There’s an assumption that big companies with deep resources can invest in superior systems and accelerate their digital transformation at a much faster pace than smaller companies. But in reality, SMEs have many advantages.
In fact there has perhaps never been a better time for SMEs to rapidly progress their digital transformation journey. With competition coming from new and unlikely sources, SMEs need real-time data to critically evaluate performance, anticipate trends and plan for the future. Competitive advantage comes from being able to rapidly interrogate the right data to get the right information.
In this article Becky explores how SMEs can make progress on their digital transformation journey if they invest in the right software and, at the same time, harness the principles of change management.
The software piece
New ways of buying technology have leveled the playing field for SMEs.
Cloud-based technologies are no longer reserved for big-budget companies as the Software as a Service (SAAS) revolution has meant SMEs can use all the key platforms used by bigger corporations for a fraction of the cost.
When you are buying SAAS on a per user basis it is also far easier to work out the true costs of growing your team. It is easy to work out the incremental increase in costs as a result of that hire and therefore the impact on profitability.
SMEs also have the advantage of fewer legacy systems that need to be considered during the process, making a buying decision much more straightforward.
Let’s take the example of Office 365; one licence gives access to a whole host of systems including those for collaboration, workflow, productivity, CRM and HR, which all talk to each other. It’s now much easier to make software choices out of the box when such a comprehensive list of applications is all fully integrated.
It’s easy to see with joined up systems how processes can start to be automated. For example, rather than someone phoning in sick to their manager, and the manager having to remember to log it with HR to ensure the absence form was filled out, then manually notify payroll and keep track of persistent absence to notice a problem, technology can be used to link the various teams that need to be notified and automatic flags can be built in when certain thresholds are breached.
Different data sources can be connected to enhance management information, such as the CRM software with the financial information. Rather than the two systems operating independently, the CRM system – which previously just tracked client interactions – can now overlay the client spend and preferences, meaning financial planning and client investment is much more straightforward.
Before making a decision on which software to buy, directors should lean on their advisers to find out which systems are fit for purpose and what else is out there that might be useful.
The fundamentals of change management for SMEs
However, even with the best software, without an effective change management programme many companies will struggle to establish their digital strategies successfully. Change management is vitally important when SMEs take steps to transform digitally, as a properly run programme ensures companies are getting the most out of their investment and helps ensure it is sustainably embedded for the long term.
1. Awareness – of the need to change
When preparing to embark on a change management programme, SMEs should first answer the question: ‘why’? There is usually something that acts as a trigger, such as an efficiency drive, or when something has gone wrong and a control needs to be put in place, or a new legal requirement has arisen.
Change management is often easier for small businesses because employees of smaller businesses often have to wear multiple hats, provide cover for other members of the team when necessary and generally just ‘muck in’. This flexibility is important when it comes to change. It is those employees who have a more detailed understanding of the whole operation and therefore a greater understanding of the need for change.
2. Desire – to participate and support the change
Once the business has identified the need to change, stakeholders need to be engaged at all levels. It’s a really good idea to use the process to gain a deep understanding of the existing system from a broad cross section of users, along with their frustrations and a picture of what they want from a new system, before any new products are purchased.
3. Knowledge – on how to change
Transformation doesn’t only happen in big companies. SMEs can lean on their advisers if they want to supplement their knowledge. It’s also a great idea to put a system in place to ensure the knowledge from new joiners is harnessed as a way of gathering intel on how competitors do things.
4. Ability – to implement required skills and behaviours
It’s important to ensure that enough time is given to configure a new system and that training doesn’t happen just once, but that there is an ongoing programme of training. It’s worth identifying superusers who can champion change and help train others, and also to look at how much of an ongoing partner the software provider will be.
5. Reinforcement – to sustain the change
The reinforcement needed to sustain the change is easier to communicate among a smaller team. Going back to the beginning of the process and answering the “why did we need to do this?” question, will help reinforce the process and build a culture of change, where future change is readily accepted and embraced.
SAAS is a game changer for SMEs as leading software used to be too costly. Now, with access to brand-leading software, which can be integrated and joined together, business owners can get ahead with digital transformation right now. Access to real time data is a powerful accelerator to help companies be alive to the opportunities presented as the economy recovers.
Coupling this investment in software with a change management programme will result in a bigger a return on investment from the software. With more users using the full functionality, together with a more customised system on install, you will have engaged more people throughout the process and understood what they need more effectively.
Get in touch with Becky to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, to help you accelerate your digital transformation.