Each month, we talk to industry experts about different areas of running a small business, gaining knowledge and experience which could alter the way you manage and organise day-to-day business dealings. We aim to provide practical guidance that you can use to improve and develop your strategy, no matter how small your business.
In this month’s edition of Business Basics, we talk to digital transformation specialist, Andrew Grill, about the key role digital technologies play in helping small businesses to grow, and how investing in the right tech can protect you from the growing threat of cybercrime.
Andrew is a Global Managing Partner at IBM and a frequent TEDx and keynote event speaker, specialising in digital strategy and transformation. We chat to him about how SMEs can ‘future-proof’ by investing in digital tech, and the benefits of embracing digital disruption as part of their strategy.
Read our full Business Basics interview with Andrew below.
The rate at which new digital technologies emerge is profound, making frequent change inevitable. How can small businesses stay ahead of the curve, and what should their first steps be in future-proofing their business?
I’m a firm believer that in order to ‘get digital’ you need to ‘be digital’. This means you need to experiment with the latest digital tools and networks to evaluate them and see which ones are right for your business. See also what your competitors are doing online – is it working? What is your impression with your ‘customer’ hat on? Setting aside a small budget to test these new digital techniques and tools will force you into the habit of experimenting – knowing the budget is there and not consumed by whatever else is pressing.
Many small businesses may be reluctant to engage in the idea of future-proofing, perhaps through fear of the investment required. What would you say to encourage those who are sceptical about the importance of investing in digital technologies?
The investment need not be a burden. If we look back to when mobile phones first came out, many people would have said: “I just can’t justify the expense…”. Now, pretty much every business person carries one (if not two) with them every day, because they know the benefit that being contactable and available brings. Think also of when the first business websites were developed. Twenty years ago they may have seemed a luxury for a small business, now they are a necessity. Think back to the time you paid for that first phone, and launched your first website. Take the leap of faith and invest in a digital future before it becomes essential that you do.
Cyberattacks are a growing concern for businesses across all sectors. What steps can start-ups and small businesses take to ensure their data and information is protected from digital criminals?
Businesses shouldn’t be complacent about their online security, because hackers are always creating new ways to disrupt digital technologies. Assume you will be hacked and come from a position of strength, developing a security platform that can cope with current and emerging threats. With so many employees requiring access to company files via their personal devices, expect that a security breach will come from within your firm — often not intentionally.
Clicking on an email asking for your Gmail credentials from a hacker might be the weakest link into your entire company system because someone has emailed themselves a list of passwords, ready for a hacker to pounce. This is how Hillary Clinton’s run to the White House came unstuck — human error from within the organisation. Ensure that you enable two-factor authentication on all your online accounts where possible, and always enforce the use of a reputable Virtual Private Network (VPN) service when on public or non-company networks. Think of these items as your ‘digital insurance policy’, and budget for them as you would for business insurance.
As the digital migration reaches its peak, it’s becoming more and more difficult for businesses to stand out and get noticed. Which tools and platforms would you recommend SMEs use to stand out in the digital world?
In today’s world, there is now so much content that it is rapidly becoming noise when viewed by existing or prospective customers. Don’t think you have to be on every social network, and consider distributing the writing and posting of content across your entire team. Companies of any size can attract key influencers to your brand, sometimes at low or no-cost. You also have an army of influencers already on the payroll – they are called employees! Utilising your own loyal and engaged staff and their existing networks could provide you with a way to rise above the noise, and really stand out with thoughtful and helpful content worth sharing.
Small businesses need technology which can be scaled up and scaled back to facilitate future growth. What steps can SMEs take to ensure their systems are able to adapt to evolving trends?
The advent of cloud computing means that companies can now increase capacity for things such as websites, e-commerce, telephone or video sharing on an ‘as-needs’ basis without having to over-invest to cope with increased demand that hasn’t been forecast. Almost any web application or service can be adapted to be ‘cloud-ready’, and companies should investigate which of their current systems could benefit from the opportunity to scale up rapidly when an influencer or celebrity mentions your brand online. Even existing telephone services can be run cost effectively using IP telephony, similar to Skype calls, delivering better call quality, and more flexibility for staff and customers. The savvy small business owner is already trialling these services before they’re needed.
Assuming that future-proofing technologies can enable growth and protect company data, what other benefits can businesses expect from investing in digital tech?
Flipping the question around, can you afford not to invest in digital technologies? If I had written here 25 years ago that we all needed to carry around a piece of plastic from dawn to dusk, you would have all thought I was quite mad and out of touch. The same goes for a website 20 years ago. In the late 90s, I had clients saying to me “do we really need to be on the web?”. We all know how the story ends. Again, see what your competitors are doing, and if they are already using a range of digital technologies – this means you should be also. Look forward to industries outside your own and see what they are doing.
The discussion is no longer about the technology (or lack of it), it is about how we can deliver our customers and employees a better user experience. Think of an app or service you use all the time. Why have you stuck with that one? Once you’ve had that great digital experience you can’t go back, and neither will your customers. Get ahead with digital and stay ahead.
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What is meant by the term ‘digital disruption’, and why should businesses be aware of it when looking at their existing business model?
While digital disruption can appear a negative term, it really is the catalyst for firms of any size to begin the journey of digital transformation or digital reinvention. When we look at how companies such as Airbnb have started to disrupt the short-term rental market in cities like London, we should see this as a wake-up call.
Companies that are able to innovate faster, and deliver better services to customers via digital channels will start to disrupt whole industries. Look at what Netflix has done now that broadband services can deliver high-definition television. They have now turned to content production, and are even winning awards in the process – something unheard of when they were a simple DVD mail-order rental firm. Companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Netflix have had to disrupt themselves to move forward and grow customer revenues and build loyalty.
Isn’t it time you disrupt your own business before someone else does?
If you’ve enjoyed reading this interview, be sure to check out the rest of the Q&As in our Business Basics series. You can do so by following the links below:
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