Business Technology

Succeeding as an SME in the age of digital disruption

7 min read

15 September 2017

SMEs have rarely worked through a time of more challenge – and more opportunity – than the current period of digital disruption. When markets can change overnight and technology underpins virtually every sector, businesses need a new, strategic approach to secure success

Technology is changing the very fabric of how businesses operate. SMEs are well placed to weather digital disruption and even take advantage of these new technologies, but need to take the right approach. The key lies in working with like-minded companies and collaborating together.

Dealing with digital disruption

Frequently SMEs benefit from not having to deal with legacy systems, while one of the biggest irks for larger businesses is having to be digitally innovative while also upgrading older systems in order to meet modern day customer expectations.

With digital disruption SMEs cannot afford to make poor business decisions and should make the most of the ability to scale up with agility. Regardless, just scaling up quickly isn’t enough: hiring the right staff, making smart business decisions and building a thriving platform is the only way to grow in the long term. In a larger enterprise one mistake isn’t the be all and end all but for an SME the margins are finer.

The tech sector is quite unique in that startups frequently crop up and force digital disruption on entire markets virtually overnight. This presents exciting opportunities for SMEs, particularly. With that said no business is exempt from being disrupted itself and a failure to evolve will see customers turning to better, more creative services.

The tech sector in the UK remains a key source of strength for both Europe and the rest of the world – recent figures from London & Partners found investment in the industry had reached £1.3bn – four times the amount in the first half of 2013, and more than any other six month period. With investment rife, SMEs should remain positive that the support is there, but be aware of digital disruption. A focus on collaboration and innovation will be crucial to the future.

Two heads are better than one

This simple phrase may be an obvious piece of advice for all businesses but the power of working together shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s clear SMEs must adopt a collaborative approach to stay ahead as the pace of change continues to increase. It’ll be fundamental to work with likeminded organisations, as our research found that 67 per cent of global business leaders believe partnering with technology experts is essential in the future.

While innovation runs through the core of any good idea, SMEs should take the initiative to co-collaborate with larger enterprises that offer the expertise and advice needed to develop. Similarly, SMEs can offer great opportunities, both in business and within government, providing the out-of-the-box thinking and agility that delivers great results.

While it’s true that established firms can help SMEs develop ideas and bring them to market, larger enterprises can also profit from entirely new ideas; that’s the beauty of co-collaboration. If an SME can benefit from the guidance of bigger companies, enterprises can benefit from new, unique ideas that SMEs can provide. The old adage two heads are better than one doesn’t only apply to SMEs in this instance.

Innovation is good; smart innovation is great; innovation for the end user is unbeatable

There is no hiding that we are now a technology-driven world and innovation has long played an influential role in SMEs fitting in to this world. An idea can only go so far but a smart idea that is driven by innovation is central to a business thriving in its early years. SMEs by nature are often digitally-native and can scale-up in current markets with ease.

The very patent truth is that technological innovation is now the foundation of all great businesses: healthcare, agriculture, retail and automotive industries have all been improved by the advancements of technology.

To navigate the complex business landscape, entrepreneurs must be bold and work with like-minded businesses. Working with partners, industry bodies and even the customer themselves can help drive proof of concepts and create new products or services. However, forgetting the end user will render innovation and smart business decisions entirely useless.

The greatest SMEs only grow because they understand that the customer is the most important stakeholder – the likes of Amazon, Uber and Netflix all thrived, not through their tech-driven services but because they consistently continue to provide the best in service. Simply put, innovation is fantastic but entirely wasted if it doesn’t improve the customer’s experience.
Finding the perfect mix of co-creation and human-centric innovation

For businesses to succeed and thrive in the modern, technology-driven world two things must happen: enterprises need to work together and innovation must have a tangible impact on society. The latter is called human-centric innovation i.e. creating products and services that improve life and bring purpose to the world, not just creating an idea because you have spare budget. Whether it is technology, finance or another sector at the core of any business should be people.

People are the heart of any successful operation and if adopted early on, in an SME for example, it will lead to real positive change. Working together is no longer just a nice to have but a necessity, while a focus on innovation alone isn’t enough.

Businesses cannot lose sight of the goal which is to create fantastic experiences for the end user. Innovation is great, but entirely wasted if it doesn’t improve society – this is true for SMEs, huge corporations or individual entrepreneurs

Michael Keegan is deputy president of TechUK and head of product business, Fujitsu EMEIA