Also published on LinkedIn
Gartner’s 2014 Business Process Management conference began in Sydney today and many of the messages from the opening keynote echoed the very sentiments I’ve been urging small and medium businesses (SMBs) to consider: Adopt technology and drive your business to your preferred destination, or ignore it and inevitably be forced to drive your business down the backstreets of obscurity.
In July last year I wrote “Why your business is going the way of the Betamax cassette” but in the ten months since then I’ve definitely seen a shift in attitudes amongst some small businesses here in Australia. They are becoming more proactive, more interested and more informed when it comes to modern technology in business. However, “some” is still not enough.
Industries digitally remastered.
Gartner analyst Janelle Hall was probably even more foreboding than me when she said in the opening keynote today:
Every industry will be digitally remastered. It is not optional. It will happen to you whether you like it or not, so your opportunity is to lead it or fall behind. You cannot escape. This is not something you have a choice about.
She didn’t mince her words. Hall made another point: “We’ve done a good job of digitising business processes, but what we haven’t done is apply technology to the core product we produce. Today any product can be re-imagined with digital capabilities.”
When it comes to SMBs specifically though, I’m still not sold on the concept a good job has been done “digitising business processes” widely in this segment. Without this step, I’m just not sure it’s possible for small businesses to fulfil Hall’s prophecy of re-imagining any product through the application of technology. Yet I wholeheartedly support her vision.
Old habits stifle innovation.
So what’s holding back the segment often touted as the backbone of the Australian economy? In my opinion it’s a combination of self belief and old habits. Traditionally in SMBs technology adoption has driven business improvement and not true innovation. Constraints with costs and expertise meant technology was more about helping you do the same things you already did, but just better. Then you upgraded your old technology, which gave you the same solution you already had, but just newer. This is the way it’s worked for the last decade and a half. It’s left a bunch of SMBs still using the same technology concepts adopted in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Sure, it might be newer and shinier versions of the technology, but effectively it’s delivering the same capabilities a business had back in the era when client server computing, network resource sharing and remote access first became commonplace.
In turn, these old habits have instilled a sense of tentativeness and timidity when it comes to SMBs striving for innovation within their own internal workings. There exists a feeling of ‘what we have already does everything we need’ and ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’. It’s this lethargic outlook on technology, this rear looking view, which puts the SMB at risk of falling behind.
Cloud and subscription services deliver net new capabilities.
In 2014 SMBs need to be bold and confident about technology and how it can deliver innovation to their day to day grind. They need to understand the old constraints of cost and expertise have been dramatically reduced; to understand new cloud solutions and subscription licensing models can drive net new capabilities in their business and not simply a better version of what they already have; to challenge the way they’ve always done things and, if required, to find a technology partner who challenges them to strive for new and different ways to do things.
Once this is achieved, the bigger and potentially more rewarding result of an SMB re-imagining their core products and services through the direct application of technology will be more readily realised, as too will Janelle Hall’s vision.