And while the modern state of technological innovation is of course very beneficial to small business owners, that act of choosing, adopting and integrating these new technologies – or, digitally transforming – can often be a daunting, costly and perilous task for them.
And with the COVID-19 pandemic making the business case for better resilience and agility undeniably clear, digital transformation is now crucial to survival. This means many business leaders who aren’t technically inclined but are nonetheless responsible for IT purchasing decisions, can find themselves paralysed by choice, for fear of wasting important capital at a time of increased uncertainty.
And with the vast majority of UK economy made up of small businesses, this is equally a concern of the government. Because as the society continues to become more digitalised, these smaller organisations are at risk of falling behind – and many already are.
So, ensuring small business leaders have a path to develop effective and personalised digital transformation strategies is critical to the future of this country.
This logic was the motivation behind a new scheme – the first of its kind in the UK – which is giving business owners in the West of England the chance to transform their companies through technology.
The Tech Adoption Lab, a joint venture between the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), Cisco, and Be the Business, has already taken 10 companies through a successful pilot of the scheme which is now being rolled out more widely.
In this article, I’ll share some details of how the pilot went and show how and why programmes like this will be so important to the long-term success of small businesses everywhere.
Creating a safe space for digital transformation
The Tech Adoption Lab works to help small business owners identify ways in which technology can help grow their enterprise, by focusing on one of the biggest frustrations faced by them: selecting and successfully utilising the right tech solution.
There are many barriers to successful tech adoption for small businesses. Most simply don’t have the skills and resources large companies have to undertake major innovation adoption programmes. The aim of the Tech Adoption Lab is to provide personalised, expert knowledge for small businesses so they can do the same.
For the first 10 local businesses that joined the four-week pilot, each was allocated their own independent advisor that helped them determine up to three tech solutions to test and trial based on assessments of their business needs.
All the solutions tested were based on free trials that are available to any small business, covering areas such as lead generation, sales, HR, data analysis and customer relationships management. So, each business in the lab had a chance to try new innovations out in a safe, guided environment.
The pilot businesses also received additional support from dedicated teams of Cisco apprentices. These specialist tech advisors got to know the businesses and were on hand every step of the way to help navigate the more technical, everyday challenges of tech adoption.
And the results were resoundingly positive – 80% of the participants said they were going to adopt at least one of the recommended solutions. Many business owners reported that the lab helped them think through the opportunities out there, and turn their plans and ideas into action.
The power of digital confidence
Following the success of the pilot, aside from rolling the lab out more widely, the government has also announced the creation of a new scheme, Help to Grow: Digital, to further drive tech adoption among small businesses.
Programmes like these recognise that the world we’re emerging into following the pandemic is a fundamentally changed one. Last year, four out of every five businesses around the world moved their people, processes, and customer engagement online. That’s a seismic shift in society which will have a wide array of implications over coming months and years.
Coupled with changed customer habits and expectations that have also since formed, and it’s clear we’re heading towards a digital future.
That’s why making sure small businesses aren’t left behind is essential. One unexpected side effect of the Tech Lab that was reported by many of the business owners, was a newfound sense of confidence in their use of tech. That confidence alone has helped expand their ambition to use technology across a whole range of their operations.
And that’s what we need more of – business leaders who aren’t fearful of the future but optimistic, confident and prepared for it.
Read the Be the Business Tech Adoption Lab: Insight Report to discover more about this venture.
Cisco is helping to support small businesses to recover from the economic impact from COVID-19, explore how here.