There are a lot of things we are able to do today without needing to interact with another person. From banking, to ordering food, booking travel (or just about anything) and managing a raft of other different services. In the life of a small business, the more that can be done online the better, it saves time and money and get the same result.
Most of the time.
There is a growing problem starting to emerge from the great shift online. More and more automated services aimed at business evaluation, development and management are appearing, and that isn't necessarily a good thing.
Behind every business is an idea based on a human need or interaction. No matter how big or small a business, that is what it is originally built on. For this article I will leave the product (or service) side aside and just focus on the business itself. The reason a business was established and began operating in a certain way is derived from emotions. A computer based tool won't take that into account.
There is the argument that what the computer provides is an analysis of the best scenario for the business, with people taken out of the equation. While valid, to me that is irrelevant. Businesses are built on people selling to other people, any sales and marketing theory will highlight the importance of emotions based selling. To remove emotion from the core of a business is a dangerous move.
Reviewing your business at any level should be an in depth exercise - not a cursory overview. Part of this should be understanding the business' culture and the personal direction the people who make it up are looking to take.
The way an organisation works internally is just as relevant, if not more so, as the data and information available from the external performance in the market. It is internally that many organisations find new systems to reduce costs and increase productivity and innovation. These internal factors are once again based on people and their specific skills and motivation.
This is not to say online tools have no place. They can provide an insight and help identify key areas needing focus. They shouldn't be the entire story though, as they cannot paint the full picture. A human perspective - looking at all factors as a whole, and the way stakeholders will perceive them and act, will provide more usable tools to move ahead with.
There is another factor as well, which I think is the most important thing. When talking about taking your business to the next level there is one thing every one involved needs - motivation.
Numbers can motivate to an extent, but not in the same way the right person is able to draw out the key strengths and areas of focus within an individual or group. The capability and potential of two very similar businesses can be entirely changed by the people who make them up and what they are looking to achieve. The path to success for a business focused entirely on profit will be very different to one looking to bring results to clients which exceed expectations and encourage long term repeat business.
Saving time and money is vital in any business, in almost any area. When it comes to developing a path for the future, the costs associated with doing so with people should be seen as an investment, not a cost.
The human factor in business cannot be undervalued, systems work well, but there are many examples of hugely successful people who believed in and stuck by their belief in what they were doing, even when all the analysis said it was wrong.