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Why investing now in digital tools is essential for the long-term success of small businesses

Ryan Demaray, Managing Director of SMB, SAP Concur

“Unforeseen” is a word that has dominated an above-average number of headlines over the past year. Without warning, many companies were confronted with situations that threatened their existence. With the challenges of the volatile economic environment, managers are faced with shifting entire work processes into the digital realm and needing to react quickly and creatively when new changes occur.

Suddenly, digitisation projects have become must-haves and competitive advantages, but what measures can be used to accelerate digital transformation even with a limited budget? To buy into the transformation process, it’s important for small business leaders to focus on transforming the company first.

Increase employee satisfaction and wellbeing

Making small changes in the right place can quickly have a positive impact on company goals. The pandemic is driving digital transformation in many ways but a key factor for many businesses has been the shift to hybrid working.

Although employees now have more flexibility, morale and wellbeing is often being overlooked during this time. To prevent employee frustration and loss of productivity, employers need to look at the tools they’re providing and whether they’re fit for the new working world we’re in. This starts with looking at the software and solutions businesses are relying on for collaboration and processes that were traditionally manual or paper-based, as well as ensuring the devices being using are fit for purpose. For virtual teamwork to be optimised properly, employees need to be trained and educated in how to best approach their roles from a hybrid perspective.

The dynamic world of work can make it increasingly difficult for employers to meet employees’ duty of care. There are many challenges they face including updating health and safety regulations, security threats and implementing travel and office restrictions. To be able to properly inform and support employees in real time, managers, supervisors and the HR team need a lot of information from their staff. Management IT solutions can help to support the entire process, for example, desk booking services enable managers to see when certain staff will be in the office and help them to make informed decisions about the office environment on that day.

Achieve initial success with digital tools

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In this flexible working era, cost control and compliance can be difficult to manage without full visibility. Digital IT solutions help to integrate booking, billing and approval processes on a digital platform and make the entire process transparent. Allowing leaders at SMBs to focus on driving growth for their organisations, rather than getting absorbed by the day-to-day operations.

Once the first strategically important digitisation projects have been implemented, it is important to set up holistic integrated processes and structures. The lesson learned from the pandemic is that planning early is never a bad idea and can stop businesses from making hasty decisions in the future.

Keeping on top of changing regulations

The rapid changes in the global working world have not stopped at laws and regulations: almost all companies have faced increasing compliance and data protection regulations and environmental protection guidelines. With the growing complexity of these regulations, companies are not always able to comply with the latest requirements – which puts them at risk of receiving potential penalties. By digitising the relevant processes, it helps drive transparency, cost control and security in compliance.

Take automated controls that are integrated into expense approval processes as an example. This acts as a safeguard for the finance team while at the same time sparing them a laborious task that could be filled with errors.

Integrate IT for expansion

Across the globe, we are shaping a sustainable future. In the UK, the government hopes to meet their 2050 net-zero target. The demand for environmentally sustainable behaviour will remain way past the pandemic. And while it’s easy to think that it’s only larger enterprises that will make this most impact in this space, SMBs also need to make sustainability a top priority. If digital tools can be used gradually along the entire business process to measure business travel activities and implement environmentally sustainable policies, then companies will have the data basis to uncover optimisation potential. In this way, businesses can anticipate new regulations, create incentives for its employees and respond to the needs of customers.

In the past year, many companies have developed new working concepts and this spirit of innovation must be demonstrated in future investment decisions. The integration of separate IT infrastructures and data silos is helping SMBs recognise trends in data and make informed decisions. The key to futureproofing and continuing to drive growth for small businesses, is to be flexible and adaptable to help stay ahead of the competition.

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