How technology can drive small business transformation
The term “small business” often conjures up images of old-fashioned, yet charming, family operated businesses using antiquated systems. However, “small business” does not necessarily mean “archaic”.
In today’s digitally driven economy leveraging technologies such as e-Commerce, digital marketing and cloud computing can benefit small and medium businesses by enabling them to become “leaner” – allowing them to gain new customers and access to new markets whilst reducing overheads at a relatively affordable cost.
This concept, whereby businesses re-evaluate their use of technology, moving towards cloud services, remote working and applications, and shifting away from legacy tech such as PCs and desktop software, is known as Digital transformation (DX).
As a business, you may be wondering if digital transformation is something you should be paying attention to. And, whilst culturally SMEs may be change-hesitant or simply don’t know how to prioritise digital transformation and modernisation with other priorities in their limited budgets, small and medium businesses cannot afford to ignore digital transformation.
Compared to businesses which have low levels of technology enablement, small and medium businesses which have undertaken digital transformation have realised significant benefits:
- Increased their income by 100% per employee
- Experienced nearly four times the revenue growth over the previous year
- Were three times as likely to have exported over the previous year
Taking advantage of new technologies is one way to significantly improve productivity, staff wellbeing, customer experience and operational efficiency. But with a constantly evolving technological landscape, how does a start-up scale its sales and operations, or how can a small and medium business be transformed with technology?
Reducing business costs with a digital workforce
Many small and medium businesses are now utilising the advantages brought by employing a distributed remotely digitally connected workforce.
With many small and medium businesses now employing freelancers and remote workers, the need to maintain a physical office is diminishing. Where office space is required, small and medium businesses are relying increasingly on serviced and virtual offices to conduct any meetings and meet with clients or suppliers.
Furthermore, the overheads needed to maintain a physical office can have a significant impact to a business’ profitability, consequently many businesses are moving towards removing this expense by encouraging staff to work remotely.
According to a study done by Vodafone, 54% of employees felt they are more productive if they were not working within the constraints of an office. The study also found that almost 60% of British organisations now equip their workforce to work remotely by enabling them with technology.
Many small and medium businesses that desire to operate efficiently are now focusing on increasing productivity. By embracing new technologies, these businesses are finding that the change brought by digital transformation has positively boosted their revenues and enhanced staff productivity.
Such change can be brought about quite simply by equipping employees to work remotely by providing them with a laptop that can connect securely to the corporate systems.
However, by leveraging cloud services, such as online storage, cloud office software, superfast broadband connection, secure Wi-Fi, and conference calling services, small and medium businesses are quickly finding that enabling remote working can be straight forward and cost effective, with existing mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones fitting neatly into this approach, as they can be used on the go.
Using data to forecast trends
The advancement of the digital age allows a wide-ranging amount of data to be collected at an unprecedented rate. With the advent of the Internet, we can now collect data from a variety of online sources such as online forms, reviews and metadata.
Small and medium businesses now have access to a potentially huge volume of data, gathered from sources such as websites, social media and e-Commerce sales history, which can be analysed to drive future decision making. Leveraging big data, small and medium businesses can anticipate changes and trends in the business market.
Furthermore, anticipating such trends and changes in the business market, allows businesses to become more cost-effective and focused. Using big data to identify trends permits small and medium businesses to shape and focus their resources and employees more effectively and productively in accordance with their customers’ needs and buying habits.
Moreover, with the ability to forecast such trends, small and medium businesses can maintain a more cost-effective operating model by adjusting their staffing needs, stock levels and marketing strategy in tune with the identified trends.
It is estimated that big data will be used increasingly to determine the future of businesses. As it matures, big data analysis will improve, making real-time data streaming a reality and allow small and medium businesses to obtain instant information to make decisions quickly.
Employee wellbeing and job satisfaction
The success of any organisational transformation undertaken by a small and medium business will be underpinned by its employees. Successful digital transformation not only provides tangible benefits to small and medium business with regards to increased sales, improved operational efficiency and increased productivity, but also provide intrinsic value to the employees too.
The goal orientated approach that digital transformation brings, allows the potential for businesses to leverage their employees in the right areas at the right time towards specific goals. .
The intense focus on specific tasks and targets improves output, efficiency and productivity. Moreover, when you couple this with remote working, this promotes an environment which leads to increased job satisfaction and improved work-life balance, fulfilment and less stress amongst employees:
More specifically, small and medium business that have undertaken digital transformation have seen:
- Increased productivity: Gaps between meetings are not wasted because employees can carry out administration work wherever they are
- An increase in staff accessibility: Employees respond to messages sooner, as they can pick up emails in real time from anywhere
- A reduction in commute time for employees: commuter miles decrease with staff gaining more time in the day to spend with clients or address their workload
- Flexible working meets business needs: employees can better adapt their time to customer’s needs
- Increase in job satisfaction: Staff find their work more fulfilling and less stressful as they spend less time driving, and more time making a difference with focused tasks and targets
- Improvement in the work-life balance: Employees report an improvement in their work-life balance, leading to increased job satisfaction and staff retention. This also boosts in the quality recruitment permanent, temporary and seasonal staff
3 steps toward digital transformation for SMEs
For SMEs competing with the larger players in their sector, digital transformation holds vast value when trying to remain competitive.
Thanks to digital transformation, small and medium business have vast opportunities for expansion into new markets, territories and segments. Furthermore, the adoption of digital technologies provides ample opportunities to accelerate the growth of your business whilst lowering your overheads, thereby increasing profitability.
However, whilst every business will benefit from digital transformation, not every business should change in the same way. The most effective digital transformations utilise existing infrastructure and gain maximum value by creating a road map to accomplish digital initiatives within a reasonable budget that works for their business.
Digital transformation should be at a pace that is comfortable for your business, with many small and medium businesses taking a multi-year journey towards digital transformation. Below are 3 important steps for you to consider as you undertake this journey:
- What digital transformation means for your business: Consider the challenges your business currently faces and in which areas your business should grow. Data is the key to business transformation. Look at how your business generates, stores and shares data and how this can be captured more effectively and shared across the business.
- How your business will go digital: These alternatives could range from front-end transformation such as products and customer experiences to back-end transformation such as cloud and IT infrastructure.
- Prepare your staff for digital transformation: Clearly communicating your plan and vision for the company is just as important as coming up with the strategy. If the value of digital transformation is not communicated well to employees, the company may not obtain intrinsic buy-in from its employees