Switch on to digital

Switch on to digital

Joanna Wake, MD of RAW Digital Training, looks at what businesses of all sizes need to do to ensure technology is put to best use.

Digital is transforming the way we work, live and do business. Businesses are much more switched on to digital now compared to only a year or two ago, but with digital continuing to move at such a pace, there is understandable curiosity from businesses wondering if they are doing enough.

Where the need for digital was seen as having a website and using social media, businesses are now starting to understand the powerful benefits of digital adaptations that can increase productivity, streamline procedures, or transform customer experience.

The emphasis and attention that businesses need to put on digital cannot be underestimated, and digital transformation is a fundamental planning piece that all businesses should be going through. It’s a piece we have been asked to facilitate to every kind of business, size and sector this last year. It starts with businesses understanding that they need to utilise digital better, but having a general confusion with digital, and not knowing where to begin.

The first step is making sure that a good cross section of staff and management are included in this. Small businesses sometimes have all staff involved, for larger businesses it is usually staff from various areas of the operation. Why is this important?  Because to move forward and innovate, a company must understand all practices, procedures, and needs within the business as it stands. It doesn’t need a digital whizz to find new ways of working using digital, it needs those that understand how the business operates and what the staff and customer needs are now, as well as what they may be in the future. An understanding of the sector and competitor landscape is also crucial.

It’s essential when planning digital transformation that every aspect of the business is assessed, from IT, to internal processes, and of course digital marketing. Understanding cloud technology and the benefits are essential, sometimes terms like cloud technology can lead to head scratching and confusion. Essentially, it’s anything that is based on a website, rather than a desktop, it makes working on the go a breeze, and often drives huge efficiencies and often catapults the data (information) businesses have, and therefore how they can use it.

However, as an example, if a business is looking to change internal systems to be more cloud based but is based more rurally with poor broadband, or staff have traditional phone and not smart phones, then cloud technology is of little benefit right now. Planning towards moving over to a web based solution in the future would be wiser. Taking your time is key. All too often businesses can jump into a new digital system without thinking it through entirely.

Software systems are sometimes created when there is a perfectly fitting off the shelf system available, or one that would need a little tweaking. A lot of money can be saved when moving to cloud technology for an office system like Google’s G Suite, or Office 365, but equally money and time can be wasted jumping into a digital solution with no plan. We worked with a not for profit organisation this year which saved a fortune by moving their office solution to the cloud, not just in terms of their monthly costs but the endless hours of staff time saved was quite astonishing. Quite forward thinking of them, and they succeeded with the transformation by introducing it over time and ensuring that all staff, who had worked with the same systems and processes for decades, were comfortable. People are our biggest asset and having their buy in to digital change, by providing the right support or training can make every difference.

Communication wise, it’s staggering the amount of time that can be saved using an instant chat feature between staff. Communication between colleagues is essential, but if a business has staff based in different areas or on the go, G Suite has a facility called hangouts whereby the instant chat feature is available via individuals emails on every computer and as an app on smartphones. All chat history comes up in email searches, so any information needed later can be found instantly. The video feature is also great for staff meetings and catch ups, and can be used for presenting webinar style. It’s a culture change, no doubt about it, but one which can save time, and costs. With an inevitable push on our export ability, getting to grips with tools like these can be beneficial when trying to reach new markets overseas.

With the pace of change in digital, businesses need to understand now what their staff needs will be for the future, so planning now for the next year or two is wise. We’ve seen a huge rise in the variety of apprenticeship programmes available, and it’s not unusual for apprentices to be recruited into companies where they are the only digital member of staff. There has been a significant increase in more industrial and traditional service companies taking on digital apprentices, and the new digital degree level apprentices will open up a whole range of options for businesses and staff members alike.

In the digital programmes we deliver for 16-25 year olds in the region we are seeing a rise in the number of 19+ participants who are looking for digital apprenticeships - larger companies who are levy payers are more inclined to take on older apprentices and we are keen to support this.

In addition, up skilling of existing staff is a needed investment, CPD budgets of old don’t cut it in a time of such unprecedented change. The real key with digital is an agile approach. Remember the days when businesses would ‘launch’ a brand new website? Now, with almost every eCommerce website you visit there are small incremental changes, but you don’t necessarily notice each one. User experience is everything for retailers, and constant small iterations is the key to them providing the very best experience for users. Now, that’s not going to be the case for say a small local engineering company, but even having a small continual emphasis on digital it will ensure that, with any change in need of the business, customer or supplier, all systems are fit for purpose.

Digital spans way more than just marketing, and forward-thinking companies will start to have digital as an agenda at their board meetings or monthly meetings and a board member or advisor who is knowledgeable in this field. An unbiased, neutral person who is knowledgeable on digital will be an asset to any growing business. How do you find one? A post on LinkedIn should do the trick.