SMEs: Six tips for successfully negotiating your digital transformation

From the cloud to security systems to data analytics, small business owners now have broad access to the kinds of technologies that large enterprises have leveraged for years. With the right technology in place, SMEs can use digital systems and services to grow quickly. ZDNet’s editorial staff interviewed two CIOs to share key lessons they learned about managing IT in large organizations and how SMBs can benefit. Here are their top six tips.

Take advantage of the cloud

Unlike large enterprises that can be cluttered with a lot of old technology, many small and medium-sized businesses have the opportunity to create a leaner, modern approach to applications — and that’s where the cloud comes in. Spending cloud SMBs grew significantly in 2021. Fully 53% of SMBs surveyed in a recent Flexera report spent more than $1.2 million per year on the cloud. This figure is up from the 38% recorded in 2020.

For Mark Bramwell, CIO of Saïd Business School, your ability to move smoothly to the cloud depends on the size of your company. Some organizations will find it easier to adopt on-demand computing than others. But the goal for everyone should be the same: use the cloud as much as possible.

“When it’s a startup, obviously it’s much easier to adopt cloud-native early on,” he says. “And compared to where we were 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, those barriers to entry just don’t exist anymore. Anyone can start a business now and be in the cloud based on software as a service.”

Acquire a platform dedicated to digital transformation

The cloud certainly makes it easier to buy technology, but the choices you make shouldn’t put you in a difficult situation later on. According to Mark Bramwell, small business leaders should all think like CIOs and take a strategic stance on every spending decision they make, whether it’s software, networking or hardware.

“One thing that I have always tried to build into the two fundamental digital strategies that I put in place at Saïd is to make sure that the foundations are right from day one, because if you build on from shaky foundations, they become problematic. I always strive to think about things like user experience, connectivity, security by design, scalability and growth from the start.”

Valuing your data

Thanks to their mastery of information and analysis, the professionals of large companies have found that it is possible to understand in a much more detailed way how the activities of their company influence its performance, the satisfaction of its customers and its results. For the CIO of Saïd Business School, small and medium-sized enterprises must also focus on data. This should allow them to understand where their critical data is and to think about accessing it, protecting it and the storage needs it entails.

“Your data is your business asset,” he argues. “You have to think about where they go and what kind of protection is around them. You also have to think about scalability and the cost of scalability, because the goal of a small business is invariably to scaling up in the longer term. Ensuring scalability is part of your thinking for the future is key.”

Thinking about safety in terms of risks

Your critical data should be stored safely and securely. If you don’t keep your information locked up, confidential details could leak past your firewall, potentially costing you in terms of reputational damage and fines from the authorities. While adhering to industry standards and achieving certification levels can be helpful, Simon Liste, head of information technology at the Pension Protection Fund, believes that SME managers need to hone their posture on security in a way keep on going.

“You need to assess your processes and know where the main risks are. What is the most likely vector to be attacked? Look at that and then you can match the resources – whether it’s cost, time or personal – to the data and try to protect them”, explains the latter.

“Education is also important. Make sure your employees know what phishing is. It’s no surprise that the biggest risk is people clicking on an email. So start at this level, because it shouldn’t be too expensive. NCSC and other government organizations have a lot of information out there. Raising awareness minimizes the risk factor.”

Do not be seduced by the grand promises of digital transformation

Much is written about the importance of digital transformation. From launching new online channels for customers to providing technology to help employees work safely from home, small business owners face near-constant demands for digitalization. Still, it’s important not to get caught in the trap of digital transformation, says Simon Liste.

Yes, technology can help SMBs improve their operations, but only if the IT implementation is clearly thought out. “Always understand the reason for your change. Be clear about your goal. Why do you want to do it? What is your ambition and what is your commitment? Because you must be committed to the change and motivated to achieve it,” advises the DSI.

To get out of it, you can rely on mentoring by calling on more seasoned experts in the field than yourself. “Mentoring can help by giving you the right direction as you develop. So I think for organizations that don’t have expertise, it’s okay to say ‘we don’t know’, but you have to be very clear about what you are trying to achieve.”

Create an ecosystem of partners

For Simon Liste, SME owners should seek to create an ecosystem of people and companies with whom they can work. From experts in big business to savvy entrepreneurs in start-ups, small business owners should reach out and make connections.

“Learn from the mistakes others have made,” he says. “Grow your network and engage with people. Small businesses don’t have the luxury of having a large team. It’s about expanding your ecosystem, sharing and giving a little back.”


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