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Small business success requires a digital culture

ALL over the world, technology is shaking up entire industries. It is transforming the way that we work by automating tasks once performed by humans. It is also changing the way that we do business by connecting us with consumers on opposite sides of the world from where our business is based.

The Singapore government recognised this trend early on. In his 2017 budget speech, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the government's commitment to helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) go digital. Over S$80 million was injected into grants to help Singaporean businesses with fewer than 200 employees embrace technology and unlock greater business productivity and growth.

The government reiterated its commitment to the cause in this year's budget by pledging more money and updating its digital business support initiatives. However the application process can be overwhelming for resource-stretched small businesses that are not always aware of what grants are available to them, whether they qualify, or how to apply.

In any case, the problem goes deeper than that. You do not need a lot of money to embrace digitisation at your organisation. But you do need a workforce that is open to being challenged and enthusiastic about technology.

Of course, that is a big ask, particularly in industry sectors that have entrenched processes. Some people feel left behind by the advent of digital technology and are particularly wary of technological changes in the workplace.

Small businesses need to create a workplace culture that embraces technology while remaining inclusive. It is not about transformation for transformation's sake. The best digital solutions exist to complement human skill sets and make life easier for everyone. These are my five top tips.

Get the team onboard with your vision

Imagine the tangible benefits that going digital can bring to your business, company and community. Decide what you want to achieve in the long term from going digital, and stick to your goal.

It is crucial that everyone understands the major benefits that digitising will bring, not only to the company, but to employees as well.

Share the information in a way that is easy to understand, so that everyone can get excited. Communicate your vision to employees across the business so that they can take personal ownership. And see that leaders take a visible role in promoting change.

Set up a digital working group

Involve your employees by setting up a working group of digital champions. These are the individuals who are most passionate about technology and its potential to transform your business. Allow them to drive initiatives to help secure buy-in across business areas. The working group can also collaborate on the delivery timeline, maintain project schedules, and keep their teams updated on progress.

Invest in the right tools

First, find out what areas of the business are lagging behind and need a productivity boost, then research the appropriate software tools. From accounting, inventory management, point-of-sale, payroll and more, there are literally hundreds of applications that can help.

These feature data security, mobile access, real-time reporting and data integration to help make for a smooth and seamless transition. The best part is that many are very affordable and designed specifically with small businesses in mind.

Second, adopt the right software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform to better use and manage your important business data. As SaaS tools are hosted online on the Web - as opposed to locally on your computer - you can access them with any device that is connected to the Internet.

The apps talk to each other and share data, which can eliminate manual data entry - and that means increased accuracy and time savings that let you get back to focusing on the more important aspects of your business.

SaaS providers are committed to having the highest levels of security, so you can rest assured that your information is secure.

Cut your losses and measure results

Demonstrate bold leadership by making tough decisions. Know what something can and cannot do, and more importantly, know its place within your digital transformation strategy.

Observe how well new solutions are working and whether you are seeing results. Make sure that you keep talking to your team about their daily experience using the solution. After all, it is likely that they are spending the most time on it.

Meanwhile, create a set of measurable goals for your digitisation project and regularly take stock of how far you have come since you started. Reflect on whether your approach is helping you achieve the best results, and be sure to keep employees up to date. They should feel that they are an integral part of the journey.

Share your knowledge

Train your team. Train them again. And again. Technology is changing and improving at a rapid pace. It is absolutely essential that your employees' skills, knowledge and experience are updated to get the most out of the organisation's digital strategy. Partner organisations that are innovative and forward-looking to lead training and inspire your team.

  • The writer is regional director - Asia, Xero

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