Digital Technologies: Will your SME thrive or crumble?
Christina Waider gravatar avitar

Digital Technologies: Will your SME thrive or crumble?

Author: Christina Waider | Posted on: 31 March 2015

The Greater Birmingham Summit 2015 revealed that SMEs must consider mobile users

It has never been more crucial to embrace the world of digital technologies and make them work for your business. It will decide whether many businesses thrive or crumble.

The Greater Birmingham Digital Summit 2015 revealed some very interesting data, both worrying and helpful. We want to share the key points with you and give some perspective and advice on how to deal with challenges of running a business in the digital era.

Together with the Birmingham City Council, the Greater Birmingham Digital Academy conducted a survey of 400 SMEs across the West Midlands to explore their understanding and use of digital technology. Here are some of the most striking findings of this Greater Birmingham Digital Audit:

Businesses become more efficient, if they have the time

SMEs felt that they benefitted from digital technology in the following ways:

  • 54% - Attracting more customers

  • 44% - Saving time

  • 44% - Greater customer interaction

  • 41% - Better return on marketing spend

However, despite the positive aspects that the use of digital technologies can have on their business, many of the survey participants stated, that they either dont have enough time to actively use digital tools, lack necessary skills or that the investment costs to implement digital strategies are unknown.

There is a lack of training and support for digital technologies

As much as 68% of businesses feel that there is no sufficient training and support available to adopt digital technologies and think that they would benefit from support if it was available. The four most important aspects that SMEs would like to improve in and develop are: a digital marketing plan, enterprise resource planning, CRM systems and cloud based IT systems.

Similar findings were presented by Nick Williams, the consumer digital director of Lloyds Banking Group. The Lloyds Digital Maturity Index has a broader look onto the UK perspective of how digital technologies are adopted by businesses and how digitally mature they are.

The results of the index are slightly worrying when thinking about how important digital technologies are for your business. The index shows that 31%  of participants had no online skills at all, 3/4 do not invest to improve their skills, 1 in 4 is not seeking help about that issue and 25% are not even aware of what support they need. Key barriers to doing more online were identified as:

  • 35% - Feel they are doing all they can online

  • 29% - Said being online is not relevant to them

  • 14% - Don't have time to go online and set up

The effect of digital technologies is significant

Next, lets look at hard facts on what digital technologies can actually do for your business. The following were presented by Ha Cole, a strategist and architect at Microsoft.

Tech-savvy businesses grew 15 times faster and created nearly double the amount of jobs in the same period of time than businesses using little technology.

But what exactly makes businesses that use digital technologies superior to those that dont? According to Cole, there are four major trends:

  1. Cloud Technologies - 70% of businesses are either using or investigating cloud computing solutions

  2. Mobility - There will be 1.3 billion mobile workers by 2015

  3. Social Media - 67% of businesses use social media for work

  4. Big Data 5 - billion gigabytes of data is collected every ten minutes.

Using these trends enables businesses to be more efficient. Cloud computing and mobility go hand in hand: By being able to access necessary work information and data from anywhere with cloud solutions, people are more flexible and can work away from the office on any device, whenever and wherever they want. It enables you to manage and organise your work and personal life. In addition to being able to manage personal time, communication with your co-workers can be improved and with that the overall performance of your company.

There is also a clear link between social media and big data. Wheres cloud solutions and mobility improve internal business processes these two focus on external procedures.

Big Data is essentially all information that is being gathered with digital means. In 2001 Doug Laney defined the essence of big data with the so called 3Vs: Data volume (quantity of data), velocity (speed of data generation) and variety (categories of data). Since then, a fourth V has been added: variability (inconsistency of data).

The biggest challenge in getting useful information is the sheer amount and variety of datasets. Nonetheless, it is possible to make big data work for your business and parts of it are easily accessible, e.g., via web analytics, internal company data sets, data marketplaces, Wikipedia, government registers and of course social media.

In the end, all this information will help you to better understand your customers, your competitors and your own company, which will ultimately give you the opportunity to attract and retain clients and strengthen your market position. Social media is especially useful for this purpose, since it is the fastest way of finding out what people think and how they react towards your brand. You can use social media to test new products, improve your current range or try out new ways to market them.

Pete Danks, Industry Head for Google UK, also gave a compelling presentation. He feels that businesses have to innovate in order to not only stay competitive but to survive. He identifies pace and change as the two factors that shape todays world and economy.

For example, companies in the S&P500 were on average 75 years old in 1957. Nowadays, the average company is only a decade old. We see more and more disruptive, digitally supported businesses emerge and threaten the existence of entire well-established industries, like Uber is doing with taxis or Spotify and Soundcloud with record companies. With the estimated increase of internet using population from currently 39% to 100% by 2020, this trend of fast paced, constant change will continue.

Another crucial aspect for Danks is the switch to mobile online usage, especially in the age range 18 - 34 years, an important target group for most businesses.

In addition, to changes in technology and the way businesses operate, there is a new breed of consumer. Instead of just receiving information one way, such as through advertisements, they have the opportunity to communicate with businesses and fellow consumers via digital technologies. Because of their access to reviews, researching different offers and new ways of communicating with each other, they are more informed and are aware of the power they have as consumers.

Perhaps the most important medium people use to gather information is video. This is true for both B2C and B2B and can be seen in the monthly video viewing numbers which went up from 6 billion to 12 billion views between 2010 and 2013 alone.

According to the 2013 Cisco Global Young Executives' Video Attitudes Survey, 87% of their subjects believe video has a significant and positive impact on an organisation, citing benefits ranging from enhancing the experience of telecommuters to saving money on travel costs and even attracting top talent. Experts believe that video will make up 57% of consumer internet traffic in 2015 which is the equivalent of almost 4 times as much as web browsing and email.


Based on this data, the two most important things you should ask yourself as a business owner are:

  1. Do I cater to mobile devices?

  2. Should I implement video & social media marketing into my marketing strategy to reach more customers?

Implementation and support of digital technologies

So, what are the lessons learnt from this years Digital Summit? What can business owners do to stay on top?

  1. There is always something that can be done to improve your business and there should be no excuse to not use digital technologies to your advantage. Especially the argument that there is simply no time to implement and learn digital strategies is invalid. Yes, of course you will have to invest time in order to establish your digital skills, but the time and money you will save once everything is put in place, will more than make up for it.

  2. There is always a disruptive business out there that threatens your business, be aware of that and never rest on your laurels. Always strive for more and be disruptive yourself.

  3. Last but not least, it has shown, that the use of digital technologies does help to advance businesses. Make use of them, especially of cloud systems, social media and video. Never lose focus of mobile devices - cater to them just as much, if not more, than you would towards regular online users.

To learn more, visit the Greater Birmingham Digital Academy.


Author: Christina Waider

Christina Waider gravatar avitar
Christina joined Ember Television fresh from her Masters in Film and Television at the University of Birmingham. A native German, she produces films for Ember clients in Europe and her strong organisational skills make her very effective at social media.
Digital Technologies: Will your SME thrive or crumble?



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