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Organisational design | May 23

How SMEs can digitise and plan for future growth

Organisational design | May 23

John Palfreyman, lecturer and programme manager on the Help to Grow: Management Course at Leeds University Business School, looks at how SMEs can survive and thrive in a digital economy.

John Palfreyman

John Palfreyman Lecturer, Leeds University Business School

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In a small to medium enterprise (SME), operating efficiently is the key to running a successful company. However, taking advantage of the vast array of digital technologies available to achieve this can sometimes be overwhelming. Digital transformation is the smart use of digital technologies to drive sustainable competitive advantage.

The power of digital transformation for SMEs is in leveraging technologies to make established ways of working simpler and more efficient, thereby boosting productivity, and significantly saving time and costs to increase competitivity. Technology can also open new channels to market, resulting in increased business income.

In practice, this could be anything from using smartphones or tablets so employees can work remotely, to optimising your social media presence to achieve impact or access new channels or going paperless by adopting digital workflow solutions.

As an SME, digitally transforming your organisation on a limited budget can seem daunting. However, leveraging digital technologies not only enables you to be agile, flexible, and ready to grow, but can also widen your market share.

In parallel, care will be needed to shore up your defences against cyber-attack, but the good news is there is masses of great information readily available to help you do this (National Cyber Security Centre – NCSC.GOV.UK).

Digital transformation is changing the way business gets done. Now we’re firmly entrenched in digital ways of working, here are my top tips for SME leaders embarking on a digital journey: 

  1. Execute strategic intent: digital transformation should always deliver real business benefit. When used well, it can help SMEs maintain a competitive advantage and make a significant contribution to profit generation and turn strategy into action.
  2. Experiment with different digital ideas: try out several options before adopting a specific solution to a business problem. Use trial packages to test out different technologies, and collect real usage data to figure out the best one for you to invest in. 
  3. Understand the possibilities: explore what your technology is capable of, and how you can adapt it to your business and processes to make the most of your investments. Understand how others in your industry are using tech, copy (when relevant) and improve! 
  4. Be bold: approach digital transformation from a business perspective and don’t be put off by technical jargon. Accessible resources are available to explain digital transformation and the options available. Interrogate potential providers to fully understand the potential and limitations of their solutions. Then ask to speak to their customers in organisations that are comparable to your own.
  5. Talk to people in a similar situation: seize opportunities to learn from what your peers are doing. You will know from the Help to Grow: Management Course that even if you are working in different industries, you can learn from each other.  
  6. Empower employees to drive digital solutions: engage your employees by involving them in the decision-making process, empower them to make decisions based on data and feedback from customers, and train them in using new technologies. Digital transformation is not easy for SMEs. However, if done right, it has the power to propel your SME into a sphere that is far above the competition. 

About The Author

John Palfreyman

John Palfreyman Lecturer, Leeds University Business School

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Two leaders or senior managers from a business with 10 to 249 employees can now attend the 12 modules of learning and get the benefits of one-to-one mentorship.