Technology is the enabler, people are still the key.
Technology is the enabler, but clearly, there has never been a better time for SMBs to embrace it. But how best to go about it—and what obstacles still remain?
Companies should recognise that while technology is the enabler, people are still the key. This means that the approach needs to be a combination of teaching digital skills and empowerment, raising awareness of the benefits of tech and embracing change. Adoption should be led from the top of firms but must go all the way down to the shop floor. Buy-in is crucial.
Businesses also need to understand that the productivity puzzle is a complex one. Although it’s about unlocking people’s potential, a broad range of initiatives may be necessary to do so. These include teaching skills, improving management and leadership, technological solutions and getting employees on board. There is no single magic bullet. To really benefit, you need to have all your ducks in a row.
You need to familiarise and train staff and show them how these products can benefit them right across the board. You might say (as with our man in construction): “This means you now only need one device and need never transfer files between devices.” But if they have a young family, you might add, “Doing everything in the cloud means you can work remotely three afternoons a week.” In both cases, it’s about making work easier and also removing obstacles to productivity.
“Because the bot takes on more routine tasks like maintenance requests and contract information, it frees up our property managers to concentrate on the overall service and maintenance of the building, providing a better experience for tenants.” Sam Winnard – Director at JLL
Businesses should look too at where technology can add the most value to what they do and how it can help create better systems and processes. Often this can happen in surprising places. Property specialists JLL have developed Artificial Intelligence solutions to support their lettings business. Working in conjunction with the lab EBI.AI, they’ve set up a virtual assistant for tenants which is used to report maintenance and repair issues using Amazon’s Alexa, WhatsApp or Facebook.
It’s also important for SMBs to speak to their peers and relevant industry and government bodies. One of the reasons that London is cited as one of the best places in Europe for entrepreneurs and start-ups is the “cluster effect” where you have a large number of small businesses in similar sectors in one area. The best-known example of this is the tech cluster around Old Street. Clusters mean people talk to their peers all the time and innovation, and good ideas spread quickly.
This effect is considerably harder to replicate if you are, say, the only legal practice in a county town in the West Country. Moreover, peer-to-peer learning is hugely important as seeing a competitor use a product or service is a form of endorsement. Perhaps, because they are more isolated and do not see the benefits of them in competitors, a quarter of SMBs do not consider digital skills important—despite clear evidence that they spur growth. For this reason, it’s hugely important that organisations such as the FSB and entities like government bodies help businesses to share best practices—and offer support to those seeking to improve their digital capabilities.
This editorial from Samsung highlights the productivity issues that SMBs face and reveals how embracing new technologies will help them to thrive in an increasingly fast-paced and competitive business environment.