With the relentless hype of both tech and business media focused on digital transformation, the tendency is to focus on the large, enterprise-level players, with big budgets and sophisticated systems. For many Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs), it can be easy to dismiss digital transformation as too expensive and complex.
If you’ve used your smartphone to pay for time at a parking meter, tapped a credit card for your coffee, collaborated on documents and spreadsheets using your tablet, hailed an Uber or Lyft or booked a plane from your phone, you’ve already experienced how business and life are being transformed using these mobile and cloud technologies. The bad news for some businesses is that things aren’t going back – the cost savings and insights gained through digitization are too great for businesses of any size, and it’s what customers are increasingly expecting.
From setting up mobile payments to digitizing your supply chain and/or implementing the cloud, here’s a quick look at some ways that small to mid-sized businesses can work more flexibly and productively, reduce IT pain and stay nimble and agile.
Digital and Mobile Payments
It’s easier than ever to send and receive payments without physical cash or cheques, courtesy of services like PayPal and Square. This expands well beyond traditional B2C transactions, including everything from Accounts Payable and Receivable. Square, Intuit and others have small credit card readers that plug into your mobile phone or tablet, not only creating a mobile cash register, but also allowing SMBs new insights into purchases. Just be sure to research the costs for using each of the services per-month, and per-transaction.
Moving It to the Cloud
Running your own server hardware, and administering applications, is so twentieth-century.
Look to cloud-based platforms to host your apps — both to help get your IT staff out of managing server and storage hardware, and to free your IT from the Red Queen’s race of continuing to add more hardware and replace aging equipment.
Cloud-based software and services are also a great alternative for buying and administering key business software, like core office productivity (office apps, email, collaboration); and IT administrative tasks (anti-virus/malware and URL/content filtering, Wi-Fi access point management, mobile device management and more). For SMBs, going to the cloud gives you access to enterprise-class software that can be scaled to your needs, and cloud-based services can (if you’ve procured the right ones) accommodate spikes in demand.
Digitizing your Supply Chain
This means turning all those paper-based processes — procurement, order fulfillment and payment — into digital ones. And it means integrating them, so data is only entered once — the more automatically, the better (RFID, bar code scanning, etc.).
Digitizing your supply chain doesn’t just mean instant availability of information (where’s that shipment of parts? where’s that delivery truck?) but also helps digitize your payment process – and doing this in the cloud makes information move even faster, while also improving security and reducing paper consumption.
Mobilizing your Employees
There will always be some tasks that employees will need to do from their desk, using a desktop or notebook computer physically connected to the company network.
But for everything else, help them go mobile. Encourage the use of mobile devices, including BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), but for the sake of your security, productivity and budget, do this right. Make sure they’re connecting to public hotspots safely. Look into remote desktop access for when employees need to connect to files and programs on their office’s desktop computer.
Even if your company seems to be hanging in with the status quo, your suppliers, resellers and customers want to work with you in the 21st century. The lure of the cloud, mobile and other technology-based business practices are real, and your competitors are busily getting on board.
Like any major IT change, proceed carefully:
- Put together a strategy and timetable, starting with smaller, less-critical business functions
- Include fallback and contingency plans
- Keep your employees informed about upcoming changes
- When you get closer to roll out, be sure to let your customers and suppliers know, too
- And of course, work with business experts to identify your business goals and identify what 21st-century solutions make the most sense for your company.