Enterprise Ireland’s John Durcan shares his advice for SMEs on how to start and succeed in their digital transformation journey.
Business leaders have been talking broadly about digital transformation for years. But for smaller companies, the journey can be a little more difficult and it can be hard to know where to start.
However, the last two years have made digitalisation more important than ever and State agency Enterprise Ireland has been working on several supports throughout the pandemic to help SMEs both weather the storm of Covid-19 and to help them progress on their digital journey.
John Durcan is a senior digital transformation specialist in Enterprise Ireland and is responsible for developing and implementing a new digital strategy to help companies on their digital journey.
“The focus is to explore how digital can be used to help a business scale, right though from introducing technology to help manage business processes to embedding or leveraging AI/quantum computing in a product and service,” he said. “Over time, working with companies, we aim to raise the digital maturity of Irish industry.”
Enterprise Ireland’s current supports include a €9,000 digitalisation voucher, which can help companies develop a digital roadmap for their business; LeanPlus, which is a project that helps businesses implement digital change; the Digital Marketing Capability support, which helps companies develop a digital marketing strategy; research, development and innovation funding supports for companies developing new products; and Operational Excellence, which is designed for companies looking at a large digital transformation project.
‘Digital skills are key for building digital fluency’
– JOHN DURCAN
How can businesses progress their digital transformation journey?
I think the first step is to take a step back and review the business end to end. Traditional process mapping is very helpful here. Understand the flows within the business. Do you have duplication? Where do you have data/technology? Are you using that data and technology to its potential? For example, do you have a machine where the sensors are turned off or not using the data they generate?
Once this is done, you can apply good lean principles to start to streamline processes. Then start to look at how digital can help to streamline, improve efficiency, gain new insights or develop a new product or service. For example, create a financial dashboard that gives daily/weekly expenditure of a business, or embed sensors into a product and provide a value-add service on top of this based on the data it gives out.
We are finding that companies often are starting their digital journey looking at sales and marketing areas, as this is the area many are most familiar with and can get some quick wins to implement technology to help. What this does is it helps build awareness of potential and confidence to explore other areas where digital can help.
However, it is also important to then look at the rest of the business. As the efficiency of the front-end with getting more customers grows, there is a risk it will create a bottleneck where the rest of the business is all manual and struggling to scale.
What role does digital fluency play when it comes to digital transformation in a company?
Digital fluency is a very important part of digital transformation. Companies who are more comfortable to talk digital and use digital tend to scale faster and have higher sales.
Training and awareness is a key part of this. It is very important that the C-suite start to engage on upskilling and awareness of digital in relation to their business and sector. This may be as simple as reviewing how competitors are using digital but, more broadly, building up knowledge is important.
However, this does not mean that all C-suite should become technology experts. Digital technologies should always be viewed as tools to help business. But companies should start to move to a digital-first approach, in that whenever a new service or process is developed, questions are asked: Can digital help here?
It is also very good to talk to staff and see are there untapped digital skills within the existing workforce. These employees may be interested in new roles and they have the advantage of knowing the business. Ideally companies over time will do a full skills audit of staff and then design training programmes and supports to help in their upskilling and development. Digital skills are key for building digital fluency.
How can businesses address the increasing security challenges they face?
I would see two areas to this. First, the businesses who are using digital services, and second, those developing digital solutions.
For companies using digital services, start thinking about SaaS solutions. The business can benefit from not having to patch and update the systems and many of the SaaS products now have encryption at rest by default or is available as an add-on. When looking at new products and services, look for companies who have security standards in place such as ISO 27001 or similar, it can help indicate they have good data processes in place in the business.
For companies who develop digital services, start to implement security/privacy by design best practices into all aspects of development. Also, look at planning to have technical staff trained up on AI ethics, data governance and secure programming. All of this helps to create a security culture within development, which is growing more important.
Overall, it’s good to focus on non-technology areas such as regular staff awareness training on cyber, review finance procedures for change requests in payments to try and mitigate impersonation attacks, and foster a culture in the business to report suspected issues quickly.
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