For the past few years, small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) have fended off pressure from pretty much every angle.
Brexit came first, followed by the pandemic, and now they face impacts of the rising cost of living, widespread supply chain disruption, the impact of war, difficulty attracting and retaining talent, and higher borrowing rates.
Many businesses have tackled adversity by adopting digital technology, helping them to not only survive, but thrive.
To understand their success, at Sage we ran a landmark study of more than 5,000 SMBs in 10 diverse locations across the UK.
We explored their achievements, barriers, and the true impact of digitalisation on today’s economy.
In this article, we share some key learnings from it and provide three ways to actively break the barriers to going digital.
Here’s what we cover:
- What happens when you adopt tech?
- How to break three digitalisation barriers and adopt technology
- Final thoughts on Digital Britain
What happens when you adopt tech?
As a business leader, your decision to take on digital technology helps grow, stabilise, and future-proof our economy.
According to the Sage study and report, Digital Britain: How small businesses are turning the tide on tech, the use of tech by SMBs is already adding £216bn to the UK economy.
This would almost double to £448bn if the average level of adoption were to match that of the top 20% of SMBs.
This is a welcomed outcome – but you’ll also see benefits and improved performance in almost every area of your own organisation, allowing you to compete and thrive in high-pressure conditions.
Examples of benefits include:
Higher employee satisfaction
Staff shortages, a shift in employee priorities, and new expectations around what work should look like have made employee satisfaction more important than ever.
Digital technologies create new experiences that drive this satisfaction, helping you improve retention and attract more of the best talent.
“48% of SMBs have tech solutions dedicated to HR and communication with their workforce”
Boosted online presence
Making a proactive effort to continually optimise your website and social media activity helps you drive brand awareness.
It also allows you to reach new customers, and enhance relationships with existing customers, employees, and suppliers.
“81% of SMBs use digital technologies to enhance website design or function, and 73% for social media”
By digitalising processes, you’ll transform and streamline the way your business operates on a day-to-day basis.
This saves time and costs, removes friction, and reduces human error—all contributing to a more productive output.
Enter new markets
The freedom gained through digital technology increases your capacity to seek opportunities beyond current borders and enter new markets.
This will give your business a competitive edge.
How to break down three digitalisation barriers and adopt technology
With these gains in mind, it’s hard to think of a reason not to invest in more tech.
But our report finds that embracing tech is not as simple as making a decision to do so. There are several barriers that will slow or even halt your journey to a digital utopia.
The good news is, most of these are knowledge-based and behavioural, which means there are practical ways to break them.
Here’s three of the barriers, and how to tackle them:
1. Not knowing which solution to use
This stops you at the first hurdle.
Fast advancement in technology, an ever-growing market of suppliers, and endless types of solutions makes choice paralysis a real thing.
It’s also hard to make a decision and financial investment when you don’t know what measures to consider when weighing up your options.
“41% of SMBs say they’re unaware of which solution is right for their business”
How to break the barrier:
Work with internal stakeholders to write a priority list based on what’s important to your business across both the short and long term.
Consider everything from price and potential return on investment (ROI) to integration and the implementation process.
For many SMBs, cash flow is a huge challenge, so ROI and time to profitability will be up there.
If this is you, ask suppliers how they prove the value of their solutions, complete with examples of how they’ve helped other customers achieve measurable results.
2. Not knowing how to use data
It’s no secret that data is one of the most valuable resources in business.
Many SMBs are (sometimes without even knowing) sitting on and rapidly amassing data using the technology they already have.
The problem is a lack of expertise around how to effectively use this to drive business decisions, understand current performance, or impact relationships with customers.
“Only 24% of SMBs have adopted tech to make use of their data”
How to break the barrier:
Consider adopting software that lets you tap into and make better use of the data you’re capturing.
There are almost limitless ways data can be structured and interpreted, which gives you huge opportunities to do things differently to your competitors and create new value.
You should also try to build relationships with suppliers to understand how their technology can be used to make the most of data.
A great example of this is social media companies, and finding ways to leverage the algorithms they use.
3. Difficulty using new tech well
Even if you’ve already adopted some shiny new tech, making sure your people use it effectively is a challenge in itself.
The trouble is, if they don’t have the knowledge to do this, or if it seems more hassle than sticking to what they know (ahem, spreadsheets…), they’ll simply revert to old ways.
This means uptake of your new solution will remain low, placing a limit on the value your business can gain from it.
“44% said the biggest issue they face when using new tech is learning the skills to use it effectively”
How to break the barrier:
Even with turnkey solutions, implementation alone is not enough to ensure your business unlocks maximum value.
Dedicate time and effort to training established employees and new starters on using the tech, and ask the supplier what support they can provide to keep users informed and engaged.
Another idea is to nominate an internal ambassador to take on the responsibility of ensuring people are happy, comfortable, and productive when it comes to using the tech on a continuous basis.
Final thoughts on Digital Britain
The ways UK businesses stood up to a global pandemic and more recent economic challenges proves how critical digital technologies have become.
The road ahead may be uncertain, but if we knock down the barriers to adopting more tech, the potential for individual businesses and the wider UK economy is unlimited.
Download our full report to see the true extent of digitalisation among SMBs, including a deep dive into specific industries and regions across the UK.
We also reveal three areas where technology adoption from SMBs would take Digital Britain to the next level, along with our very own commitment to making this vision a reality – so you don’t want to miss out on this.
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Check out our Sage report, where more than 5,000 small and medium businesses reveal how digital adoption is driving business performance and economic growth.
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