With apologies to America’s founders, “Give me digital, or give me death!” could be a catch cry for small business owners faced a rapidly changing and disrupted economy as they struggle to decide where to invest their limited resources to remain competitive.
It’s hard to know which way to go, but there are some fundamentals you have to consider in order to keep up with your competitors.
Industry 4.0 is the term given to the technology transformation implementing automation and digitisation in manufacturing, which many consider the fourth industrial revolution. It utilises everything from the Internet of Things (IoT), to 3D printing and AI, with machines exchanging information in real time to trigger actions that keep production facilities running efficiently.
Simon Brown, principal, business advisory, at tax, auditing and consulting firm RSM Australia said the technology is very sophisticated but also cheap and readily available for his company’s clients and for regional producers, has stripped away geographical disadvantage when it comes to market access.
“A lot of these products now are international, working across borders and currencies, because the business has access to the very latest version of the latest technology,” he said.
RSM Australia has released the thinkBIG report (download it here) on technology investments for SMEs, identifying six things every SME should look at to get their business up to digital speed:
Cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS)
Using the cloud lets businesses access data and systems no matter where they are in the world. This is increasingly important for SMEs looking to attract and retain the best talent, since people expect to be able to work remotely, and from home, with the same level of productivity they would experience in the office.
Laurel Grey, senior digital analyst, RSM, said, “There are cloud-based apps and services to help SMEs streamline and improve every part of their operations. For example, cloud-based accounting systems have revolutionised how companies manage their accounts. Providing real-time financial information lets SMEs make better decisions, faster, and even develop predictive abilities for improved competitiveness. Furthermore, being able to affordably access the kinds of enterprise systems that much larger companies use can help SMEs compete at a higher level more successfully.”
Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI and its subset, machine learning (ML), are already an accepted part of everyday life for most people. Using ML to automate administrative tasks can save time and reduce errors at its most basic level. And, using ML to gain insights into the business through data analysis can let users discover significant opportunities to compete more effectively.
Business process automation (BPA)
BPA, sometimes also referred to as robotic process automation (RPA), lets users automate processes that are repetitive and monotonous, freeing up employees to work on more valuable tasks. Automating finance and accounting functions is the first step and can help improve accuracy.
Aleesha Bailey, strategic outsourcing co-ordinator, RSM, said, “Anywhere there is a major pain-point in the business that is chewing up a lot of time, there is generally a process or a platform that can automate that process. Automating day-to-day bookkeeping and reporting tasks frees businesses up to become more efficient and lets them make better decisions, faster, based on more up-to-date data.”
Security is not just an IT issue; it affects the entire business. Even the smallest of businesses can be a target so it’s essential for SMEs to protect themselves with strong cybersecurity tools and processes. At a minimum, SMEs must ensure they satisfy the five core tenets of cyber hygiene: patching; minimum privilege and multi-factor authentication; encryption; configuration hardening; and data recovery.
Darren Booth, national head of security and privacy risk services, RSM said, “Organisations have moved away from the default position that there are security problems with the cloud.
“Some of the initial nervousness around cloud has gone, at a high level, however there’s still some trepidation from an understanding point of view, such as who is responsible for what and where the data is going to be held, whether that’s in Australia or overseas. But SMEs can easily use reputable companies that provide well-certified and understood software and infrastructure to overcome this.
“Then, the focus needs to be on a security risk assessment and applying that security risk assessment to a cloud environment. That’s where the risks and the strategies are different, and it’s important to be confident that everything is working as it should.”
Payment technology continues to evolve apace and new solutions make it possible for SMEs to receive payments in real time, rather than waiting for payments to clear. Adopting this new technology can mean the difference between getting cash for products and services immediately, including outside business hours, or having to wait until the next business day to receive that income. The boost to cash flow can be enormous.
Digital collaboration platforms
Working together from any location is a minimum standard for most organisations. Creating online workplaces where colleagues can work together brings geographically-dispersed workers closer together and lets the SME benefit from their combined knowledge, experience, and ideas. The technology that enables this style of working is now more affordable and easier to implement than ever before.