Why being a small business gives you a head-start in digital transformation

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There was once a time when being a small business meant you were at a disadvantage when it came to technology. There were too many systems to buy, too many pieces of essential hardware – and it all cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Now, the situation is nearly the exact opposite.

Not only do small businesses have an advantage when it comes to using technology, bigger businesses may also be at risk of being at a disadvantage – stuck in legacy systems that are too expensive to modernise.

It really is a startup’s world.

The primary shift has been the outsourcing of services to the cloud.

From email and accounting, to more complex CRM, cloud tech is reducing costs for startups and small businesses. There’s no need for costly infrastructure, nor human resources to maintain it.

Likewise, an increasing number of powerful products that provide machine learning and the analysis of large data sets – a critical development emerging across all industries – are becoming low-cost or even free.

This is a huge advantage over big businesses, many of which are struggling with legacy technology.

This is evidenced in a 2015 Deloitte survey that found that CIOs of larger businesses are struggling to prepare for some of the biggest shifts.

“Globally, three out of four CIOs picked analytics and digital as two technologies that will impact their business in the next two years. But many CIOs said that to take full advantage of these technologies, they would need to revamp their existing legacy and core infrastructure. Many are finding it hard to get the funding to do that.”

Meanwhile, smaller businesses are able to adopt newer tech that has analytics capability in-built, giving them access to deeper information across a wide range of businesses processes.

All of this combined with the fact that many cloud services are based on subscription fees and not large up-front costs, SMEs are at a huge advantage to scale quickly – if they use the right services.

Likewise, it is much easier for small businesses to adopt technology that provides a better customer experience, a factor that’s critical these days as the imperative for companies to compete on customer experience grows exponentially. When changes are necessary, SMEs and startups can make decisions speedily – differentiating themselves from their larger brethren.

But this advantage also comes with responsibility. SMEs must be nimble when it comes to adopting new systems, and also dispensing with systems that do not work anymore.

The good news is that businesses are already prepared to do this, as the following infographic drawn from Canon’s research reveals:

sSmall businesses are ready – and they recognise the long-term benefits of transforming IT services quickly. But there are also concerns:

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This means any digital transformation needs to be resource efficient. But it remains essential.

Here are three ways small businesses should be using technology to their advantage when it comes to digital transformation.

1. Have a comprehensive digital strategy

As the Harvard Business Review found in its recent survey, companies that rate highly in both digital leadership, and management, have better results than their peers, “with stronger revenue growth and greater profit margins”.

Digital leadership starts from the top. Not having it costs you.

2. Make decisions, and make them quick

In a McKinsey survey, the consultancy group found that large companies are poor at managing “return on attention”.

“In our experience, many companies are more comfortable analysing and debating than they are acting decisively and intuitively. Their default orientation toward more and better information binds and restricts their ability to move surely and quickly.”

Small businesses are able to counter this by making decisions quickly. Don’t move on a whim – but don’t dawdle. Be quick.

3. Start with the customer

It’s important to think about digital transformation from the customer’s perspective, and not from how things will change on the inside. As the Harvard Business Review has found, in a survey of CIOs, customers are everything.

“Starting with the customer is a fundamental principle for how we operate and engage” with IT services, one respondent – the head of marketing at a credit card company – told the survey.

Customers come first. Always.

Written by: Patrick Stafford

Find out more about how digital transformation is changing the way SMEs work.

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How SMEs are moving ahead of IT departments in the digital race

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Small business has ditched the IT guy.

Not for good, of course. And technology strategy within a business has never been more important. But when it comes to actually managing dedicated tech stacks and systems, SMEs are at a huge advantage. What cost tens of thousands of dollars several years ago can be replicated by cloud-based software very inexpensively, if not for free.

Self-sufficiency is the name of the game in IT these days. Businesses are more able to identify what tools they need for doing business, enabling them to more quickly respond to disruption on behalf of competitors.

Canon Australia Head of Customer Marketing Nitya Padman believes this gives SMEs an advantage, referencing research undertaken on behalf of the company.

“Trends in the study… point to differences between small to medium sized businesses and larger businesses.

“Small to medium sized businesses are heavily reliant on IT to help them stay agile, counter costs and improve productivity. Their needs are immediate and they’re more readily able to transform to create more efficient workflows and improve ways of interacting with customers.

In short, smaller businesses are punching above their weight and moving ahead in the digital race.

“Larger organisations are heavily impacted by legacy systems. This is a major deterrent to progressing at a faster pace along the digital transformation journey.”

Here are some strategies for how to make that digital change happen faster within your own business, and how to use technology to create efficient workflows and become more self-sufficient:

Use digital collaboration tools

Ensure your employees are able to collaborate effectively.

Social tools like Yammer and IM software help, and contrary to what you might think, according to McKinsey, “By using social technologies, companies can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25%”.

That also means digitising everything

Most workers will lose any paper they print out. It’s a waste. Businesses should look at digitising their document management as part of their overall transformation.

Think of it like having a digital filing cabinet, somewhere you can easily locate the right information in a document management system and retrieve it in seconds.

A solution like Canon, for example, does just this. Paper-based workflows requiring processing and approval by multiple staff can be easily transformed into streamlined digital ones. Edits and approvals can be made on the go via a mobile device so you no longer need to pass paper documents around the office.

Better yet, you can get rid of the ugly filing cabinet in the corner.

Adopting real-time analytics

The power of information is growing, and businesses now have access to real-time information like never before. The benefits are clear – Gartner predicts that by 2017, 70% of the most profitable companies will be using real-time analytics and information.

As research from Stanford University shows, there is also reason to believe the use of analytics can lead to greater performance, especially in SMEs, due to “the assumption of more intuition-based decision making within SMEs”.

But there are challenges. Data is not gospel, and as the Stanford research shows, data scientists are scarce.

However, SMEs now have access to powerful solutions with relatively little cost, including cloud services such as Amazon, and machine learning tools such as IBM Watson.

Using this data and applying it to business solutions can help SMEs speed up their workflows.

Additionally, as Stanford points out, businesses should consider creating groups within the business to ensure experimentation is occurring with this information in order to extract value, “instead of limiting it to the isolated skills in the IT department on the business side”.

Written by: Patrick Stafford

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The psychology of business transformation: Critical research reveals what SMEs are really interested in

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It is no easy feat to change a business.

Startups operating in the current business environment have an advantage: drawing from a pool of talented, young, digitally native workers leads to an inherent understanding of technology. For older small businesses, however, or for those that have operated for about a decade, such transformation is difficult to manage.

While many businesses focus on technical aspects of changing their business, such as installing new systems, signing up to cloud software and shifting the function of IT within the business itself, these efforts can fail if not executed correctly.

A successful transformation begins with your staff

According to research conducted by Canon, 78% of businesses said they were interested in improving employee experience when it comes to digital transformation – that’s well above the 55% of businesses which opted to focus on customer experience instead.

Canon Australia Head of Customer Marketing Nitya Padman says the result on employee experience is because businesses realise they need to transform their processes and workflows if they’re going to attract and retain young talent.

“Employees are a critical part of the transformation process – if employees aren’t on board it’s very hard to change processes and practices. The study shows 47% of businesses feel change management is a barrier to digital transformation and successful change hinges on employee experience.”

There are several barriers businesses can face in this regard. For instance, employees who have worked within one system for a significant amount of time may be resistant to change, especially when it comes to new processes that disrupt traditional workflow.

But lack of strategy from leaders is also a problem. According to research from MIT and Capgemini, “lack of urgency” or a “burning platform” was cited as a barrier, and the survey found only 36% of leaders have cited a vision for digital transformation with employees.

The research also reveals that 93% of employees agree digital transformation is the right thing right now for their companies to do, and 73% strongly agreed.

“The big difference between the companies that are just doing technology initiatives and the companies that are leading a technology-based transformation is how they’re putting the leadership frameworks in place,” MIT’s George Westerman was quoted in the research as saying.

Here are some ways your business can prepare for digital transformation – and ensure employees are on board.

Digital transformation starts from the top

As much as employees need to come on board with digital strategy, CEOs have a role to play. According to the 2015 PwC CEO survey, 86% say a clear vision of how digital tech can help achieve competitive advantage is key to success – and 83% say it’s equally critical for a well thought out plan.

According to the MIT survey, only half of organisations create business cases for digital investments.

Transformation comes from the top – and it needs to come with comprehensive business strategy.

Getting the staff on board

Digital transformation is more than just adopting new tools. It’s about ensuring staff at all levels have digital skills and beliefs in how they do work. This means managers have a responsibility to pass on the digital strategy designed by the CEO to the rest of the business.

Roland Berger CEO Charles-Eduard Bouee wrote in the Harvard Business Review that the company’s study on French companies found that while nearly six in 10 French people shopped online in 2013, only one in 10 French companies sold online that same year.

This means there is huge digital opportunity among staff, and skills that are not being tapped into.

When it comes to engaging staff, many are ready to be engaged. They just need to be given the right projects, and the ability to experiment, work together, and find new digital solutions. Enabling workers to adapt digital processes into their natural workflow is a good start.

Link performance to digital transformation

There will always be those who need to be coached along the journey. But businesses can make it easier for themselves.

Getting buy-in means changing the way employees are judged. By attaching KPIs to digital transformation, along with brainstorming sessions and other activities, such as identifying staff to help spearhead new initiatives, transformation can become a cultural effort.

According to PwC, small businesses that have high-levels of digital engagement have better business outcomes compared to those with lower engagement, “with some studies suggesting a 20% increase in annual revenue”.

Businesses need to ensure their digital transformation isn’t just about IT services – but about adoption at all levels of the business.

Written by: Patrick Stafford

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Digital transformation: How to build a workplace that will support your future

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For many businesses, especially SMEs, building digital infrastructure to encourage transformation isn’t just difficult – it comes at a huge cost.

That cost may be monetary, but it also may be measured in lost efficiency and productivity as staff come to terms with the new tools and processes available to them.

This may be why so many businesses have yet to start on that journey. While the majority of businesses say they have started their digital transformation, the recent IDC – Canon Transformation Study 2016 reveals 55% say they only have low to moderate digital transformations-in-document environments – which is one of the first areas where digital change should have some impact.

Businesses need an example of how they can go about introducing transformative technologies in the right way.

Health Metrics is such a business. Run by Steven Strange and based in Victoria, the company creates software designed for the health industry so that care workers can get a much more accurate and up-to-date view of their patients’ critical data.

For Strange, digital transformation isn’t just an added bonus, it’s a critical part of doing business.

“There is nothing in my business that isn’t accessible,” says Strange. “It’s in Dropbox, or Google Drive, we use Smartsheets and other types of tools.

“We’re able to collaborate with people who don’t have a license for those tools. We use Office 365, and we used cloud-based load balancing.”

These tools are low cost and simple enough to use, but many businesses overlook them as part of a digital transformation, assuming them to be too simple or rudimentary. But as Strange explains, they are the bedrock of how his team does business.

“There’s nothing we can’t do in this area, and it’s a big paradigm shift from even 10 years ago,” he says.

“We’re becoming global on the smell of an oily rag, and all this technology is an enabler of that strategy.”

Document management is a huge part of Health Metrics’ transformation, says Strange, with the company spending much of its time on products such as Wizard Charts or Aha, enabling constant communication and collaboration.

“There used to be massive costs associated with this technology, you’d need heaps of growth capital. This technology is an enabler.”

Strange makes a key point – this technology was baked into the business from the beginning.

“That was eight years ago, and it was in my business plan that we would make a cloud commitment. It was just part of our DNA.”

While such a plan may be difficult for existing businesses, the principle remains the same: cloud tech and other forms of technology need to be baked into the model, not shoe-horned in.

That also means managing risk.

As Strange explains, relying on cloud services and other forms of flexible tech means having the same risk management and governance as you would if that system was a $10,000 IT stack and custom server in your own premises.

“Responsibilities like keeping goals and structures, systems and processes, and so on – they need to be done nevertheless,” he says. “But there isn’t anything in our business that can’t be found.”

“But that doesn’t negate your responsibility to have legitimate folder structures that are reflective of the business – and it won’t help if no one can find anything.”

Strange’s point is clear – businesses are only as good as their processes, even when the technology is cheap and outsourced. Any business looking to transform their digital footprint needs to keep this in mind.

Strange also suggests businesses adopting these techniques take effort and double-down on their agility. After all, once IT is sourced outside the business, all manners of risk are now introduced.

“I have exit strategies about my tech, because I know that if Dropbox didn’t exist tomorrow, I need to have an exit plan.

“What if legislative frameworks changed, and you couldn’t use your systems? You need a strategy around that.”

While that may be unlikely, considering risk strategies is simply good business. With Strange saying he’s able to run much of his business from a low-cost smartphone, having redundancies in plan is only smart.

So how can other small businesses follow his example?

Businesses should beware of IT departments that are attempting to hold on to legacy systems.

“You might see IT advisers saying to executives that data isn’t safe, and the cloud isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, and they need to retain the status quo. But it’s just an old-school way of thinking,” he says.

Finally, he says, businesses need to plug into this tech if for no other reason than to make fast decisions. Those businesses that are set up to succeed will be able to make decisions more quickly than their competition.

“The decision making in our business is lightning quick, and in no small way attributable to what we’re doing with technology,” he says.

Written by: Patrick Stafford

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