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Early-Warning-Systems for small businesses
Most of you would say, that this might not be the most important problem
small businesses have to solve during their business operation.
Well, that might be true, but on the other hand, if your
business has an early-warning-system, than it could assist you
in operating your business and keeps you focused on solving the
bottlenecks you are actually facing.
But first of all, in case of Early-Warning-Systems it is necessary to define
what a small business is. A small business is usually a business
operated by 1 or a few people, but could also be a company with
as much as 500 employees. This article concentrates on small
businesses with 1 to 50 employees. As this is the definition of
small business, than we have to define what an
Early-Warning-System should look like.
While running a small business, the people involved usually have not the
time dealing with Early-Warning-Systems a lot. Because of the
lack of time, there has to be a lean solution, which takes care
of the following things:
easy to use solution
not time consuming
showing recommendations for possible actions/measures on early warnings
giving priorities which bottlenecks have to be solved first
having a short reporting cycle
a reasonable price, every small business could afford.
Lets go to the list one by one.
Easy to use solution
What does that mean? On my opinion, easy usage is, when something is easy
and fast to understand. Something I do not need to read a huge
book with hundreds of pages or where I have to attend a
training, which keeps you occupied by several hours or days,
just to know the basic features.
Having a system with huge databases and many features and reporting
alternatives, is not only time consuming, it is also annoying,
because you ever feel you need to perform a lot more reports.
And you always feel that you may missed something.
Furthermore a good Early-Warning-System solution should work with only few
input. But that’s another point.
Not time consuming
When you have to input a lot of data that is one possible time consuming
task. On the other hand, you do not know, if a huge database
will make your Early-Warning-System better. So it is better to
focus on a few important data, than having a huge database,
which you probably never use.
When concentrating on important data, you are not able to use every data
from your business operation directly. Some data have to be
calculated to business ratios, which are a better basis for
analysis. But this brings to mind to select the right business
ratios. There are so many to find.
Well, there are a few which could be used for all kinds of businesses, such
Orders in Process
Usage of capacity
Order Processing Time
to show just a few. Would be an analysis, which uses only 30 business ratios
or business numbers a time consuming solution? I guess you say
no. But, what would be if you have to fill in these numbers
every day? Well, that’s not necessary. One time a week should be
However, even if 30 or 60 values for business ratios per week does not sound
much work, but there is a little more work to do upfront, before
you could use these values for analysis. You have to find the
values in your company, you have to calculate the business ratio
values and so on. This I believe sounds to be a lot more work as
When you install the right procedure to get the necessary data for analysis,
you may have an addition big one-time work. It’s all in the
procedure you choose. Make it as easy as possible and it won’t
be a time consuming task.
Early-Warnings are signs, which a system should generate, when a point is
reached you said it should inform you that a situation is going
to be worse. There are many systems out there providing
early-warnings, but the question is always, on basis this
warning has been calculated and to what will it lead you.
To understand an early warning signal it should be as easy to understand as
a traffic light signal. Green says that everything is all right,
yellow shows you that caution has to be taken and red should
bring the alarm clock ringing at you.
Well, providing recommendations for actions/measures is not a very important
feature, but if you are not familiar with business operations or
just starting a business it is of help to get recommendations
for actions/measures to keep your business running.
But even if you have lot of experience runninga business, it is sometimes
very helpful to get new ideas on how to act. Actions/Measures
could only be a recommendation here, because industry sectors
are different, and it wouldn't be possible to cover all types of
Showing priorities to solve bottlenecks
Remember the paragraph above about early warning signals, they could be used
to find priorities to solve bottlenecks in business operation.
First of all the warning signals must follow some rules. That
means that the business ratios supplying the signal have to be
in a consecutive timely manner to each other. For example, when
you have 5 ratios depending on each other in a consecutive
manner, than you have automatically a priority to follow when
actions are needed.
In case your ratio number 3 has a yellow signal and number 4 a red signal,
than you know that you first have to solve the problem ratio 4
is showing, because you got the red flag and it has influence to
ratio 5, which was green. This small example shows how important
it is to use the right business ratios and how important it is
to concentrate on the traffic light systematic when taking
Short Reporting Cycle
A short reporting cycle may be a month for some business operators, but when
waiting for Early-Warning-System analysis for about 4 weeks, you
are only able to take action on erroneous trends once per month.
And in some cases this could be already to late.
Really short is a reporting cycle, which uses a week as its basic period.
Why using reporting cycles of one week? Just because you can see
erroneous trends earlier and being able to take actions, while
others are still waiting their reports to come. On a weekly
reporting cycle you could act at least 3 to 4 weeks earlier as
on monthly reporting cycles.
I don’t think you are driving your car blind for more than a small part of a
second. Just imagine what happens, when driving your car blind
for a month, just like the usual reporting cycle for business
reporting? You are right, just a few seconds after start driving
you have the first accident. Even if you are an airline pilot
and having an autopilot system, you steadily have to control the
system, to be sure that you are heading in the right direction.
Reasonable is a price, which nearly all small businesses could afford. Even
if the price is paid in instalments or as rent for the licence
to use a system. An Early-Warning-System, as the lean version
described here, doesn't has to be very expensive.
However, the decision is yours, if you like to pay more or less on an
Early-Warning-System, but you should carefully check the
features and benefits a solution offers.
Early-Warning-Systems for small businesses is a very important and often
overlooked issue, which could assist to establish a more focused
business operation, but only when the Early-Warning-System shows
actual bottlenecks and is able to provide priorities for
However, most small business owners or operators are not aware of the
problems Early-Warning-Systems could bring them before there
eyes. Furthermore, the possibility of finding new target
markets, new solutions or ideas to improve existing products, is
just a benefit an Early-Warning-Systems solution may offer as
If you think the described solution is not an Early-Warning-System, because
an Early-Warning-System has to be something where you have to
handle lots of data and documents, well, that might be another
definition for it, but starting with a small solution is always
better than doing nothing. There is no reason to use a big
system to provide early-warnings, and for small businesses big
systems don’t make sense at all.
About the author:
Stephan Szugat is founder of abenetis a web-based service about
Business Management Solutions focusing on the core needs of
business management. This includes Operational and strategic
analysis especially Early-Recognition-Systems,
Knowledge-Management and other Services for small and mid-sized
businesses. He has approx. 15 years experience in the Finance
and Accounting Area from companies of different size and from