In the Middle Ages, bold knights pursued the Holy Grail, the mythical goblet that was supposed to convey powers of healing and eternal youth. In the Digital Age, CEOs and CIOs follow in their footsteps, only now the prize isn’t a legendary chalice—it’s the Ultimate Digital Solution.
Before you grab your sword and rush to join the quest, here’s a word of caution: the Ultimate Digital Solution shimmers like a jewel in boardroom brainstorm sessions, but for small and medium-sized businesses, it’s no more than a fantasy.
The best “solution” for your company’s issues isn’t a single tool, app, or platform. To solve today’s problems and seize tomorrow’s opportunities, your small business needs a customized, coordinated suite of digital tools.
Why a single solution doesn’t work for SMBs
You don’t need to look into Merlin’s crystal ball to realize that the ability to “go digital” has already started to separate the victorious from the defeated. Whether you’re facing a disrupted supply chain, trying to pivot to a pandemic-proof business model, or just trying to keep track of remote employees, you’re going to need innovative approaches to sharpen your competitive edge and avoid getting left behind.
But innovation doesn’t come in a box. Unless, perhaps, you’re one of the Super Players, with resources to hire expensive consultants and undertake a mega-scale digital transformation project. Then, for a single price tag, you may get the answers to all your fears and dreams rolled up in an end-to-end digital transformation framework.
Most SMBs can’t afford the time or the money to invest in a pre-packaged approach. As a small, nimble organization, you need an approach to digital transformation that matches your size, your culture, and your budget.
What the heck is “digital transformation” anyway?
“Digital transformation” has become a buzzword that gets bandied around a lot. But what does it really mean?
In plain English, digital transformation means using digital products and services to optimize every aspect of your business so that your business no longer merely leans on or integrates digital tools. The business itself evolves into a different kind of organization that operates and creates value in new ways.
Imagine “digital” pervading every function of your business, every department, every transaction—from interactions with customers to inventory management to accounting and finance. If the picture you see in your mind’s eye looks a little like a scene from a sci-fi movie, then you’re starting to get it.
True digital transformation leaves no stone of your current operations untouched or unchanged. It strengthens and protects the core of the business by maximizing performance through every digital means possible.
As a result, your business becomes more efficient, profitable, and competitive than you could have imagined. It also stands equipped to take on any new challenge or change. Disruption becomes a worry of the past because digital transformation seeds a process of ongoing innovation.
Making sense of the digital solutions
Once you begin to grasp how many facets there are to “going digital,” it’s easy to get overwhelmed. If you’re a large business, then your best bet may be an all-in strategy that introduces many digital changes through a single, “integrated” solution. But as a small business, you need a more manageable, bit-by-bit approach.
So which bit, or bits, do you start with? As you ponder the best way to map your company’s digital growth, consider the three categories of digital solutions that often lead to quick wins for SMBs: online business, planning, and eLearning.
Digital solutions for online business enable you to conduct most of your business over the Internet. They give you access to customers 24/7 and extend your reach beyond the walls of your brick-and-mortar location. They also automate many back-end processes.
With the right set of digital solutions, you can market, sell, and deliver most (maybe all) of your products and services online while streamlining your technology systems. For example, you might:
- Launch an e-commerce store to reach beyond your current geographical market
- Build an app to enhance the customer experience and start a new revenue stream
- Create a platform where you can provide a comprehensive suite of offerings and grow a community around them
Digital solutions take strategic and operational planning to a new level. They demystify the planning process by giving the entire team visibility into goals and activities as they’re established. As those goals and activities change, the team can see the plan evolve in real-time. And team members can easily track progress and achievements.
When you invest in a digital planning solution tailored to your business, you get everyone “on the same page” without having to create, and update, reams of documentation. Your whole team stays on track, and productivity improves when they’re not running in opposite directions, feeling confused, or throwing their hands up in the air in frustration.
Here are some examples of planning projects that digital solutions could enable you to achieve:
- Internal business plans, such as a strategic plan, go-to-market plan, marketing plan, or operational plan
- Digital roadmap, a step-by-step plan to guide you through the process of digital transformation
- Customer journey plan, a research-based plan to analyze and enhance the customer experience
- Cost-cutting plan, analysis and planning to eliminate redundancies and make processes more efficient. This kind of plan often includes process visualization, which enables you to “see” into your production or business processes and locate bottlenecks as they arise.
Digital solutions that facilitate eLearning enable employees and customers to learn online with little or no guidance from an instructor. Self-directed eLearning solutions allow you to package training into bite-sized modules that learners can digest easily, without needing to fit a scheduled class into their calendar.
ELearning solutions are ideal for providing on-demand, scalable training so you can upskill employees quickly, without disrupting the workday. Depending on the complexity of the digital solution, you may be able to provide training in innovative, highly effective formats, such as:
- Personalized onboarding process
- Library of on-demand videos to solve common problems
- Scenario-based training for roles that require critical thinking and problem-solving, such as sales
- Gamified courses that reward learning with badges or other tokens of achievement
- Standardized, self-scoring courses for roles that require compliance to industry standards
The array of digital solutions is expanding so rapidly that it’s impossible to categorize them all. In addition to the three types of solutions named above, there are many other possibilities that could benefit your company. Some of these are based on emerging technologies—such as Artificial Intelligence and machine learning—while others leverage technology you may already recognize or perhaps even own.
As you begin to consider digital solutions to improve your business, you’ll discover an ever-growing range of technologies and tools to help you streamline processes , increase productivity, and minimize errors and waste.
Shifting to a partnership paradigm
All the different kinds of digital solutions have one thing in common: they require human input to make them successful. No matter how “robust” or “integrated” it is, no single digital solution can replace the need for close, ongoing collaboration. As Joe Jackson says in The Reinventionist Mindset, the key to momentous change is to “make momentum together.”
This is a key principle to keep in mind because no company goes from digitally-dependent to digitally-optimized overnight. Digital transformation entails massive change, and most SMBs, even those with significant IT resources, lack the in-house knowledge and the capacity to lead such an ambitious change effort on their own.
Since they also lack the deep pockets to fund large-scale consulting projects, too many SMBs fall into the DIY trap. They assume that the only affordable way to make the digital journey is to undertake it on their own.
Unfortunately, embarking on a solo quest to find the right digital tools to suit your organization is a bit like a knight operating without a squire. With no one to help you navigate the digital landscape, it’s easy to fall prey to common perils, such as incompatible applications, tools with outlandish maintenance costs, or resistance from your team.
A smarter approach is to find a trusted digital solution provider (DSP) who can help you plan and follow through on digital initiatives. While consulting fees pay only for advice, by engaging a DSP, you get advice, the digital tool or tools you need, installation, and ongoing technical support.
The right DSP will take the time to understand your business, including your culture, so as to guide you through a manageable evolution from your current state to your future, fully digital state. They can become a trusted, long-term partner, someone to travel alongside you throughout your digital journey. For example, here are just some of the benefits a DSP can provide:
- One-on-one relationship with the key contact in your organization
- Expertise on both the problem the digital tool solves and the tool itself
- Affordable customizable off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions
- Integration with other digital solutions
- Training and technical support
- Flexible packages to cover upgrades and maintenance
- Support for gathering and analyzing key metrics to measure success
As your business evolves, you’ll need more than one DSP to help you transition from one stage of the journey to the next. You may find it takes a handful of DSPs to give you the complete support you need. Think of these organizations not as tool-sellers but as expert traveling companions who can help guide you to your end goals and achieve your vision.
The best DSPs can also assist with measuring the positive impact of each digital initiative you undertake. Those used to working with SMBs recognize how important it is to make every digital dollar count. They’ll get you quick, strategic wins right out of the gate so you can reinvest early savings into more ambitious projects, maximizing your Digital Return on Investment (DROI).
Starting your realistic quest for digital transformation
The first step on your company’s quest to achieve digital transformation is to choose the right DSP to serve as your guide. With a well-matched partner by your side, the route toward the digital future, which once looked so confusing, turns into a clear path you can explore with enthusiasm and confidence.