Why digital transformation is the great accelerator for SMEs

The key insight from the report is that there is no “right path” for digital transformation – the best businesses had a wider strategy in place, but the focus was on strategic shape-shifts; small iterations of change rather than a major, company-wide overhaul.

For SMEs, the internet has been the great leveller; indiscriminate in its impact, and bringing forth a wave of possibility for all companies. It means even the smallest of businesses can compete on a world stage, developing offerings that push the boundaries and bringing forward new innovation. While opportunity abounds, the shift has brought a raft of challenges as businesses find themselves with a wider, global competitive landscape. This change has also shifted expectations, with a need to build an experience that not only is online, but lives and breathes digital. It’s a sweeping, unparalleled challenge and for this reason many SMEs tend to view this digital transformation as reserved only for big businesses, with deep pockets to match.

But think again. Customers are getting used to this new digital world order and it makes it a business imperative that all companies look to embrace digital across the four pillars of their business: staff, consumers, operations and products. It’s important that SMEs don’t put off the journey until tomorrow; digital transformation needs to start now.

A new Microsoft report, Embracing Digital Transformation: Experiences from Australian Organisations, looks to leading Australian business across the private and public sectors for insights and learning on approaching digital transformation. It found that even on the big end of town, leading businesses only began their digital transformation journey in the past two years – and most believe their ambitions for digital will roll-out over the next five years, as technology including artificial intelligence and virtual reality come to the fore. This means it is imperative SMEs start now, as doing so will give them a good chance to become a leader in the space.

It can be a daunting transition, but the key insight from the report is that there is no “right path” for digital transformation – the best businesses had a wider strategy in place, but the focus was on strategic shape-shifts; small iterations of change rather than a major, company-wide overhaul.

The benefit of this approach is it allows a business to be agile but to also adjust; to ensure further staff buy-in, upskilling and to gain support through the process. This helps build a corporate mindset that fosters change and allows innovation to breed. The research found the “people factor” was the most pervasive thread through responses in helping companies embrace entrepreneurship.

This strategy also allows businesses to start the process and then tailor their approach to accommodate specific budget requirements and ongoing company tolerance for disruption. There is no “perfect” transformation plan and businesses can get bogged down in the detail, even though getting started is often the conduit to change that a business needs.

The most exciting thing is that most innovative technologies, from The Internet of Things to artificial intelligence is, or will be, available to even the smallest of businesses. But getting the most out of these technologies means having a business geared to technology – and it starts with digital transformation at the centre.

Steven Miller, SMB Group Director, Microsoft Australia

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