bluenotes debate: the digital strategy SMEs need

Small-to-medium enterprises need to go digital to grow.                

ANZ’s latest insights report The Digital Economy: transforming Australian businesses shows businesses could benefit from a collective revenue boost of $A385 billion per year and around 22 million hours of effort saved each week by employing a range of digital solutions.

To discuss the issue, we sat down with Blue Derby Pods Ride owner Tara Howell, Xero’s Australian Managing Director Trent Innes and ANZ’s General Manager of Small Business Banking Guy Mendelson. The event was hosted by SmartCompany digital publisher Zoe Dattner.

Below is an edited version of the discussion. In this, part one, the panel picks apart going digital and using data effectively.

They start by addressing the importance of a digital strategy to SMEs.

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Pic (L-R): Zoe Dattner, Trent Innes, Tara Howell and Guy Mendelson

INNES: On digital strategy we're kind of going from a sense where it was nice to have, to now everything kind of converging to the point where small business owners - or any companies - are not going to have a choice. 

"On digital strategy we're going from a sense where it was nice to have, to now… companies are not going to have a choice.” - Innes

There'll be some that will go into it deliberately, some without really knowing they are and some that are engaging in digital already.

It’s almost like a perfect storm - we've got government and industry becoming more and more digital. And once we realise we’re on the digital journey, how do we then help people understand what's possible?

DATTNER: I think people who run their own businesses are naturally DIY. They know their costs are pretty tight a lot of the time.

I noticed a comment in the report from someone who said “look, it was just easier to do my own spreadsheet instead of buying some complicated bit of software”. 

With that in mind, we're working against some embedded cultural behaviours when it comes to people who run their own business. What have you learned by exploring these digital mindsets?

MENDELSON:  I was quite surprised that only 10 per cent of the people we spoke with were confident in their use of digital tools.

The research has demonstrated for you to be successful in a fast-moving environment - with the pace of change that's occurring – the use of digital tools is pretty compelling. If a small business can save 10 hours per week - I don't think there's anyone in the room who wouldn't be attracted to that.

From our perspective SME owners will not be able to be competitive - and will not survive I think in the next two to three years - if they don't start to consider how to incorporate some of the things in the report.

To me digital is one of the probably the most-overused terms in business. It means so many things to many different people.

Fundamentally to me it is about - how do you fix those friction points in your business to allow you to operate your business more efficiently and more effectively? To do the thing you go into business to do and not get caught up in operational issues?

DATTNER:  Tara, your business is interesting because it can absolutely not survive without a computer. Businesses that start now are absolutely in the digital space.

Can you tell us how starting a business now in the digital environment is a completely different exercise than even 10 just years ago?

HOWELL: I think it would have been incredibly different. Our whole approach to taking our business to market was entirely digital. If I asked a competitor in the industry who started 30 years ago how they took their business to market it would have been going down to a travel agent, booking into distributor magazines and the like.

For me when I think digital, our entire approach to go to market has been through digital marketing. I don't think I'd be here today without it to be honest.

DATTNER: How does how does digital permeate through your staff in terms of methodology and thinking?

HOWELL: It's interesting because our digital element of the business is very much to do with the customer.  We have to find them with great booking process and we do that through digital.

It's not something you master overnight so we have to really massage them through the process with digital communication, encouraging them to finally book. By the time they arrive the whole experience has happened with digital.

DATTNER: I want to talk about data for a little bit because whenever we have these conversations we talk not using our data as well as we should.

I wonder if we could talk about how businesses can start to think about data as something to understand or use, rather than just something you need.

INNES: I love data. I'm a data nerd so I'm always thinking about how we can use it. From a business perspective we’re seeing these digital connections inside organisations which offer a much-better real-time insight into what's actually going on.

I think that's the big change. In the past, most small business owners tended to not like doing accounting. They didn’t like doing compliance.

Yet these things are probably the biggest data gatherers SMEs have. Yet they left it right to the last minute - the end of the month, the quarter or worst-case scenario the end of the year. They had no visibility into what was going on in their business.

With cloud technology and digitisation, they have got the ability to actually look at their data every day and understand what's going on in their businesses.

DATTNER:  Guy what do you think we should be doing as business owners to ensure we're really examining the right parts of our business for the right bits of data - and where we should be prioritising investment when it comes to digital platforms?

MENDELSON:  I think first and foremost every day - regardless of how small or big you are - you must be considering this because otherwise you won't be competitive.

If you are running a small or medium enterprise and you're not thinking about that, you're going to really struggle to be competitive in a period of time.

The one thing about data is it's not about having it today but building up the history so you can make decisions. You understand seasonality. You understand customer loyalty. You understand the impact of change.

I think that is the one thing I really encourage people to think about and talk about.

Cosi De Angelis is GM Transaction Banking & Asset Finance Solutions at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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