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  • Hugo Walker

Prioritising Digital Transformation: SMEs, Coronavirus and planning ahead



Throughout the Coronavirus crisis, digital technology has proven increasingly important for companies, especially SMEs. As businesses across the country have pivoted from in-person to online interactions - both between customers and colleagues - the need to have efficient digital systems in place has grown.


John Hargrave, chief operating officer at BP Collins, spoke about his experience digitising the workplace. Three years ago, the Buckinghamshire-based law firm began a four-year digital transformation - and the Covid crisis has provided a lucid incentive for other businesses to begin similar digitisation processes.


“You’ve got to take a strategic stand and say: ‘Look, if we’re going to do this, it has to be all or nothing.’ You first have to imagine yourself in four years’ time as that bigger, better company, then look at the steps you need to take to get there,” said Mr Hargrave.


The tendency of SMEs to view digital transformation as an extra cost, rather than a priority, causes businesses to be hesitant about investing in software and technology. Mr Hargrave advocates for a shift in perspective on technology and digitised processes:


“This is about future-proofing the business. It’s also part of continuity planning.”


One of the crucial aspects of BP Collins’ digital transformation includes obtaining IT equipment to allow staff to work at home if needed. While BP Collins could not have estimated how quickly and critically this investment would pay off, the foresight of Mr Hargraves and his team allowed for the firm’s smooth transition to normal working levels over lockdown.


Similarly, Mr Hargrave pointed out the importance of selecting the right provider of a public-private cloud server. When choosing an IT partner, it is useful to think about the size of the business that will be providing the service, according to Hargrave.


“It’s important to match the size of their business to the size of your business. There’s no point in going with a company for which you’d be among the smallest 10% of its clients. You need to be an important client to your provider, so you can get that meeting of minds.”


Rachel Clarke, Commercial Director at London-based digital marketing agency Emerging Communications, also advocates for digital transformation. She notes that there are many obstacles for SMEs, such as budgetary constraints:


“Persuading people to part with money when they think things are working already can be hard.”


Further, SMEs “often don’t have a wide selection of choices with digital transformation. Budgets for custom-built digital platforms rarely exist, but there are options to choose from that can be tailored to your requirements, to some degree,” says Ms Clarke.


However, the pandemic has left us with a new normal - one that requires effective digital technologies. By prioritising digital transformations as a critical part of ‘continuity planning’, rather than viewing digitisation as a costly extra, as Mr Hargrave pointed out, SMEs can adapt to the new business landscape.