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How to use tech to transform an SME

  • 5 min read

For SMEs striving to be as efficient as they can be, all too often technology can hold the key.

But how does a business identify the investments that will have maximum impact on their operations?

That was just one of the questions on the table when we joined forces with The Telegraph to host a panel discussion on the topic in London in September.

Delegates from SMEs were invited to listen to representatives from Google, Transport for London, Origym and Brother UK share advice on how they have applied technology to solve problems in their own organisations.

Targeting technology

A key discussion area at the event was the importance of clearly identifying the issue you want to address first, in order to come up with the right technical solution for your business.

Phil Jones, Managing Director of Brother UK, said: “Different people want different things from technology.

“You have to really understand what you want your business to look like in three or five years’ time and then figure out what technology would help you get there.

“For some people, it might be that their key issue is that the running cost of their business needs to be reduced, so they want to get more efficient and more productive.

“For somebody else, it could be expanding sales or getting better at marketing.

“If you really take some time out to think that through clearly, you will probably come up with a much better idea of what technology answer might help accelerate your aims most.”

Fellow panelist Luke Hughes, co-founder of Origym, which provides personal trainer courses, argued that any investment in technology should have a measurable impact in order to be able to judge its effectiveness.

He said: “You should always do something if you can see the economic basis.

“How will this influence the bottom line, whether by saving time or generating more of a profit?

“It’s normally one or the other that you want, but they both equal a more efficiently running business.”

And he added: “Once you have identified the right piece of tech for you, there are lots of demos and free trials available now, so you don’t have to commit.

“If it doesn’t work, you can try something else.”

Upgrades and expectations

Flexible and remote working is one field where technology can support a firm’s ambition to become more agile and efficient.

Tools like tablets and services like Wi-Fi mean staff can work almost as effectively in the local coffee shop as they can in the office.

But Shashi Verma, Transport for London’s chief technology officer and director of customer experience, warned that in today’s ‘upgrade culture’, where people always look to update their personal technology to the latest model, employees now expect their employers to provide the latest technology solutions available.

He said: “For the people that work for us, their expectations of the technology that’s enabling them to do their work is driven not just by what they see at the workplace, but also what they are experiencing in their private life.

“The fact that everybody has a smartphone or a tablet at home is driving what they want out of technology at work as well.”

Phil Jones said Brother had been particularly proactive in equipping its staff to work remotely, including issuing them with laptops and tablets so they can dual screen.

Effective, not innovative

Another hot topic for the panelists and delegates was connectivity, and how technology can provide a global platform for SMEs to market and sell themselves.

Raja Saggi, Google’s head of SME marketing in the UK and Ireland, said: “Globally, 3.5 billion people are now connected to the internet.

“That’s just about half of the world’s population, and in a handful of years that number is going to grow to five billion.

“SMEs should ask themselves if it’s worthwhile connecting with these people, and if so, how do you open yourself up to trade with that global population?

“There are lots of free tools out there you could use, including things like Facebook Pages, Google My Business, and even YouTube.”

Shashi Verma agreed that common tools like these were ideally suited to SMEs, who shouldn’t imagine they always have to be at the cutting edge of technology.

He said: “The great thing about technology right now is that, with the pace of change and with new technologies emerging almost every day, there is that possibility to reimagine your business.

“You don’t need to light the world on fire to be able to win. Being fast followers of things that other people are doing is good enough.”

Immediate impact

And Phil Jones emphasised that there are some quick wins that an SME can achieve using technology once inefficient areas of the business have been identified.

He said: “We’re all trying to get our businesses more productive and more efficient.

“There are some easy things you can do. Things like moving to a managed print service contract if you have perhaps more than five or 10 printers.

“Digitise your documents. You can plug a scanner into your network tomorrow and create pdfs really quickly, which means that information can flow far more quickly within your business.”

But of course, all the technology in the world isn’t going to have the desired impact if your staff don’t know how to apply it properly.

Phil Jones added: “If you do invest in tech, make sure that you back it up with adequate training, so that you can achieve the desired productivity gain, and quickly.”

Find out more about Brother’s business solutions and how they could be applied in your business.

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