A global pandemic and the ensuing lockdown implemented in South Africa disrupted businesses across most sectors, putting small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, under immense pressure. If 2020 has taught us one thing it is the extent to which we have come to rely on the Internet. An increasingly connected world has resulted in higher customer expectations than ever before which is shifting the business rules of engagement.
Those organisations that had adopted digital technologies prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and were able to carry on operating reaped the rewards as countries around the world went into lockdown and businesses were forced to close their physical doors. Many businesses that were reliant on physical interfaces prior to the pandemic have had to quickly adopt Cloud and digital technologies in order to ensure their survival in this new environment.
Even prior to the pandemic many organisations had embarked on a digital transformation strategy. According to a 2018 Tech Pro Research survey, as many as 70% of companies either had a digital transformation strategy in place or were working on one. Covid-19 has accelerated this trend at a rapid pace.
Given the realities of the ‘new normal’, for many small and medium-sized businesses digital enablement is no longer an option but is key to their survival, at the same time allowing them to do business more efficiently and effectively, and ensuring that reduced budgets stretch further.
Essentially, digital transformation is about adopting technology to transform services or businesses and replacing manual processes with digital processes. It allows employees to work from any location, become more productive and allows businesses to service customers beyond their immediate geographic footprint. An added benefit of digital transformation is the ability to provide the business with valuable data which can inform product offerings and even improve customer service levels.
So, you have recognised the need for your small business to implement a digital transformation strategy, but how do you get started?
The first step is to have a clear roadmap in place in terms of what you want to achieve. If you don’t have the required digital skills in place, consider hiring a consultant who can assist you for the short term. Focus on the most important areas to integrate digital technologies – those areas which will potentially drive the greatest value.
There is a common perception that a digital transformation process is expensive which puts businesses with limited available budgets of the idea. However, for small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, digital transformation does not necessarily have to be an expensive exercise. It could be as simple as converting to electronic invoicing, electronic document signing or transforming the finance system.
A good idea is to evaluate where efficiencies can be found and then to look for affordable solutions. There are a number of commoditised solutions available, particularly for back-office management and human resources, and even these quick and easy wins can account for business growth and better efficiencies.
While establishing your digital transformation roadmap, don’t try to be all things to all people. Instead, understand the problem you are trying to solve for and who your market is. Once you have started to implement digital technologies, get feedback from employees, customers and suppliers on what is working and what is not and be prepared to refine and adapt accordingly.
The key to any digital transformation is to ensure buy-in from all stakeholders – shareholders, management, staff and customers. No hurdle is insurmountable: start small if that is what is required and allow the digital transformation to build momentum at a pace that the organisation is comfortable with. The reality is that businesses that are not digitally enabled could soon become relics of the past.
SimpliConnect will be launching an SME digital enablement platform in the first half of 2021 with key strategic partnerships and alliances with government and the private sector. The platform will work with SME’s across South Africa, providing inspiration and advice for start-ups, enablement, scale-ups and everything in between. This unique platform will assist SME with upskilling, mentorship and enablement.
- Farhad Suleman is CEO of Simpli Connect