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In the era of technology like applicant tracking systems, digital learning management systems and interview scheduling tools that increase output and decrease man hours, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when undertaking a digital transformation—especially for smaller companies that lack sky-high budgets. But converting analog processes to digital ones is just as important for small to medium-sized businesses or enterprises. Digital transformations enable them to compete with larger companies and can lead to savings and innovation.

Getting there, however, can be a challenge—not only because of limited budgets, but also because it takes considerable effort to figure out what areas to digitize and what products to use. Jessie Salsbury, an HR professional for A-1 Careers, offered up some guidelines that small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can follow.

By making strategic investments, testing solutions before purchasing them and only updating the tools or processes that need the biggest facelift, SMBs and SMEs can perform digital transformations despite their smaller budgets.

Identifying Your Most Pertinent Needs

Companies today understand the necessity of a digital transformation and are more likely to invest in them. In fact, via its annual Worldwide Digital Transformation Spending Guide, the International Data Company predicted that businesses would spend $1.2 trillion in 2019 on digital transformations in an effort to attract new customers, keep up with competition, improve employee productivity and save money. But for SMBs and SMEs with less to spend, these investments must be strategic.

Although it’s tempting to find a digital fix for every problem in your organization, it’s best to identify one or two things where an overhaul will truly save you time and money, says Jessie Salsbury, an HR professional for A-1 Careers in Kansas City.

“You take one thing that is overwhelming your clients, customers or employees or one thing that would make a big impact. For example, there are huge repercussions if taxes or I-9 documents are completed incorrectly, and the cost to go digital may outweigh the cost of keeping it on paper,” she says.

To narrow it down, she suggests forming a committee or working with each department to determine what their needs are. “HR can sometimes be a hub of where everyone complains and the soft information of what isn’t working internally,” explains Salsbury. But by creating space to air out and listen to these complaints, SMBs and SMEs can get a better sense of what their employees and customers need from a digital transformation. 

Try Before You Buy

After determining the areas in your company that can be strengthened by digital transformation, look for solutions that are cost-effective—but don’t commit with full gusto immediately, says Salsbury.

“Sometimes small businesses can get approval for all the newest and coolest gadgets because there isn’t the ‘red tape’ for approval of new technology [that larger businesses grapple with], but it ends up not being needed,” she says.

Instead, Salsbury recommends a “try before you buy” approach. For example, request a demo or go on a month-to-month plan before you invest so it’s easy to back out if it’s not the right tool.

SMBs and SMEs should also be sure to choose solutions that keep their digitalization uncluttered. In other words, look for software, hardware and digital storage solutions that work together or build on each other. A report on Martech Advisor recommends integrating your technology and systems to avoid “a complex system that speaks multiple languages (different formats, inputs, outputs, etc.).”

Not Everything Has to Be Digitized

Finally, a good way to keep costs down during a digital transformation is to understand that not every business—or division within a business—needs digital solutions. Before introducing something new, SMBs and SMEs must be sure the additional innovation is fiscally responsible and beneficial to customers. For example, when evaluating internal operations prior to a digital transformation, work to answer the question “Will the training time be considerable?” Digital transformations require training in order to teach teams new solutions and work out any kinks or bugs, and the time and money spent on these learning stages should be factored into a cost analysis.

It’s also important to remember the following: There is no magical digital solution that will work 100% of the time.

“If you switch to having employees fill out their on-boarding forms via an iPad tablet, what happens when WiFi goes down? Or, if you change to having your clients only communicate via chat rooms, what happens when you have a client that cannot communicate that way?” says Salsbury.

At the end of the day, new technology is often worth the time and financial investment—especially because customers and employees alike now expect businesses to be responsive to their ever-increasing digital needs. But the expenses associated with these changes can be intimidating, especially for an SMB or SME. However, by carefully considering internal and external needs and taking time to find the right solutions, they too can experience the benefits of a digital transformation—like increased productivity and better customer reach—in an affordable way.

Image via Creative Commons