What is digital transformation and what does it mean for SMEs?

What does the term 'digital transformation' mean and why should SMEs be getting on board? Here, Matt Hunt takes a look.

Only a quarter of respondents show the willingness to consult external expertise when undertaking a digital transformation project

Only a quarter of respondents show the willingness to consult external expertise when undertaking a digital transformation project

Operating efficiently is the key to running a successful company. However, ensuring every process is running as smoothly and effectively as possible is often easier said than done, especially when business owners have to handle endless mountains of paperwork and various company affairs, all at the same time. So, what is the solution to greater efficiency? ‘Digital transformation’ could be the answer. But what does the term mean and why should SMEs be getting on board?

When we talk about digital transformation, we’re referring to the process of adapting or overhauling current business processes to incorporate digital strategies and technology into the company. This could be anything from bringing in new devices so employees can work remotely, creating a mobile app to improve internal communication or going paperless by adopting digital data capture solutions.

In order to remain competitive, businesses can’t afford to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the digital revolution that is happening around them. Therefore, businesses of all sizes are now exploring digital transformation and how they can correctly utilise available technology to become more efficient and reduce costs. In fact, many SMEs are already looking into tech that can allow them to go paperless – according to Xerox, 81 per cent of SMEs want to eliminate paper from their business in the next 12 months.

However, the idea of adapting to the rapidly changing digital market place is still quite a daunting task for many SMEs. So, where do you start, and ultimately, what are you going to get out of it?

Why should SMEs be going digital?

For SMEs, the benefits of embracing new, emerging tech are huge. For example, going digital opens up a wealth of opportunities to compete against larger organisations – a task often perceived as difficult, or perhaps even impossible, for these smaller businesses due to restricted budgets, pressures on time and resources, or low staff numbers.

Research by SAP finds that 46 per cent of decision makers believe technology levels the playing field for small businesses versus larger corporations. And 37 per cent cite their size as an advantage over larger companies that are less able to take advantage of digital innovation in a timely way. Not only this, but SMEs can also experience greater efficiency and accuracy, reduced costs, and a more productive workforce by getting on board with digital transformation.

Automating tasks for a happier workforce

Automating time-consuming tasks, perhaps through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for example, can allow employees to focus their attentions on more skilled tasks that will either bring in revenue, or reduce business operating costs. Automating tasks will also help to boost morale, as staff members won’t be bogged down by repetitive tasks or low value work, such as searching through endless amounts of documents and files. Instead, they could use an AI virtual assistant that could help source the document they require or set up important meetings on their behalf. Julie Desk is an example of this kind of software that is already available. The AI-based personal assistant can set up meetings by email and will schedule a time and place with the user’s contacts.

Increased savings and efficiencies by going paperless

By switching to digital methods of data capture, rather than paper-based versions, this can also contribute to savings in time and money. SMEs can benefit from faster internal processes and fewer errors when collecting information, which in turn will equate to greater efficiency and accuracy. By using this method, the days of mislaid paperwork or illegible handwriting that makes documents impossible to decipher will be a thing of the past. With mobile data solutions, information can quickly be entered into the system and then shared with the rest of the business, improving communication and collaboration between departments and saving huge amounts of time.

We recently undertook a project with NHS Blood and Transplant to create a data capture app and server solution that would allow Specialist Nurses to collect vital information about organ donations while they are with the patient and their family. The end result means that nurses can spend more time with the patient, as the solution allows them to input data quickly and more accurately. This type of tech could be implemented into businesses of any size. For SMEs adopting such solutions, they could reap a number of benefits, including reduced costs, more streamlined processes, fewer errors when collecting data, and greater efficiency and communication between staff members.

So, how do small businesses get on board with digital transformation?

The key rule to remember is that tech will only deliver real benefits if it is used correctly and suits the business’ needs. There’s no point bringing in new technology just for the sake of it. Similarly, employees shouldn’t be left to just go away and figure out how to use that new device they’ve just been presented with. It doesn’t matter if the device is the best piece of tech available – if the person isn’t using it correctly, the business will likely end up with increased costs and more mistakes.

Therefore, a clear strategy needs to be put in place before any digital transformation takes place. What are the company’s objectives and how will technology help to achieve them? How do the employees feel about working with these new devices and systems? Providing thorough training that supports all levels of tech capability and knowledge will ensure that systems are used properly to yield the maximum results and make the investment worthwhile.

It’s also important to think about scalability. Over the next five years, the business is likely to undergo various changes. Will the tech that’s brought in now be right for the company further down the line? Through careful planning and consideration, new technology can always be added at a later date when needed. There’s always an abundance of new tech entering the market, so businesses should be continuously thinking about the future. The next ‘big breakthrough’ is always around the corner, so to remain at the top of their game, SMEs need to be constantly thinking about their goals and how they can improve their business processes.

Digital transformation holds a lot of value when trying to remain competitive, especially for SMEs trying to compete with the larger players in their sector. Those businesses that put off adopting new technology and digital strategies may struggle to grow as fast as their more technologically advanced competitors. With the digital marketplace place constantly changing, there’s no time like the present when it comes to getting on board and reaping the rewards.

Matt Hunt is CEO of Apadmi Enterprise

Further reading on digital transformation

Nominations are now open for the British Small Business Awards 2017, the leading event celebrating the brightest stars in the SME sector. Click here to enter. Good luck! 

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