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Digital Transformation for Small Business: Separating Hype from Reality

 

Digital transformation (or DX) is a cryptic notion plagued by hype and confusion, similar to that which surrounded cloud computing when it first emerged back in 2006. In the early days, talking cloud was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the word created fear, doubt and indecision for IT decision makers. On the other hand, as an umbrella concept, it was open to interpretation and offered massive opportunity to guide businesses towards a range of solutions for greater efficiency.

The Cloud: Just Great Marketing?

At a base level, cloud was simply a byword for business improvement by virtue of multi-tenanted computing at scale with a consumption-based payment plan. There was little to distinguish it from virtualisation and the managed hosting of compute, storage and networking infrastructure. While the cloud has come a long way, at the outset it was simply great marketing. How else does a global weather system become the generic label for cost-effective hosted computing?

The Great Digital Transformation Swindle

The same can be said for digital transformation, which befuddles business and IT leaders alike. One of the key issues is that the meaning of digital transformation is likely to change depending on who’s doing the talking. In fact, there are many definitions of digital transformation. You’ll find just a few of them here, here and here. I won’t be drawn into competing with the sages of digital, except to say that in layman’s terms, digital transformation is about using technology as a platform to transform business, both inside and out.

On the surface, the scope of digital transformation is vast, infinitely complex, fraught with risk and super intimidating for the small business. Unhelpfully, it is often positioned as a win-lose game that could threaten your SME’s survival if you get it wrong.

For small businesses already constrained by time, funding and a lack of skills, digital transformation carries with it foreboding and risk. To succeed, we are told, your organisational culture must live and breathe digital, with your technology strategy, all-encompassing and visionary. For smaller businesses and the less IT savvy, the stakes become very high, so a “wait-and-see-what-others-are-doing” approach can be awfully tempting.

The Truth is Out There

Many of the analysts and experts pushing an all-or-nothing transformation have a vested interest in maintaining the mysticism of DX. You NEED their advice, don’t you……? Actually, you probably don’t.

The practical reality of a digital transformation agenda, or less poetically, business transformation through technology, is that you don’t NEED a clear vision of the destination before you get started. The understanding of how digital technologies can transform your business, can, quite happily, evolve over time. The key is to get moving by putting the foundations in place, not get bogged down by the hype.

Much like cloud, there is lots of wriggle room. Devising a comprehensive strategy before you get going can certainly be useful, but isn’t entirely necessary. As with anything in life, it’s hard to see what’s next until you’ve scaled the wall right in front of you. The starting point is to consider where you are today and identify which challenges your technology platform has already solved and simultaneously created for your business.

 

Taking a Cloud-First Approach

This post started by touching on cloud; that’s also a good place to begin your digital transformation journey. At a functional level, digital transformation is about using technology to streamline and automate business operations, create great experiences for staff and customers and ensure flexibility and agility. A cloud-first approach is fundamental and should be considered a key building block of digital transformation.

In-house, privately hosted, legacy infrastructure quite simply lacks the functionality, digital openness, accessibility, connectedness, scalability and agility of cloud. All are vital to the modern workplace and enable you to exploit integrated solutions.

So, start with considering where you are on your journey to the cloud. If you’re at the starting line, or only part-way there, it’s time to catch up. 90% of businesses leveraged the cloud in 2019 with the UK a key adopter, spending £7.6B per annum compared to China’s £8B. According to Cisco, Cloud data centres are expected to process 94% of all workloads in 2021. If that’s not compelling enough, then take the time to seriously consider what limitations your existing technology platform is imposing on your business which could be solved by the cloud.

Enabling Remote Workforce Connectivity

COVID-19 has tested all businesses, small and large alike. Government enforced social distancing required many businesses to rethink how they operate.  Like cloud, remote working sits at the heart of digital transformation, driving both productivity and collaboration. At least 30% of businesses were not at all ready for it. While technologies like Microsoft Teams and Zoom digitally bridge the physical divide, performance is affected by how accessible your tools are to remote workers, and how well connected they are.

With cloud at the very heart of digital, fast, reliable business grade internet services are essential. Not only for internal communication and collaboration but to ensure customers, partners, suppliers and other stakeholders are well serviced in a post-pandemic era. Although a number of vaccines are on the horizon, the rapid workforce decentralisation of the past nine months isn’t disappearing anytime soon. Remote working is the new norm.

More than likely, your team’s current connectivity is better suited to Netflix and Amazon Prime rather than corporate video conferencing. Upstream performance and consistency are vital when it comes to two-way video. First impressions count and perception of your digital technology translates to a view of the way you work in general, no matter what you do. In embracing digital transformation, it’s essential to realise that the digital boundaries of your business network have changed, and the entertainment and travel costs you’re saving are possibly better reinvested into business infrastructure that professionalises your team, wherever they are.

Cloud Security in the Remote Age

As your small business digitally transforms and embraces the cloud and workers continue to carry out their duties remotely, the risk of cyber attack increases. It’s fine to leverage digital to accelerate growth and compete better, but there’s little point if you leave the windows open and the doors unlocked in the process, exposing your business to digital fraud and financial loss.

Having taken the first steps to exploit the possibilities of cloud and empowered your people to work from anywhere at any time, it’s vital to consider your IT security.

In the digital era, small businesses can no longer survive by security through obscurity. 71% of businesses believe the risk of cyber breach has increased. Hackers have zoned in on the soft target that financially constrained and security vulnerable small businesses have become. Being hosted by a reputable cloud vendor, be it Microsoft, Amazon or Google, doesn’t automatically mean your business is secure. In fact, our experience is that 50% of businesses are not using the security measures already available to them and have declined to upgrade to a more secure environment for just £1 or £2 more per user, per month. As you begin your digital transformation journey, ensure a good part of your time and budget is dedicated to securing your new digital boundaries.

Does Culture Eat Digital Transformation Strategy for Breakfast

As the legendary Peter Drucker has said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. That’s not to say that digital transformation strategy is unimportant, but that culture is a stronger route to organisational success. This is the essence of what digital transformation illuminati mean when they proclaim the importance of a digital culture.

But, what happens if a digital culture is light years away from where you are today? Changing your culture is a journey and as with many other things in life, nothing beats experience. So, take heart, this is one of those chicken before the egg situations, where you can’t create a digital culture until you’ve already embraced digital technologies that support that. Your people will change if you enable them to.

What’s Next

Imagine your infrastructure is in the cloud. Your people are connected and your boundaries are secure. What comes next on the digital transformation journey? The answer to that question depends on your industry.

Moreover, it’s likely that you’re an expert in your own business. Having embraced cloud solutions for a modern workplace, remote working and security, the question of what’s next will likely be self-evident when you get there.

If not, the very transition to leveraging digital solutions will empower the people around you to become the visionaries you’re looking for. The key is to keep listening and not stop until you’re done. That is the essence of a digital transformation culture.

Fuse are experts in leveraging technology to transform and enable small business. If you’re ready to begin your own digital transformation, get in touch today.

Author: Gavin Camilleri 23 November 2020