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How can SMBs begin to implement digital transformation technology?

Ray Boggs, IDC vice president of SMB research, offers some advice for SMBs as they begin to think about implementing digital transformation technology.

When implementing digital transformation technology for an SMB, it almost doesn't matter where you jump in -- just get jumping and get the process started. Don't agonize over things. Don't spend six months trying to find the ideal approach because, by that time, your competitors will have moved forward with four initiatives.

Even though one initiative may not work out, you should keep jumping in and experimenting, and remember that these are the internal kinds of things that you can do, for example, to improve your processes and be more efficient.

But there are also external things to consider. What can you learn by engaging with customers? How do you streamline your relationships there? How can you engage better with suppliers? And are there levels of automation or improvements in communication?

Ray Boggs, vice president of SMB research at IDCRay Boggs

So the challenge for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) is that there are so many different places where you can take action and get benefits; you need to prioritize and figure out where the biggest impact will be. Don't try to do everything at once, however --- solve the immediate problems that are the most troubling to you and that have the greatest financial impact. This will get people moving in the right direction, and they will be more open to progress as a result.

Think about the smaller firms that are most resistant to change. If you show them how the number of complaints has dropped, or how much closer they are to accounts than ever before -- say, as a sales guy, look at what has happened to your close rate, how spending has increased with guys you've been working with for 20 years -- that will be especially compelling. Closely tie that internal sale to improvements in performance and everyone will get be on board.

So, on the one hand, there's the digital transformation technology story of improving processes, but then, there's the people side, and the deployment of the technology depends on getting people to use it. Getting users on board and supportive can actually smooth over some of the bumps in the road in implementation and can help to speed the pathway to improved results.

Ultimately, your competitors are using digital transformation technology and learning from it. And they'll be a whole lot better off if you're staying put and are left behind.

About the author:
At research firm IDC, Ray Boggs directs survey research, forecasting and market analysis for advanced technology products and services designed for SMBs. 

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What are some of the strategies your SMB uses to plan and implement digital transformation technology?

Ray, great piece.  My feeling is that SMBs are not so worried about "what to do" or "how to do it" as they are with "how much will it cost?"

Can you buy a "little" digital transformation? I assume that SMBs most likely need to go outside to get digital transformation help, and that there's a minimum budget that an outside firm will charge to get involved. 

Any insight here would be appreciated.

Bob Zeitlinger

Bob, great point. Ray, great piece. I specialize in helping SMBs who fall under the scope of some of the larger firms providing transformation services. I agree, cost is top 3 in the concerns I see. In the running for an SMB is also - 'leadership is at capacity with no remaining time to focus on transition" and "leadership lacks the skill to drive the transformation". So, beyond strategy, coaching and implementation, I also try to offer an entry level cost structure so SMBs can do what they really need to - get started already.
Greg Keaney
The sentiment in this article is on point, Ray, but many (read: most) companies (and especially small and medium size ones) aren't even aware of the capabilities necessary to have a mature digital organisation. So whilst a step in a direction might be better than standing still, it can also lead to stepping in the wrong direction or investing in a solution that will give them 1 step ahead in lieu of a solution that might have given them 10 or 50 steps ahead.

The 'best' first step would be to engage a competent digital strategist, whether by title or function, to provide a lay of the land and assess the firm against this landscape. A competitive assessment would be secondary to this.

In my experience, although limited budgets and resources are real phenomena, the biggest detractor is typically cultural.