Guest article: How SMEs can benefit from digitisation

Business, Guest Blog | Tue 19 Mar | Author – Business & Finance

Ireland has a booming digital economy, but research indicates that most organisations are actually not as digitally savvy as they think.

The growth in Ireland’s digital economy over the past few years is impressive. Tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook have established their EMEA HQs in Dublin and Cork – and innovative software start-ups are growing in number. In fact, a thousand tech companies launched in Dublin last year alone. All of which contributed to pushing Ireland up the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index to sixth position.

It’s a promising picture of a country embracing digital transformation. However, research from Microsoft indicates a concerning lag in digital readiness among businesses. The report reveals that 80% of organisations here are not as digitally savvy as they think they are – and 48% are worried about falling behind new technological developments and competitors gaining an advantage. This worry is also echoed by PwC’s Irish Family Business Report which shows that 40% of businesses believe that digital disruption puts them at risk.

It’s understandable; the rate of technological development is fast and furious. New software updates and devices are released all the time, making it almost impossible for SMEs to keep up. With each new version, months of preparation and hard work can be rendered irrelevant, sending teams back to the drawing board.

Digital transformation can be daunting – especially for SMEs, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right tools, your business can work smarter which leads to simpler processes and faster results. Here’s how you can keep up with technological progress, and benefit from it.

The digital boost

A digitally transformed business means more than having a user-friendly website and offering next-day delivery. Although, both very important elements, they are standard features and don’t significantly differentiate one SME from the next. To keep up with the evolving digital economy, your business needs to meet customer expectations as they change.

Digitising administrative processes can help your business operate with greater agility and efficiency. Labour-intensive tasks can be automated, freeing up time and resources to allocate to other more creative and strategic work. For SMEs looking to make their mark, digital transformation can provide a much-needed competitive boost.

When put to good use, the right technology can enhance a business’ position in the market as well as liberate them from drudge work. And yet, not enough SMEs are prioritising digitisation. A survey by Ricoh & Coleman Parkes suggests that 61% of companies in Ireland aren’t able to benefit fully from new digital technologies.

Where to begin

When it comes to adopting digital technologies, there are so many questions around where to begin, which tech to choose and what direction to take. Digital transformation is a process, so the trick is to take it one step at a time. Get to know how the cloud works, how information is protected, how data is accessed and what costs are involved.

You, as the business owner, need to lead the strategy. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a solo mission. Involve your whole team – and for all financial questions, speak to an accountant. No matter how positive the transformation, everyone is going to have concerns and questions related to the new technology, information security and costs.

Always keep the end goal in sight. By integrating digital technology into all areas of your business, you can lower the cost of doing business and run a more efficient, effective, profitable and productive company.

Prioritise digitsation

There are many areas of your business to digitise which can make it hard to choose where to focus first. Do you want to improve your customer experience, workplace culture, operational agility, all of them? You need to take one element of your business at a time. Time consuming administrative and financial tasks are a good place to start as manual administration is often prone to errors, especially at the end of a long day.

While the process of digital transformation can seem overwhelming – not adopting new technology will put your business at a serious disadvantage. It’s certainly not an overnight process but perseverance and focus will help you build a strong, digitally savvy company that can stand the test of time – as well as constant change.

Gary Turner is Managing Director and Co-founder of Xero, a cloud based accounting software for small businesses and their advisors.