Ten years ago, it would have seemed impossible for a start-up to dominate industries such as transportation and e-commerce or hotel and lodging. Yet, companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Amazon represent a modern phenomenon that makes this possible: Digital Transformation.
Every small company dreams to go big, yet the odds are stacked against them. To challenge the industry leaders and to carve out market share is a difficult proposition without huge infusions of capital. The only way forward for ambitious startups is to shed the traditional concept of the brick-and-mortar store and embrace the digital space. Making this leap, for small businesses, might be easier than it sounds; as large corporations saddled with legacy systems and bureaucratic decision-making structures are at a distinct disadvantage.
Ask the Right Questions
Research suggests most small companies are trapped by insufficient funds and lack of technical expertise to execute digital transformation projects. Additionally, they can’t afford to take missteps as it would be costly and disruptive. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself when creating a digital transformation roadmap:
- Will this help us increase our customer base or revenue streams?
- How can we reduce costs or streamline process workflows?
- Can we use data to leverage business insights?
- What tools can be used to better serve customers?
Find the Right Tools
There are plenty of tools and solutions available for small businesses. From going paperless to adopting Artificial Intelligence and 3D Printing, the digital transformation process can be an endless continuum. Small businesses need to get the right mix of tools and software solutions into their digital portfolio. Here are a few popular tools that businesses could explore:
- E-commerce Solutions: Having an online presence can do wonders for a small company. The first step is to have a website and product store. Companies can leverage e-commerce solutions such as Magento to create their own online store in quick time. There is also a need for companies to stay in touch with their customers, to generate meaningful content and engagement strategies, and to derive insights from those engagements. Content Management Systems such as WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla pack quite a punch to help companies create and deliver engaging content and to capture customer feedback and product-related conversations on social media.
- Cloud-based Solutions: Cloud-based applications such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps for Business have made it easier and cheaper to leverage a digital office. Cloud applications tend to adapt across devices, sync in real time and have enhanced data security. This could be your business’s first step for a paperless office. For companies whose business is dependent on a service model, either at client location or in remote areas, having mobile devices and cloud applications can increase productivity, save costs and reduce errors. The added benefit is that later, as businesses scale and need to leverage insights from their data, they would be able to integrate their data to an analytics platform through APIs. SkullCandy was able to catapult itself from a startup to a global brand by effectively tapping into market segments by using SAP Business By Design, using its hybrid cloud architecture and analytics solutions.
- Data Driven Analytics: Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are no longer the domain of science-fiction writers or corporate behemoths. Decreasing costs and increasingly easy-to-use interfaces have enabled small businesses to tap into large sets of publicly as well as internally available data to leverage insights on how to run their business. The big four technology companies – Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM have their own AI and ML suites and applications which are highly customizable and user-friendly.
Small businesses need to tap into these data driven insights to better understand customer preferences and taste, and create customized or personalized products, services and marketing campaigns. This will allow them to nimbly bypass large corporations and gain market share. One of the key areas where AI is making its mark is by automating routine and mundane interactions, such as basic customer queries or making recommendations based on past viewing history. Facebook had launched in 2016 the provision for companies to build their own chatbot services on Messenger and in 2018 WhatsApp bots are set to dominate the market. Small businesses can provide improved customer service by leveraging these technologies.
Go the Distance
In every way, the time is right for small businesses to make the leap into a global player. If only they can leverage digital technologies to their advantage. Companies need to think strategically, embrace failure and stay nimble. Happy Transformation.