Where do you see your business in ten years?
No, this isn’t a cheesy interview question. It is an invitation to think seriously about how you’re getting your business ready for the future. From AI tools to IoT testing software, there’s a vast range of digital tech out there just waiting to help you transform your business.
In this article, we’ll look at digital transformation and why you must start ramping up your implementation efforts now.
Simply put, digital transformation is all about moving towards using digital tools and processes in place of traditional manual ones. It could be anything from upgrading inventory tracking to implementing functional testing software.
For it to work effectively, you have to think about it holistically. We’re not just talking about adding in a few digital bits and pieces here and there and hoping for the best. True digital transformation involves a complete revolutionising of your business practices and culture.
Anyone starting a business knows they have to be customer-focused to succeed. Although taking your business through the digital transformation process might seem daunting, it helps to remember that it’s all about improving your customers’ experience. And in the modern working environment, it’s critical for small businesses to embark on their digital journey.
The big potatoes of the business world have been focusing on moving to cutting-edge digital practices for years. But for most of that time, it’s still been possible for smaller operators to stick to tried and tested methods. Family businesses run for generations using the same pencil and paper stocktaking processes were bumping along nicely.
Then, in 2020, there was the covid pandemic. Suddenly, building an online presence became not a luxury but a means of survival. This sudden shift was a shock to the system. Even now, the significant part of the crisis has faded, but the aftershocks are still being felt.
Take restaurants as an example. With their business model destroyed by lockdowns, many went out of business. On the other hand, restaurants that pivoted to delivering takeaway food or ingredients for home cooking found it profitable and decided to continue doing it. This, in turn, posed a challenge to the online companies which had already made that the focal point of their business model. There was a shifting of the sands, in other words.
The small businesses that have survived have been the ones that made the leap. And now consumers are used to a higher degree of service from smaller businesses, they won’t accept anything less. It means that every business needs to focus on how they can further automate and digitise their processes. If you aren’t doing it, you can be sure that your competitors are.
It’s not just about making online ordering available, though. Let’s look at the different types of change we mean when dealing with digital transformation.
We can divide the elements of digital transformation into several distinct categories, depending on how and where it impacts your business.
This is the kind of change mentioned before, where the restaurants started offering meal kits for delivery. During the pandemic, much of this pivoting was food-based for obvious reasons. A café near where I live which sold some deli foods as a sideline, flipped its business model 180 degrees. Out went the tables and chairs and in came several large new fridge units as it went deli-first.
Outside of the pandemic context, this kind of shift in thinking can be valuable. And considering the possibilities through a digital filter is the way to go in many cases. Who remembers now that Netflix began life as a mail-in DVD rental service in the late 1990s? It’s startling that it only began offering streaming services in 2007.
The point is that several tools available today, many with helpful software system integration, can help small businesses take the next step towards evolving into something even better. Keep your mind open to all options and seek out opportunities to pivot.
It is probably the first thing most people think of when they hear “digital transformation.” It’s upgrading your business operations using modern tools and software. Everything from using the latest AI tools to streamline your processes to implementing an exploratory testing checklist for your testing procedures can fall under this banner.
Maybe you’ve long considered moving to a cloud-based IT system but haven’t got around to it. Or perhaps you’ve resisted creating active social media accounts for your small business because you already have a regular clientele and a basic local marketing strategy in place. If you don’t start making simple changes now, you may leave it too late. The world moves fast, and no one can afford to be left behind.
The reality is that no digital transformation strategy can be accomplished without a concomitant change in work culture. The ideal work culture for today’s environment is forward-facing, open to change, and positive about the future.
Senior management leading by example is the best possible start. Change should flow from the top, and an open-minded approach to training and development is key to innovation.
If all this seems like a massive undertaking, don’t worry. Here are a few tips for how to get things moving.
Use a roadmap
It all begins with a plan. Your roadmap should include a stocktake of where you are at the moment and a clear idea of where you want to be in several years. Include timescales and a list of what you hope to achieve by each checkpoint. You can revisit this and adjust it as circumstances change. It pays to be flexible.
You don’t need to do everything at once. Take a few short steps to begin with and work from there. For instance, you could start by sending out SMS surveys to get a sense of customer satisfaction. Even something as simple as this could lead to insights that give you new ideas.
When you’re embarking on a crucial long-term project like this, it’s great to hire talented people who know what they’re doing. If you have the resources available, you could even take on a specialist digital officer who can help take your business through the entire process. But you don’t need to go that far – plenty of highly skilled freelancers will be happy to advise you.
Find digital tools that fit
One advantage of hiring experts is that they will be able to introduce you to digital tools that you may never even have heard of. For example, there will come a time when you’ll need to start thinking about potential cybersecurity blind spots. You’ll need someone who knows this field well to make sure you are prepared not only with the correct software, but also the right kind of business protocols to make the most of it.
This applies to any digital tool you’re thinking about using. If you’re thinking of migrating to the cloud or changing your data management architecture, you’ll need the right tools in place from the start to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Follow digital trends in your sector
Keep up to date. That doesn’t mean you must copy everything the competition does, but keep your eyes open. Digital transformation is not a fixed process; it’s constantly in flux. Staying on top of tech trends in your industry is key to moving forwards.
Create a central information hub
You can save time and effort by making as much information as possible available automatically. This applies to making detailed FAQ sections and self-service areas available for your customers and ensuring your staff has access to everything they need to know.
Consider AI and machine learning tools
While there will always be a place for the kind of manual testing types used in app development, for example – the human touch, as it were – don’t overlook the power of automation. Advances in AI and machine learning tech offer many exciting possibilities for businesses of all sizes and all kinds, so they’re worth exploring.
It’s no surprise that many smaller companies have so far put digital transformation on the back burner. After all, it’s been possible to coast along for a while without doing anything more than throwing together a website and posting to a Facebook account occasionally.
But what if the website’s a little lacklustre and slow? It’s well known that slow websites reduce conversions. And what if you last posted to the business Facebook account six weeks ago? If this is the current situation, it’s probably time to rethink.
Whatever line of business you’re in, the pandemic probably gave you a jolt. As you move forwards, it should be possible to take the best lessons from how you adapted then and use them to inform future strategy.
And remember: with a serious commitment to digital transformation, you’ll be ready for anything the future can throw at you.