Systems are not just IT
It happens often. When you mention systems to a business owner, their first thought is IT, the electronic information systems, software, or mobile apps that hold and communicate information. We want to expand this point of view to include all the moving parts in your business that are required for it to exist, function, be efficient, and realize the best return of investment on your time and money. Systems are the foundation of how your business runs.
To explore this point of view let's dig deeper into some systems you may have already.
- Do you have a program or spreadsheet that tracks inventory?
- Or a program that generates employee schedules?
- How about the way your business phone is answered or how a customer is greeted when they walk into your business?
These are all systems for running your business and they exist in many different mediums, and formats.
Systems go beyond the documentation and programs. They also include the people that run the systems. To look at how people are part of a system, let's take the first example above - tracking inventory. Many businesses depend on an inventory software program or spreadsheet to update and refer to for inventory information. It may have fields for: name of item, number of items, received dates, sold dates, and pricing for each product. However, the inventory tracking system doesn't start or end with data on inventory in a software program or spreadsheet. Tracking inventory also involves the people who use these programs. For example, what positions in the business add, delete, or change the information? Does the purchasing agent when they order an item? How about the receiver when the item is delivered to your business? Or, the production manager when the item is about to be used? Or, the shipping clerk when it is sold? Chances are all of these positions (and more) are involved with inventory tracking. Therefore, your system that tracks inventory includes the electronic system and it also includes a multitude of other systems used by your team to ensure your business has accurate and relevant information.
This example shows that systems also include people in the business. It's people who take action to utilize your electronic systems for the benefit of your business. The documented how-to systems that direct and support people ensure your business is consistently getting work done accurately and in a timely manner.
While some systems are step-by-step directions with illustrations other examples are; checklists, on-line templates, business forms, training guides, and meeting agendas. If you were to list all the systems in your business (and you should!) it would be quite a long list. You and your employees engage in a "system of work" when you open the office, order supplies, schedule meetings, answer the phone, pay bills, or send out invoices. While you may not have a step-by-step written system for these activities - you or your employees are engaging in a systemic process of taking action to accomplish a result.
We will be discussing systems further this month. We don't want you to think solely of IT when you read these articles, we want you to think outside the computer box, look all around your business, and see with new eyes all the systems you have in place. Our challenge to you is to see your business with a different point of view, as a business full of systems working together for a specific result.