Established Businesses are often slower to adopt technology
As I mentioned in this article about keeping up with technology, for many businesses it can be incredibly difficult to prioritise investing time and money into new technology, over keeping the business running and generating profit.
In general this is true for businesses of all types, however family businesses and those at the smaller end of SMEs (small-to-medium-sized business) tend to suffer more.
Niche business is big business
A large proportion of the family run, SME type of business are specialists in their industry – relying on expert knowledge of their specialist domains, and on experts in their domains being knowledgable of them.
For example, if you’re in the hydroelectric power generating business, you probably know who to turn to for spare parts. A quick search for “second hand hydro plant” equipment gives you a good idea for what’s available. If you are a supplier to that market, you probably know all the buyers and sellers, and they probably know you.
These niche, specialist markets are, according to an article by InnovationScouts, worth a staggering 6.7 trillion dollars, globally.
The amazing thing about many of these businesses is that many of them run today on the processes and systems that were put in place ten, twenty or even more years ago. Most have websites to display catalogs and phone numbers, some have online ‘shopping carts’, but most conduct sales in an off-line manner – e.g. over the phone, or in person.
Too much risk
These businesses are often very lean. Employing just enough staff to keep things running, managing supply chains and stock that is scarce, difficult to shift or requiring specialist development. As such, the primary focus of the business is on incoming orders, stock management and sales.
Even if these businesses readily acknowledge that their processes could be more efficient, or perhaps they could make new sales in new areas, by selling to new customers, the idea of taking time to investigate these or the technologies required to deliver them is deemed a distraction and far too risky to undertake today. It’s a task often put off until ‘tomorrow’ (See free beer tomorrow).
Digital Native vs Digital Immigrant Businesses
The terms Digital Immigrant and Digital Native refer to people who have grown up either before or after the digital, Internet boom. For example, in my 40’s I am a Digital Immigrant, where as my children are Digital Natives. The implications this has on our daily interactions, conversations, work and our understanding and perception of the world around us are profound.
Digital Natives would find it difficult to imagine how to plan a trip or night out without the use of mobile phones, particularly apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp. Whereas Digital Immigrants remember how you had to plan a meeting point in advance, how you’d wait a set amount of time if some of the party were late, and how you’d just have to abandon the eternally late friends who never made it on time.
Businesses are like this too.
Every business I have established was after the Internet and digital boom. As such, I’ve been using email, websites, and cloud based tools for nearly all of my business life. So it seems natural and almost absurd that other companies wouldn’t.
However, many companies today were formed well before the Internet shaped our lives, and still rely on the good old fashioned way of doing things. After all, it’s worked this long, why won’t it keep working?
Well, it might, but the hard fact of the matter is that your competitors will do it faster, cheaper and more easily with modern technologies and tools. So when balancing the risk versus reward versus investment, it is important to remember that things may be much easier for businesses that are younger and more nimble than yours.
Let’s start with more efficient sales planning
The company I spoke to today is a specialist in the supply of high quality bricks and stone. In fact, a recent project of theirs can be found at Cliveden House and is shown in this picture.
Speaking with their Managing Director, he told me that last year it was difficult to get accurate sales reports on a regular basis.
The reason behind this was that the systems they had in place involved a lot of human interaction with multiple spreadsheets, bank statements, paper orders and a complicated accounting package. It could take a week to get a clear and accurate picture of the recent sales. A lot could happen in a week, so this was a big problem.
How Cloud Technology Gave Immediate clarity
For this business, the decision to invest in something new was difficult. It took fresh eyes and perspectives to challenge the status-quo and really push the business case for investment. Their journey is still on-going, but the first place they decided to address was accounting.
The company decided to invest in a Cloud based accounting package that integrated directly with their bank accounts. Whilst this was a standard, ‘off the shelf’ product from a well-known Cloud provider, there was still some degree of effort required to integrate it with the other processes, and most importantly, retrain staff to not just use the new software tools, but to embrace them.
The result of this effort was immediate and obvious. Whereas previously sales reports could take weeks to complete, the Managing Director can now get an accurate and dependable picture of his business in minutes.
The knock on effect of this is that the benefit of the investment in this is now felt across the company, and the appetite to change has shifted a little. Next on their list is updating the website, and digitising their sales processes to more efficiently integrate with their shiny new accounting software.
However, the immediate business benefits include:
- Improved cash flow awareness, allowing business decisions to be made instantly, enabling them to react to opportunities or deal with risks faster
- Increased disaster resilience – with accounting records now stored in the Cloud, if disaster strikes their business they now have an automatic off-site back up of their accounts
- Time freed up to invest in other activities
- Increased flexibility, allowing staff to be productive on and off-site