The overall structure of any business is crucial for its performance as well as its future. This is especially true for research SMEs, where improving operational efficiency will result in more time spent on high value research activities and increased productivity. Many of the best ways to optimize an organization’s workflows include the adoption of new technologies that are continually being developed to streamline processes and save time. Whilst some of these are specifically designed for the research community, others can be applied across any business, offering the same advantages to a large accountancy firm as to a small biotech. We’ve put together our top five recommendations to help research SMEs improve their operational efficiency and productivity.
Up in the cloud
No leader wants their employees’ heads in the clouds, but the cloud is a great place to store your data and resources. It’s essential all employees have access to the information they need and, pre-computing, a business’s filing system was an important consideration to manage important data. Whilst computers should make this significantly easier, this isn’t always the case. Individuals may save work to their desktops or analytical instruments may store their own data if not connected to a wider platform, creating siloed data storage that is difficult to navigate.
Shared access is especially important in research, where collaboration is relied upon to make innovative and reliable discoveries. Traditional approaches include shared server systems or VPNs, but these are becoming outdated. For fast-growing small businesses, having internal servers with sufficient capacity is expensive and difficult to scale quickly, and VPNs to allow access to these servers are relatively slow to use. The cloud provides a great economical solution, with the capability to store information securely, access it from anywhere in the world and scale up storage requirements with the size of the business.
With the rise of flexible working, and many of us needing to work from home in recent months, cloud storage is a great way to provide this access, save the need to download large files and allow live editing of documents to avoid file duplication or corruption. It also provides important security measures and disaster resistance. Cloud providers employ robust security protocols to protect your data from hacks and offer controls allowing you to limit file access, both internally and outside of the organization. Saving your files externally also removes the risk of data loss should a computer be stolen or damaged.
Keeping track of data
Not only do online/cloud-based filing systems offer all the advantages listed above, they also make it much easier to keep track of projects and manage data. Whilst data management is time-consuming, easy access to required data is essential in research to back up decisions, satisfy regulatory requirements and comply with legal and future M&A audits. Online systems often provide audit trails, allowing users to see who made specific changes and restore previous versions of files should edits have been made in error.
There are also many project management tools becoming available, allowing all team members to keep on top of tasks and monitor progress even from different locations. As small research businesses grow, members of the team who had previously been purely research based will have to take on managerial roles that they may not have much experience of. Project management software can help team members keep track of projects and learn to take on this new level of responsibility while also saving time to allow them to continue with experimental research.
Optimizing instrument use
SMEs are often working with limited budgets and don’t necessarily have sufficient funds for multiple versions of the latest equipment. Optimizing the use of the available instruments is therefore essential. Online lab instrument booking systems like Clustermarket allow users to book machines remotely, enabling the team to plan their experiments around equipment availability and increase productivity. This also helps labs operate in a more flexible way and limits the number of people on site, particularly important when safely returning to the lab.
Not only do these systems facilitate booking and maximize equipment usage, they can also be used to rent out available equipment to other users in nearby labs. With many SME research companies located in science parks and hubs, being able to access the equipment of surrounding groups can save you time and money, and even help cover the costs of these instruments by charging out their external use.
“GE Life Sciences has a technology lab within The Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, and we have recently implemented Clustermarket as a solution to book the instruments that are shared across our both internal company users and the external stakeholders – the local tenants. It was a seamless implementation and move across from our old WOW. The online system has very easy features to use and the Clustermarket team are always very quick to support. A great improvement on our old way of reserving systems.”
Susan Toyn – GE Technology Lab
Getting together online
It seems increasingly unlikely that life and work will ever return to normal following the Covid-19 pandemic, and instead we are adapting to a ‘new normal’. This will undoubtedly feature continued use of online meetings and events. Whilst beneficial from an economic and environmental perspective, we have all experienced various downsides to online meetings. It is therefore necessary to optimize meeting approaches in order to make the most of this format.
When you aren’t in the same room, making sure all participants remain engaged throughout can be a challenge. It is therefore more important to stick to an established agenda with a nominated chair to run each meeting efficiently. Technical difficulties are also a common issue, so installing a reliable meeting platform and providing sufficient training and trouble-shooting resources is key.
As well as virtual meetings, online communications tools will continue to play their part. There is a clear benefit of using different chat platforms such as Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, not only to maintain existing channels of virtual communication, but also to replace those conversations which were once in-person. Having a separate channel for informal conversations can help maintain team relationships and stimulate ideas sharing that could lead to key breakthroughs.
Keeping your customers happy
Digitalization also offers extensive benefits on the customer facing side of a business. Keeping existing customers happy and generating new leads is just as important in research as any other business – you can’t progress your research if you don’t have any money! A customer relationship management (CRM) system is a well-established tool for sales and business development teams to keep track of liaison with existing and potential customers. Some great examples of CRMs are HubSpot, Salesforce and Keap. Automatic follow ups and reminders help to achieve this, and close monitoring will anticipate customers’ needs and foster more effective relationships. This can lead to better customer service, retention and ultimately increased sales.
"Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves."
Steve Jobs - Co-Founder and former CEO of Apple
Automated reporting is another advantage. CRM software gives you the ability to generate future revenue predictions more easily. These revenue forecasts help businesses make informed decisions about how to grow and adapt by tracking the number of open opportunities and how ongoing projects are performing.
These are just a few examples of how technology can help SMEs make both research and business activities more efficient. For more information on how Clustermarket can help you run a productive research SME, get in touch.