We look at how businesses can successfully take their operations online
From e-commerce to cloud computing, the Covid-19 crisis accelerated the need for businesses, large and small, to digitalise their operations, in order to meet the changing needs of their consumers and employees.
However, this has highlighted the divide in digital adoption between larger businesses and SMEs (small and medium enterprises).
Larger businesses have been seen to be typically more digitally advanced than smaller companies in terms of their digital transformation and progress.
Lisa Corcoran, Head of SMB Business at Vodafone Ireland, says, “There has been a huge growth in businesses embracing digital transformation over the last 24 months.
“However, only one-in-five of SMEs and SOHOs (small office/home offices) actually see themselves as digitised.”
Vodafone’s recent report – titled ‘Covid-19 and the Irish SME Sector: Supporting Recovery and Growth’ – has shown that 58pc of SME businesses face significant barriers in relation to the adoption of technology, despite a willingness to invest.
But as Lisa says, “At the same time, 50pc of our SME population are confident about the growth of their business over the next two years and two-in-three are going to invest in digitalising the business, which is fantastic.
Lisa says digitalisation will be the future of business.
“Digitalisation is about taking a business from a traditional brick-and-mortar approach to a more online way of working – both with customers and within the business itself.”
So for SMEs and SOHOs getting started on their journey, we look at the ways they can successfully shift to digital to become fit for the future.
The first step in the journey towards digitalisation is about being open to change, and seeing it as an opportunity.
Digitalisation is not just about incorporating technology for the sake of it or in keeping with the times – it has many benefits for business, including the potential to reduce costs and drive growth.
Digitalisation is about delivering better outcomes to customers and helping employees become more efficient and empowered at the job they do.
It’s also about being resilient, which may even involve diversifying into new business products and channels.
This is what Kerry-based Killarney Organic found themselves doing.
Lisa Corcoran says, “The business, which was founded by Rosemary O’Connor, started out offering wellbeing and massage treatments in a number of hotels. The sudden lockdown meant Rosemary had to re-adapt her business model.”
And so the business pivoted to focus on her skincare line, Killarney Organic, which she had started to develop the previous year. Rosemary immersed herself in the new worlds of social media and online trading.
“Throughout the pandemic, the brand has continued to grow largely because of internet sales and word-of-mouth spread digitally online," says Lisa. The innovation, ambition and resilience Killarney Organic has shown is energising.”
Each business owner needs to understand the power of technology to help solve their own business problems or needs.
“We found that there are three emerging themes around how SMEs and SOHOs do business in the future. These are e-commerce, productivity, and security.
“From our customer insights, some of the key things businesses are considering are ‘how are they going to gain new customers?’ and ‘how will they retain their existing customers and create meaningful relationships?’
“It’s also looking at how they will create productivity in a hybrid working environment. Because the working environment has evolved and changed, and will continue to do so.
“Then, there’s how businesses manage costs, and how they upskill themselves and their teams in a digital world.”
Lisa adds, “How they do business today is going to change tomorrow.”
Once a company has pinpointed their priorities, they should look at accessing the right solutions and tools.
Lisa says, “SMEs need to access the solutions that are right for their business now, whether that be for e-commerce, productivity or security.
“Firstly, businesses need to make sure that they have high-quality connectivity from a mobile and broadband perspective.
“In addition, they need to look at solutions that are going to go beyond connectivity, and can support their changing business models.
“Start with the now, and this can create a pathway for those solutions to evolve as their business grows.”
Vodafone provides SMEs with solutions beyond their traditional connectivity portfolio that deliver real-world business outcomes. This includes a selection of cloud-based apps, digital services and bundles tailored to specific small business needs.
“For example, if a company needs help with a website, we can offer a website builder called Hostopia. For those concerned about cybersecurity, we have a digital app that can assist with identifying those risks.”
All of these services can be easily accessed through Vodafone Marketplace, an online tool that allows SMEs to browse, purchase and manage everything from one platform.
In the new ‘digital-first’ environment, the challenge of maintaining a customer-focused approach, whilst developing digital strategies and building resilience plans, requires SMEs to examine the skills they have.
“Training and upskilling is a vital part of the digital transformation journey,” says Lisa.
“We partnered with Enterprise Nation, alongside Microsoft and Klarna, on a digital skills training programme.
“This is a free online digital skill training programme and we hope to attract at least 20,000 SMEs.
“Businesses who take part in the 12-month programme will be able to access on average over €5,000 worth of supports to grow and develop their businesses in a digital world.”
According to Lisa, one of the most important things an SME can do on their digitalisation journey, is to seek the right advice.
“We spent a lot of time linking in with our customers throughout Covid-19. We conducted research to understand how their business was going and how we could play a major role in facilitating their growth.”
To help ensure SMEs are in a strong position to return to business post-pandemic, Vodafone will soon offer trusted, impartial and reliable advice on technology through a new V-Hub online advice and insights platform.
“The platform will offer SMEs detailed guides on key aspects of operating in a more digitalised world, covering topics such as website creation, digital marketing, remote working and cybersecurity,” says Lisa.
“For SMEs embracing the digital journey, their access to information is quite fragmented.
“We’re trying to seize the opportunity to help them to access the advice, the training, and the solutions that will help them to do business better.”
Explore how Vodafone's range of digital solutions can help you reimagine your business at the link below.