling faster, more detailed, and more certain customer service at the same time (Apple 2010). In a business devoted to on-site custom design, with an owner often overseeing completion of one project while the team is presumably working on several others, such a communications network and interface consistency would be immediately and profoundly useful.
As in the basic network upgrades recommended above, there is very little risk involved in the increasing utilization of more portable communication and data sharing technologies. An over-reliance on this portability could lead to potential missteps in the event of a communications disruption, but such risks are minimal and are easily outweighed by the overall increase in communications capabilities. When all team members can be brought to the same information at the same time, or alternatively when each can share different pieces of needed information with other team members and/or customers at a moment's notice, the business will definitely be more competitive than many of its competitors.
Increasing Worker Satisfaction
In addition to the other benefits of the networking and increased portability outlined above, the improved communications and data sharing capabilities that these technology upgrades would provide would also lead to improvements in employee satisfaction in a variety of ways. Though this is not cited as a major problem within the company at this point, it would be a very real concern for Knobs R Us if the organization continued on its relatively luddite-aligned path; remaining part of an increasingly outdated and inefficient organization is not something that truly motivated employees are prone to doing. Satisfaction would continue to degrade, and many staff members would likely leave the organization within a few years' time if this situation continued, so making the network changes and technology upgrades recommended is especially imperative.
A study of intensive high-contact customer service organization found that employee satisfaction and firm profitability were linked in a mutually-affirming cycle, where an increase in one led to an increase in the other as long as quality of service also remained a prominent feature of the business (Yee et al. 2008). Knobs R Us is certainly a high-contact enterprise, requiring design meetings, installation oversight, and customer confirmations and clarifications at various points throughout the process, and no doubt would benefit from increased employee satisfaction through increased quality of service and profitability. The increased communication networks will also increase the level of staff availability to customers, further improving the quality of service provided and reinforcing the human aspect of the work done by Knobs R Us, both of which will lead…