“Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.”
——–James Baldwin, Poet and activist
Future proof your business
The world is shifting at a breakneck speed. Internet connectivity has unlocked new and constantly faster communication modes, and we are now more connected than ever before. This fact is just one of many that have essentially changed how the world does business. To the casual observer, digitalization and business development do not seem to be connected. But according to Gartner, digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business. And business development can be summarized as the ideas, initiatives, and activities that help make a company better. This includes increasing revenues, growth in terms of business expansion, and increasing profitability. That there is a common thread that connects digitalization and business development is undoubted.
We trust that the coherence of this article is not affected by the fact that each of these two concepts are touched upon only lightly and barely enough for the reader to grasp the basics. Digitalization and business development are indeed not unrelated. Cause principles that apply for one of them apply for the other. Digitalization has been enhancing our lives and the environments in which businesses operate.
To future proof your company, requires businesses to integrate the digital era into the DNA of their business, not just to add a website with a virtual tour of their business. In reality, too many companies are only willing to make small gestures toward embracing new technologies. Goodwin (2018) refers to this as a “bolted-on” approach. An example of this is when a bank creates an “App” that allows a cheque to be deposited by snapping a photo of it, rather than rethinking the need for using paper cheques in this day and age. They’re purely jamming technology into a dying system (Goodwin, 2018).
Another example of this is the story of the DVD rental chain Blockbuster. Once a popular and profitable retailer, Blockbuster ended at rock bottom when the traditional DVD rental model collapsed. The learning of Blockbuster tale is that when a business fails to stay ahead of the curve, it is almost evidently doomed.
It’s only a matter of time before digital technology becomes like electricity, as a seamless part of our daily lives and the operations of every business. So, this is what tomorrow’s leading companies will need to embrace.
How does your business navigate these tricky waters? We often think in terms of “survival of the fittest.” But what does that mean for businesses today, when rapid global change is an ongoing concern? You may think that the most successful companies will always be massive with teams of experts and billions to spend (Goodwin, 2018).
Instead of tweaking an ailing system, businesses must be willing to make fundamental changes to adapt truly. Companies have to go beyond the outer layers of their business and have bold innovation at the core of their operations. But these days, digitalization and a permanently connected society mean that the relationship between business and customer goes both ways. No longer will a disinterested or disappointed customer refuse to buy your product; they will now actively try to bring it down. Social media can destroy a poorly run business in a matter of weeks (Trefler, 2014). This trend will not change cause small and medium enterprises (SMEs) still need to change their focus from old-school tactics and tools to digitalization strategies. This will allow SMEs to penetrate their respective markets more effectively (Branding, 2021).
Being able to position yourself is a proper way to ensure your business has a long-lasting success. This is the best time to integrate digitalization into your strategy as more people spend more time on their devices, smartphones, or PCs (Branding, 2021). When exploring the next big thing, it helps to try and see one or two steps down the road. A great example of this is Apple, with its creativity, innovation, and thinking outside the box.
Netflix has become the benchmark of modern digitalization. But Netflix isn’t successful because of streaming only. It’s successful because the company ‘gets it’ to pivot wherever it needs to go nimbly. The leaders of tomorrow will be the businesses that make things like buying products and streaming content easily, no matter where you are.
The future belongs to the new pioneers, entrepreneurs, and start-ups. But that is not how it has to be for SMEs. SMEs should always be looking at ways to improve the efficiency of their business. There is no reason why prominent, established, or new businesses have to be the only engines of innovation. SMEs can also set the pace and set trends.
The past few months have seen unprecedented technological advancements, fueled by COVID-19 and the lockdown. The way people shop, communicate, work and live in general has changed the way people live in the world. Technology has acquired an important role in the new normal, ensuring that business activities continue safely, such as the use of QR codes in restaurants and hotels to order food; capacity control through the digitization of physical spaces and counting chambers; the implementation of remote temperature sensors; and the identification and forecasting of the behaviour of new outbreaks of the pandemic through Big Data and Artificial Intelligence.
Faced with these changes, digital transformation is a central issue, as shown by the KPMG report ” CEO Outlook 2020: COVID-19 “, 80% of the CEOs of the world’s largest organizations have seen their transformation programmes accelerate during the period of confinement and it is probable that 67% will invest more capital in acquiring technology, than in personnel development. There is a big digital divide between companies, and some are ready for change as they continue to invest in the sector very early on, starting with digitalization. Change the present, take advantage of opportunities, and create value through rewards. In contrast, SMEs are overwhelmed by new conditions and must reinvent themselves to continue their business operations.
Governments and businesses develop initiatives to provide educational tools and facilitate access to technology, but it is necessary for SMEs to take the first step to accelerate their digitization, and thereby become more competitive, efficient and flexible, adapting to the new situations such as teleworking, online training and off-site customer service. It has remained in the past that the implementation of Cloud services, process automation, decision making based on Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, are only the field of large companies and multinationals.
SMEs are the backbone of the economy, they are considered the main engine and greatest generator of jobs. According to the International Council for Small Businesses , it is estimated that they represent 90% of businesses and generate between 60% and 70% % of jobs in the world. There is still the belief that starting with the digitalization of a company requires high budgets and people with a specialized profile. The good news is that this is not the case anymore! There are a series of solutions that can help to improve and automate processes and company management, without the need for large investments, deployments or technical knowledge.
A new era
Amid a rapidly changing society and global economy, companies often struggle to stay ahead. But by recognizing that digitalization is here to stay, they can be sure of success even in an uncertain world. Hence, businesses have to start thinking about how their companies can create new forms of value for customers by being more integrated with the digital era and meeting their customers’ needs (Goodwin, 2018).
The real innovative and disruptive companies will be the ones that use this kind of technology to discover that the effect is so transformative. They’ll always have the latest tech at the core of their business plan as a tool for helping people in innovative ways. Like Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, states, “The opportunity to raise the quality of life is the biggest business opportunity.”
Goodwin, Tom (2018): Digital Darwinism.1st Edition., Kogan Page Ltd.
Branding, Michael (2021): Digital Marketing 2021: Turn your online business, social media agency or personal brand into a money-making machine using Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. My Publishing Empire Ltd.
Investopedia: Basic business development. Available from: www.investopedia.com [Accessed 18 June 2021]
Gartner Glossary: Digitalization. Available from: www.gartner.com [Accessed 18 June 2021]
Trefler, Alan (2014): Build for Change. John Wiley & Sons Inc, USA.
Entrepreneur.com: Digital Transformation Is Essential in the New Normal. Is Your Company Ready to Start It? www.entrepreneur.com [Accessed 21 June 2021]
About the Writers:
Romein is a (self-confessed) Pan-Africanist by heart. His diversified professional career spans many different sectors, i.e., local government, mining, consultancy, construction, advertising, and development cooperations. He has an MBA in CSR and various qualifications in engineering, environmental health, and leadership. Romein is the Head: Business for Development at PIRON Global Development, Germany (www.piron.global). Contact him via ([email protected])
Ebenezer is a Development Communication Specialist, an SDG Market Building, SME & Finance Researcher, serving as Senior Project Manager with PIRON Global Development, Ghana (www.piron.global). Contact him via ([email protected])