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The SME guide to digital transformation

The digitalisation of businesses has continued at great pace in recent years, and the pandemic has only served to accelerate this trend even further.

But as larger companies adapted to changes and invested in digital transformation early on, smaller companies have lagged behind. And the smaller a firm is, the less likely they are to adopt new digital procedures, instead sticking with the basic services they already know.

So – why have SME businesses been slow to adopt digital transformation?

Slow digital transformation adoption has been a persistent issue in SMEs, with lockdowns only acting as a disruptive catalyst to highlight who was an innovator and who wasn’t.

A lack of appropriate infrastructure, a digital skills gap, and a lack of investment have left small and medium sized enterprises with little scope to adapt to lockdown operations or social distancing measures.

Now that measures are slowly being lifted, how can digital transformation help SMEs regain their feet in the business landscape?

Whether motivated by desirability or necessity, SMEs need to embrace emerging technology to better position their business for long-term growth.

Going digital and leveraging emerging technology can generate increased savings and efficiencies, improve customer experience, increase competitiveness, and deliver strong, data-driven market insights for SMEs.

Seize the opportunity

Digital transformation is the adoption of digital technology by a company; it’s a change in company-wide culture to create or modify business processes.

Which is why it can mean different things to different businesses, including:

  • automating workflows
  • collecting and understanding data
  • offering new products and services made possible because of digital
  • adapting to changing digital expectations of customers

But just because digital technology is revolutionising the way businesses operate doesn’t mean SMEs will automatically follow suit.

Business leaders need to recognise the opportunity and be proactive.

Technology is of course at the heart of digital transformation – but more often than not, it’s about eliminating lengthy dated processes and costly legacy systems.

By modifying and enhancing existing processes, your organisation can automate redundant, repetitive, error-stricken tasks. The savings generated through automation will free up valuable resources, meaning you can dedicate more time to improving customer experiences, driving loyalty and attracting new customers.

This increased efficiency, combined with data analytics tools that produce better insights to tailor campaigns and content around, means your budget will stretch further and you can remain competitive with larger names.

Technologies like the cloud enable SMEs to achieve scalability whilst retaining the agility of a startup at a fraction of the cost.

Playing catch up

As an SME, it can feel like the odds are stacked against you. Bigger firms have access to deeper pockets, so investment in technology carries less risk.

The pandemic has also served as an accelerator for digital adoption throughout the economy, with larger companies investing money to guarantee their operations continue as normal.

With an increase in remote working, cyber attacks, and customer expectations evolving, the need for SMEs to catch up to the big boys has never been more crucial – and digital technology is the great equaliser.

For digital adoption to be successful, smaller businesses will have to improve how they communicate and collaborate. With many employees favouring remote working or a hybrid working model, this is especially important.

Introducing an intranet and promoting simple but effective tools like Slack and Google Workspace will make this change a smooth transition.

A centralised solution in the form of an intranet will ensure employees have access to the documents they need to do their job, as well as facilitating holiday requests, sickness recording, and even onboarding of new staff.

Tools like Slack and Google Workspace will empower teams to work effectively and remotely. Slack means communication in real-time via instant messaging, audio or video calls, while Google Workspace allows documents to be shared and edited in an interactive way.

However, any effort to embrace digital adoption will be undermined if SMEs don’t get the fundamentals right.

The first step on your journey should be to ensure you have business-grade broadband, as the higher speeds and reliability will be crucial if you have large files to download and backup. The second step should be to identify solutions that can be implemented easily and that allow for scalability with your current systems.

Creating a digital strategy

Here at 6B, we’ve helped many businesses large and small with digital transformation, and one thing is consistent in our approach – a defined digital strategy. It’s why we offer a dedicated strategic advisory service.

Without a robust strategy in place, your efforts become guesswork.

Before you begin implementing new technologies and digital procedures, you’ll need to obtain buy-in at every level of your organisation. This process isn’t something that can be championed by a single person or team. It requires support, alignment and ownership from top to bottom in your organisation.

Start by assessing the current state of the business. Take a look at your procedures, the organisational structure, functions within the business, and the skillset of your workforce.

This will enable you to identify opportunities where technology can be seamlessly integrated and give you an understanding of what’s needed to take things to the next level.

But then – what’s next? How exactly will you implement your digital strategy?

Communicating the intrinsic value of your strategy to all stakeholders will help with any teething issues. If everyone has an opportunity to voice concerns and is aware of why you’re embarking on this journey, you’ll be met with less resistance.

Increasing your bottom line and preparing the business for growth will ultimately be two of the main driving factors behind your decision for digital transformation – but don’t be afraid to go into detail.

Break things down on a granular level. Detail how you’ll phase in changes and how the success of these changes will be measured. The more people know, the more involved they’ll feel.

Start small and scale up

For SMEs, transitioning to a more digitally-driven strategy can be a daunting prospect. It involves the introduction of unfamiliar processes and new technology. This is why it’s vital to gradually phase in any changes, so as not to overwhelm your employees or customers.

It’s best not to get carried away by diving head-first either.

Start small and build on each success. Focus your attention on one area at a time and delegate tasks to people who have shown a particular interest or have the expertise to execute these digital steps.

A cautious approach allows you to monitor how responsive employees or customers are to change, and it enables you to respond to challenges in a more measured way.

Acquiring a digital solution is the easy part; making sure it’s effectively managed is much harder. You need to devote time to ensure your staff are fully trained on how to use these tools and get the most out of them.

It’s also important to track the usage and performance of these tools once they’ve been rolled out. Metrics like customer response times when compared to customer attrition will serve as a strong indicator of whether a certain solution is worth keeping or not.

Any efforts for digital transformation should start and focus on the customer experience, as it is their journey and data that will influence your ongoing strategy.

Are you an SME interested in developing a digitally-driven business strategy?

 

Going digital and leveraging emerging technology can help create efficiencies and generate increased savings, using data-driven insights to improve your overall customer journey and help your business stay competitive.

 

Get in touch with us today if you’d like to know more about the strategic advisory services we can offer to future-proof your business.

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