In today’s dynamic business environment there is no doubt that the demand for SMEs to adopt digital technologies is ever-increasing. Pressure from competitors, suppliers, and indeed customers exist, all demanding changes in how SMEs deliver their goods and services. So where does such a journey begin for companies in Ireland and Northern Ireland and is it worth it?
Before new technologies are adopted they require digital information. Therefore, the first step is to move away from traditional paper-based record keeping to a digital form – this is known as the digitisation of the business. This may be through the use of spreadsheets, databases, or word documents, to wider tools like information systems such as Enterprise Resource Planners (ERPs) or Customer Relationship Management software (CRM). The aim here is to create a digital repository of information which the SME can utilise to better improve the running of the business.
Once created, this digital information can be utilised with appropriate technologies to improve the operations and/or business processes of the company. This stage is known as the digitalisation of the business. One caveat to remember at this stage - no SME should adopt new technology unless there is a strategic need/benefit to be achieved from it. One of the biggest traps with digital technologies is companies adopting them because they see others using them – the technology has to be right for the individual company circumstances and bring value to the company.
What technologies could be considered?
Technologies may include the use of data analytics to gather insight from data, on which business decisions can be based, the use of augmented or virtual reality to improve training or customer experiences, artificial intelligence tools such as chatbots on websites to field customer queries, perhaps even the use of sensors on machines to gather performance information. All these technologies have one thing in common; they need digital data….and lots of it.
SMEs thinking about digitising their business also need to think about where to store all this new digital data. Consideration of cloud storage is required – the level of storage needed, who the provider will be, and the type of cloud required (public or private).
What are the benefits?
Outlined below are some benefits an SME can experience if they were to adopt digital technologies;
- Better decision making - as data is gathered centrally and on a more real-time basis it can be analysed quicker, thus decisions are based on more accurate information leading to more effective decision making.
- Process improvements – business processes may be changed and improved upon as technology aids in more efficient ways of doing things e.g. automating a previously manual process.
- Ability to predict future states – Predictions of future events/conditions may be made through analysing past information, this can help build company forecasts, determine supply/demand levels, etc.
- Improved employee satisfaction – through the use of technology, employees are relinquished from routine tasks that can now be automated e.g. invoice creation, coding of transactions, and employees can engage in more value-added tasks within the company.
- Fraud or error detection – with information held digitally and various software utilised to analyse this data, fraudulent or erroneous transactions or information can be detected more quickly.
While this list is not exhaustive it does highlight the potential advantages of going digital. In saying that however, companies must also be mindful of issues of data security, privacy, and indeed the cost of embarking on this journey. You can seek help and support along the way from InterTradeIreland – you are not alone on this journey.
InterTradeIreland’s Innovation Boost programme can help your business build collaborative cross-border partnerships, supporting your business to move forward utilising new technologies.
A key benefit of Innovation Boost is the optional Postgraduate Diploma in Innovation Management which has been created in collaboration with Queen’s University Management School. This unique programme has been designed to provide access to learning for businesses wishing to adopt digital technologies and other innovation tools. Click here, for more details on how you can get involved.