SMEs can and should be using technology to help lift productivity further. This the message from many of those looking for ways to close the productivity gap between the UK and other countries.

This is primarily through ‘digital transformation’, in particular the automation of some activities, and the ability to use data to better engage with customers and find new customers further afield.

These advances have been written about for years. However, as reports such as that from the RSA Future Work Centre indicate (1), many businesses are not even close to being able to take on this challenge.

Those businesses who have adopted this technology have a big advantage. They have lower cost operations, more loyal customers who are also spending more, and the ability to find the right customer further afield.

But as an SME it’s easy to be held back – through a lack of skills, confusion and uncertainty about technology, insufficient funds or resources. And for business owners it’s reasonable to believe that barriers such as these will take years to overcome.

But that would be a mistake. Ground can be covered surprisingly fast. What matters is the clarity of your business strategy and your ability to identify the critical questions and extract the answers which will help propel your business forward.

E.g. say you are striving to always be price competitive. A key and obvious question might be – how do we take more cost out of the business?

This is difficult. You may already be at the minimum level of spend. Can you cut further without damaging the business?

An alternative question might be – how do we take steps out of our operation thereby reducing cost and speeding things up?

This is much more creative. A small amount of data could reveal the parts of the operation taking the greatest amount of time, and indicate whether automation could make a difference.

Another alternative question might be, simply, how do we become more price competitive?

A similarly focused set of data could help build your engagement with customers such that your services become better value for money than those from the competition.

Questions such as these form part of your ‘data strategy’ – a definition for the data and technology that will do most to accelerate your business forward.

By turning your business strategy into a set of critical ‘unanswered questions’ you can turn things on their head. Instead of surveying all available data and technology before making a choice, you are drawn to the specific elements that will make the biggest difference.

You will spend less, move quicker, and know what skills you need. Barriers will fall away with surprising speed and your business will be able take some big steps forward.

(1) RSA Future Work Centre report: Artificial intelligence, robotics and the future of low-skilled work: http://ow.ly/A51G30lGaXC

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Paul Clarke

Director, Develin Consulting

If you would like help in developing a data strategy or the data sources and intelligence that will propel your business forward, please contact us.