Three steps to a successful digital strategy
Now, more than ever, the use of digital technology is essential for businesses to be more efficient and position themselves for growth.
“Businesses that make smart, strategic investments in digital technologies can reap huge benefits,” says Jonathan Pastrikos, Senior Business Advisor in the technology practice at BDC Advisory Services.
Thirty-four percent of Canadian businesses said they will most likely put their focus on investing in technology after the crisis, according to a BDC tracking study published in June 2020.
The study also found that once things returned to normal, 27% of businesses planned to streamline their operations, 26% planned to sell products online, 22% planned more telework and 20% planned to offer more remote services.
Technology can solve your business’s challenges
However, investing in digital technologies can be intimidating and disruptive and evidence shows there is also a high risk of failure, Pastrikos cautions. But staying on the sidelines is not an option because businesses with low digital maturity will struggle and get left behind, he adds.
“The use of technology should allow you to deliver a positive experience to your customers,” he adds. “It should also make your employees’ lives easier and create opportunities for greater efficiency and growth. ”
A BDC study on the use of digital technologies found that 60% of businesses surveyed boosted their productivity, 50% reduced operating costs and 42% improved overall product quality.
Consider digital technologies such as sales and customer management software, project management tools, sales demand and forecasting software, workforce management software, ecommerce, and digital dashboards to give real-time visual representation of your key performance indicators (KPIs). There are many more.
If you devote the time to create and follow a roadmap, you can improve customer experience and employee experience. You can also improve growth for your business.
Pastrikos recommends following three steps to develop your roadmap and set yourself up for success:
1. Define your digital vision
The first step is to come up with your vision for how digital technology will support your business goals in the years ahead.
Pastrikos says clearly defining this vision will allow you to align your digital projects with your larger strategic priorities and plan for the long term, before spending a lot of money.
“You can then move forward with confidence while avoiding costly mistakes.”
Then set your objectives. To do this, gather your team and ask the questions that will bring out how digital fits into your wider business objectives.
For example, how are the needs and expectations of your customers, partners and employees changing? How can you achieve greater operational efficiency?
What would success look like in three to five years? What do you need to get there and what role could digital play in helping you?
You will also need to do what’s called a digital market scan. That’s looking at technology trends specific to your industry and markets as well as potential risks and disruptors, such as more economic upheaval.
2. Build your digital plan
Your vision establishes where you want to go. Now, put together a digital plan to get you there, Pastrikos says.
The first step in your plan is to know what systems you are already using and how you are using them.
“A great way to do this is by mapping your business processes and identifying the digital tools used in each step to create, copy, store, transfer and report on your data,” he says.
Entrepreneurs can be surprised at the results.
“Many entrepreneurs are shocked when they realize how many applications are actually used (with or without permission) and how much time and effort is wasted trying to find and manage information.”
You will also need to consider if your employees need more training to use available tools more effectively, Pastrikos says.
Like many companies, you may find that it’s time to make a strategic investment in new and better systems.
You will likely identify several opportunities for improvement. Plan the projects your company will undertake over the next one to two years and prioritize them to increase revenues, productivity and expansion.
Give priority to the projects that are most closely aligned to your strategic vision and that will yield the greatest impact. You could choose “quick win” projects that can be completed relatively quickly with little cost and often provide immediate improvements.
Medium-term projects are typically more strategic investments that require more time, effort and cost, such as the implementation of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, he notes.
Future projects are those that are on the radar but are less of a priority.
3. Execute with discipline
One reason many companies fail or end up with unsatisfactory results when implementing technology is because they haven’t done enough work to identify their real needs and select the right systems.
A rigorous system selection process should include:
- Defining your business and cross-departmental requirements in detail.
- Thoroughly evaluating potential solutions and vendors to ensure the right fit, quality, scalability and trustworthiness.
- Carefully reviewing and comparing vendor proposals to ensure they are comprehensive and you’re avoiding expensive surprises.
Pastrikos says that a lot of companies fail to follow through with discipline after spending money on digital technologies. Often a formal structure with clear roles and responsibilities is missing.
Without this, things may start to drift; problems go unaddressed and projects remain incomplete because no one person is in charge.
That’s why it’s essential that your leadership team actively monitors the progress of your company’s digital vision and plan. Appoint a “champion,” who is a senior staff member to oversee the implementation of each project.
“Getting your employees to change their ways and learn how to use a new system is a real challenge,” he says.
“So, be sure to provide ongoing communication that addresses their concerns and provide adequate training and support to help them buy-in. You also have to make it clear there’s no going back to the old way of doing things.“
Once you’ve done all of the initial work and set things up, you need to keep up the momentum to fully reap the benefits of your investment in digital strategies. Continue to make small improvements and refinements to your systems and processes. Review and update your digital strategy at least once a year. Keep working to create a continuous improvement culture in your company.
“Take action, measure results and make changes to improve. Repeat the cycle. It’s the path to success and it really works,” Pastrikos says.