Steven Sasson was working for Kodak when he invented the digital camera in 1975, the same technology that would put them out of business in 2012. While the first draft recorded a grainy image 100 pixels wide that took 23 seconds to print to cassette tape, by 1989 they had created a DSLR similar to what you can buy today.
“When we built that camera, the argument was over,” Sasson said to The New York Times in 2015. But Kodak refused to pursue the project: “They were convinced that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a television set. Print had been with us for over 100 years, no one was complaining about prints, they were very inexpensive, and so on.”
Not every business will experience such a clear wakeup call. You’re probably not going to invent the very technology that will put you out of business. Instead, you’ll more likely experience an accumulation of technologies and workflows that can help you do what you’re already doing better and faster than before.
New technologies change the rules. Technologies like AI, automation, big data analytics, business telephone services, and more are altering the ways that businesses large and small interact with their customers. Here are the signs that your small business is in need of digital transformation, and how you can get started.
1. You Only Call IT When Something Breaks
If your small business has anyone in IT (and that can be a big “if”), most likely their usual role in your day-to-day is to keep the lights on. If something breaks, you give them a call and then wait for them to come up with a fix.
In this kind of relationship, your IT department is in a “reactive” mode, where they wait for problems to come up and then troubleshoot the issue at hand. The problem is that there’s a lot of waiting involved: They wait for an issue to come up, and you wait for a solution.
No matter what business you’re in, technology is increasingly at the center of what you do. Getting in touch with customers, planning meetings, communicating with your team, and maintaining databases—all key business operations for every SMB—have become increasingly reliant on technology.
They’re also things that can be improved upon with the right tech. This is where having IT that’s proactively involved and invested in your business operations can make a difference.
IT touches every part of your business. Their goal should be to understand the workflows and processes that lead to technology requests. Taking the time to sit down and observe how your team works will help them find ways to streamline those processes.
There are likely things you’re doing manually that could be automated very easily, saving you massive amounts of time. If you need to give your tech person more space to focus on processes, rather than keeping the lights on, consider managed IT services to lighten the load.
2. You Use a Lot of Spreadsheets
Institutional memory is an important part of running a business that sustains itself long-term. Often, you don’t realize just how much you rely on someone’s good organization to keep things running smoothly. At the same time, doing things because they’re the “way we’ve always done it” is not a very good argument when that routine is inefficient or requires a lot of manual labor.
Spreadsheets are powerful tools for keeping track of business operations. For certain tasks like statistical analysis, they’re still the most powerful tool for the job. But in the last 10 years, we’ve developed a lot of other tools to solve problems that used to require heavily customized spreadsheets.
Do you have a content production and publishing spreadsheet? Consider replacing it with a project management tool like Asana or BaseCamp. Do you use a spreadsheet to keep track of customer contacts or vendors? Look at a CRM solution to turn that data into records that you can feed into other automated processes.
3. You Spend a Lot of Time Emailing People
Email is a great tool that makes it easy to coordinate and share information across teams. If you’re like most people, however, the ever-growing unread emails count in your inbox is a major source of stress. Our inboxes have become increasingly jam-packed, and sorting out the signal from the noise can be tricky.
Reducing clutter in email communications is a tricky process, but absolutely doable. The first thing to consider is where you’re spending the most time.
As we mentioned earlier, a good project management suite can consolidate information that was previously only in your inbox. Things like production schedules, specific tasks, and who’s in charge of what are all readily available and intuitive.
Often with project feedback or iteration, an email with feedback turns into an endless chain of forty or more messages. A collaboration tool like Slack can organize those conversations and create room for more back-and-forth. This is particularly useful when it comes to scheduling, as you can take advantage of one of several bots developed for the platform to automate the process.
Finally, for communications with your customers, explore marketing automation. Taking the time to build and curate your email list is important, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t know what to do with it. Dive into an email marketing platform, and set triggers for things like an abandoned cart or a second site visit to send leads the right offer at the right time.
What You Can Do Right Now
What makes a disruptive technology so disruptive is that we can’t predict how much of a game-changer a particular piece of tech will become. You can keep on doing things the way that we’ve been doing them because it works and it’s convenient. Or, you can take a proactive approach and look for areas of your business in need of digital transformation.
- Get IT more involved in business processes and less concerned with putting out fires.
- Look for opportunities to automate and simplify any workflows that rely on spreadsheets.
- Reconsider your business communications if you’re overwhelmed with email.