What is Digital Transformation and How to Get Started for Small Business

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

Most organizations are just starting to understand the importance of holistic digital transformation, much less have adopted fully automated infrastructure and applications that perform with scalability. You’re not as behind as you might think with digital transformation. It is a learning endeavor – that is always changing – and stumps even the most experienced of CIOs and organizational heads. In fact, as a small business you have the advantage.


Small businesses are outperforming the global big boys in change performance and remain Agile in business structure. Large competitors struggle with adapting to change as rapidly as organizations with nimble, multi-talented teams – an obvious problem for digital transformation.




Just four years ago, McKinsey & Company reported that more than 70% of digital transformation and change programs failed. Fast forward to 2019, investments in digital reinvention still failed to materialize anticipated gains.


The last decade has proven to be a digital transformation frenzy ripe with attempts to get on the right side of strategic transformation and leaving behind several lessons learned that you can use to your advantage. Global giants experienced it the most.


Digital Transformation Fails in the Last 10 Years


General Electric (GE)


2011 – GE built an IoT platform to transform its business model toward industrial products. A few years later the multinational company invested billions in GE Digital that eventually led to a steep decline in stock prices and former CEO Jeff Immelt leaving the company.


Proctor & Gamble (P&G)


2012 – The consumer products giant aimed to be “the most digital company in the world” just at the recovery of one of the worst economic recessions. Needless to say, P&G’s transformation efforts fell to the floor with goals that were too broad.


Avon


2013 – Avon wrote off more than $125 million in software and product development charges after the roll-out of the digital transformation program, Service Model Transformation, tanked in Canadian markets.


Nike


2014 – The footwear manufacturing powerhouse implemented significant cutbacks to the Nike Digital Sport program. Even with popular wearable innovations, Nike learned that the best transformation plans still need the right technology and people to support it.


National Grid


2017 – National Grid, a large power distribution company, looked to litigation to recover more than $585 million in losses from a failed SAP implementation that was meant to help respond to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.


The bright side of failure is that it is not the end of the road. Many small and large companies, including those listed above, continue to use lessons learned to recover and implement digital transformation strategy that maximizes business value, uses fitting technology, and offers higher return on investment.


Now without further ado…


What is Digital Transformation?


Digital transformation is all about people.


Wondering how that can be, right? Digital transformation, at its core, is meant to transform business processes to be proactive about your customer’s and employee’s needs. It involves a dramatic shift in business model to meet customers where they are and where they could be, using digital technology and strategy to do it.


In the age of AI, intelligent digital services connect organizations with customers on an intimate, data-driven level. Small businesses and global giants can use that connection to drive customer experience (CX) in disruptive ways.


Digital transformation comprises the following digital technologies and trends to deliver data and insights about your customers:



  • Cloud/Business Intelligence Tools

  • AI & Machine Learning

  • Internet of Things (IoT)

  • Automation

  • Digital Analytics

  • Other Digital Services


Value delivery is possible with an intelligent mesh of digital technologies and trends that support business infrastructure. Along with cloud/BI tools, AI and machine learning, IoT, automation, and digital analytics, today’s digital transformation also focuses on other growth trends such as security, practical blockchain, and empowered edge according to Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020 Report.


Did we lose you yet? No worries if so. This is weighty stuff for the niche small business owner and literally everybody else too.


The question is how do small business start-ups and rising small businesses get started with digital transformation and do so with success.


How to Start Digital Transformation for Small Business?


The first thing to do is to remember that digital transformation does not have a one-size-fits-all methodology laid out and wrapped in a pretty bow. Successful implementation may in fact take a few trials and error, but in the age of AI and rapid change you're likely a pro in such activity.


If you’re a start-up, you are ahead of the curve because your start is in the era of rising digital transformation and you don’t have to focus on restructuring legacy processes and outdated systems. If you are a rising small business, you are nimble and know how to navigate change.


You may be considering digital transformation to stay competitive, but your competitors may be implementing strategy that fails in the next three quarters. It does not matter when you start in comparison to other competitors.


It matters how you execute the processes and map the strategy back to your customers with the data that explains their behavior. The following insights will help you start digital transformation for small business:


1. Get Leadership and Partner Buy-In.


Your leadership, partners, and line managers need to understand the necessity for digital transformation for your small business. Strategy will quickly fall short if critical top-down and linear support is not invested. Remember that digital transformation requires a dramatic shift in processes. Your leadership need to be onboard with implementing digital technologies and services that align with business objectives to successfully execute cross-functional requirements.


2. Understand ROI.


Digital transformation will require investment of cost, time, and resources. Leadership and partner buy-in is easier when your business case shows a clear understanding of ROI. Set the business objectives upfront and the metrics that support them across operations, performance, lifetime customer value (LCV), revenue growth, and so on. Maintain a strategic plan that supports monitoring and controlling for regular change and adjustment.


3. Understand Your End Users and Competitors.


Digital transformation is a response to customer or employee demand and the marketplace. Your business processes support end users who require personalized and user-friendly CX. Leverage the data on your customers and predictive analytics models to support your ROI predictions and to determine the digital technologies that provide the right CX. Likewise, understanding your competitors initiatives will ensure that you maximize time with implementation and digital roll-outs, and maintain competitive advantage.


In case you are a start-up and the idea of predictive analytics models sounds overwhelming, remember that you have access to data from your customer success platforms, your ESP, your social media platforms, and other native data tools. Use those metrics to understand your audience.


4. Be Authentic in Approach.


Your digital transformation will not look the same as your competitor. It will be unique to your infrastructure, your organizational culture, your customers, and your industry. Digital transformation strategy must incorporate these factors to be successful.


You are a small business and don’t have a ton of time to waste or to borrow for full scale, quick transformation. Good! It won't be "quick" anyway. You can implement digital transformation at your pace and in line with your ROI metrics with regular adjustment. Small businesses that indoctrinate quality assurance and continuous improvement in business processes will find digital transformation to be a worthwhile challenge.

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