Digital Transformation: Why IT is More Important Than Ever to Small and Midsize Businesses

The pace of digital innovation is growing exponentially and, even if you think you are on top of things, it’s always worth asking yourself if you’re keeping up. A staggering amount of technologies are all coming into their own at the same time: AI, big-data-driven analytics, 3D printing, managed services, virtual reality, 360 videos, live streaming, and more. The potential for synergies between technologies and the implications that can have for how to you interact with customers are endless.

Businesses, and small to midsize businesses, in particular, need to be focused on digital transformation. Even if your business model is working great, even if you feel like you’re in control, you need to have a mindset of transformation and innovation, and IT should be right in the thick of it.

Why Focus on Transformation

What is digital transformation? The concept is pretty simple, but putting it into action is a different matter entirely.

New technologies change the rules. You don’t want to be Borders when Amazon shows up and changes the way we buy books, and eventually pretty much everything else. You don’t want to be a livery cab driver when Uber and Lyft let you hail a ride from anywhere on your smartphone, complete with price and time estimates.

Digital transformation is about taking proactive steps to incorporate new technologies into your business model. This might mean making uncomfortable changes earlier than you anticipate, or reconsidering something that in the past has worked great for you.

Steven Sasson invented the digital camera in 1975 for Kodak, the technology that eventually put them out of business. While the first version took forever to record a 100×100 image, and even longer to pull it up, by 1989 they had built a DSLR similar to what’s on the market today. “When we built that camera, the argument was over,” said Sasson to The New York Times. “It was just a matter of time, and yet Kodak didn’t really embrace any of it. That camera never saw the light of day.”

Kodak was not willing to let digital innovation transform their business model. It was easier in the short term to keep going with what they already had, but in the end, it drove them out of business.

Changing Roles for IT

The traditional model of IT at SMBs is to “keep the trains running on time.” In other words, their main concern has typically been to keep everything working and put out fires that inevitably come up in day-to-day operations. Most IT departments are in “reactive” mode, waiting for issues to arise, troubleshooting the problem, ensuring it doesn’t happen again, and then waiting for the next thing to crop up.

As technology moves more to the center of what every business does, this reactive model doesn’t make sense. Instead, IT needs to move into a proactive mode. They need to think like entrepreneurs, strategists, opportunists, rather than simply troubleshooting. A recent survey from The Economist Intelligence Unit shows that 44% of senior executives would like IT to plan and implement a digital transformation strategy, but that 60% are dissatisfied with IT’s contribution to these strategies so far.

IT needs to embrace a new role in driving big changes in business and stepping into a leadership role, but change is hard.

New Technologies Are Making Life Easier

Mobile was just the tip of the iceberg. Immediate and interminable access to email, the internet, and more from the palm of our hands was a major revolution in terms of what became possible — and later what was expected — in a more connected world.

For IT, changes in technology are making it possible to not be so chained to maintaining physical equipment. Managed IT services give SMBs access to high-powered network security and troubleshooting around the clock. Cloud-based applications and storage are freeing up employees to more often work from home or on-the-go.

IT’s changing role in this equation is to have a clear vision of what options are out there, how they can be leveraged to make things run more efficiently and, ultimately, make business more agile and effective in the long run. A tool like automation may take a bit of work to sort out now, but if it leads to a chatbot that can take care of the majority of routine customer service requests via a popular messaging channel, it’s an overall win for your business.

What You Can Do Right Now

As technology continues to evolve, IT is in the best position to keep on top of new developments and pitch forward-thinking ways of incorporating these innovations into daily operations. Digital transformation isn’t an easy process. There’s not a step-by-step list you can follow to succeed.

Part of what makes a disruptive technology disruptive is that most people don’t realize how much of a game-changer it’s going to become. You need to think adversarially about what type of changes could completely upend your success. In short, you need to shift from a reactive to a proactive mentality. And embracing this shift can enable IT to lead digital transformation and help your business thrive.

  • Understand how changing technology can upend your business model

  • Offload reactive responsibilities from IT with managed services and automation technologies

  • Embrace an entrepreneurial mindset with IT

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