A holistic approach to technology: how SMBs can continue to innovate

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There’s no doubt that the UK and Europe’s small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) are experiencing fundamental change in their markets. As well as regulatory requirements and economic shifts taking place, emerging technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation are transforming the way business, large or small, is carried out.  

SMBs need to adapt, and fast. Our recent Generation Innovate study found 34% of 3,300 SMB leaders surveyed from across 23 countries say they will go out of business by 2020 if they fail to innovate in response to these changes. Part of adapting is to challenge traditional assumptions about growth. Indeed, while business leaders are most concerned about digital disruption with 92% recognising its impact in their sector, 59% say they are not yet in a position to take advantage of its benefits.   

A holistic approach to technology is required if SMBs are to tackle disruption head-on and successfully innovate in their changing markets. Our research has uncovered three key areas where SMBs should apply technology to help focus their attention.  

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Building closer customer relationships 

Our study shows that 54% of leaders recognise that they need to develop ongoing relationships with their customers. The speed of development is vital in meeting consumers’ expectations, and SMBs must use technology to facilitate and inform their efforts.  

A good example of this is Amazon’s pledge back in 2013 to introduce a drone-based delivery system. Fast track to 2018, and Amazon lockers are all the rage, self-service kiosks allowing customers to collect or return parcels at any convenient time. So what happened to the drones? Despite a first proof-of-concept flight happening in Cambridge in December 2016, this has remained, for the most part, a concept, held back by environmental regulations. Amazon lockers have taken the spotlight.

This smooth transitioning ultimately reflects Amazon’s continuing success in meeting expectations of innovation. Held back from delivering the drone initiative, the company has blurred lines between concept and reality while ensuring speedy delivery remains at the heart of their innovation. Continuing to innovate at this level is a key ingredient for success.   

Investing in smarter workplace technology 

Innovation can’t happen without investment in technology. Indeed, our research shows the majority of leaders (74%) recognise this. But it’s investment in the right technology – smarter workplace technology – which can reshape processes, improve agility and make efficiencies.

This needs to become a key consideration for business leaders. A separate study we carried out in partnership with Oxford Economics called Economy of People found that executives are at risk of taking a wrong turn when it comes to the right investments in technology. 93% of companies that plan to spend more than 10% of their annual operating budget identified facilities management as having the greatest impact on productivity. On the other hand, we found that employees recognise the need for better processes, with 82% citing digitisation of information as the most effective technology to execute successful digital transformation strategies.  

Indeed, by using digital technology, time-consuming processes can be streamlined and automated, freeing up employees to focus on higher-level tasks and ensuring SMBs are agile and able to capitalise on market changes. The Economy of People report found that if businesses were to invest in critical workplace elements directly affecting people’s performance – including automation technology – the UK could unlock £36.8 billion in untapped GDP for the UK.  

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Empowering employees through technology 

The benefits of deploying technology don’t stop there. The use of different technology can also help empower employees and develop creative thinking. Our research shows that business leaders are realising this, with 42% wanting to encourage safe spaces for experimentation to see if ideas are successful.

However, technology alone can’t unlock people’s full potential. Business leaders also need to have a deep understanding of how their employees interact with processes and use the technology. A people-centred approach is key. In our study, we found that given the right tools and technology, 78% of employees believe they could be more productive when working remotely, highlighting how tools that create a more convenient and accessible workplace for employees will better enable them to meet their objectives. 

This is particularly true given that nowadays, most businesses are dealing with multi-generation workforces which have different levels of digital literacy and different needs. Understanding individual needs and being able to support them with the right tools and technology is crucial in maximising creativity and gaining the very best from a diverse workforce. 

Surviving and excelling 

SMBs must ultimately adapt and innovate if they are to survive and excel in today’s climate of rapid digital transformation. Doing so requires a holistic approach to using technology, which involves meeting and exceeding customer expectations, investing in smarter workplace technology and understanding how best different employees can utilise it. Not only will this foster a culture of continuous innovation, but it will also ensure employees can reach their full potential, allowing businesses to continue on an upward trajectory of growth. 

Mike Baddeley, Director of Innovation and Strategy at Ricoh UK

Mike Baddeley

Mike Baddeley is the Director of Innovation and Strategy at Ricoh UK. He is a passionate advocate that led change through empowerment, development, and engagement.