During this period of recovery, Irish companies are looking at every way possible to grow and increase their business. While finding new markets for your offerings is an important strategy, the role that digital transformation can play in business growth cannot be underestimated. According to the World Economic Forum, over $3.1 trillion in productivity gains could be added to the global economy by digital initiatives by 2025.
To ensure they share in these gains, Irish businesses are primed to drive their digital transformation strategies but it’s important that they take a holistic approach so their digital plan can evolve as the business grows.
“Most Irish companies are somewhere along the digital maturity curve,” says Conor O’Donovan, Head of Marketing Communications and the Client Digitalisation Unit at Enterprise Ireland. “Some are at the very early stage, which means they have only begun to look at ways to optimise their business through moving to the cloud for example, or implementing a CRM to improve how they engage and record customer data and interactions. Other companies are further along the journey, and are embedding automation to streamline manual repetitive tasks, while others are adopting data analytics and AI into to improve data analysis and predicting trends that impact their businesses and providing real time customer or supplier information upon which they can make informed decisions.”
Challenges and developing a digital mindset
While the advantages of adopting a robust a robust digital plan are clear and plentiful, there are challenges facing SMEs. “Knowledge and awareness are key issues,” explains Conor.
“Many businesses don’t know where to begin or who to speak with about their digital roadmap, and therefore find it challenging to select the right partner and vendor. Another key challenge is access to skills, both strategic and technical. says O’Donovan
“Ensuring that these skills are available to the business either internally or externally are key success factors, as is developing a digital mindset across the business. Finally, the availability of finance can be a key challenge in implementing the right solutions.”
Many businesses mistakenly believe that digitalisation is just about expensive technology, but this is only part of the story. According to Conor, there are four key aspects to a successful digital strategy, all of which need carefully addressing.
“Firstly, ask yourself why you need a digital strategy. It’s easy to read about a new platform or technology solution but a good digital strategy must be aligned to your business strategy. Ask yourself a number of key questions. For example, what business objective can be enabled by the digital plan? Is it about finding new customers or increasing sales with existing ones? Is it about improving production efficiencies or about strategic decision-making, which requires the availability of real-time accurate information drawing from several business units or locations? These are all important questions that must be answered before you start.
“The second key factor is process. It is hugely important to review and optimise processes before layering on digital technologies. An inefficient process before digital will remain an inefficient process after digital. Talk to Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices for help on this; we have LEAN programmes to support process optimisation.
“The third key element is people. Digital strategies will only work if people at the senior levels and across the organisation understand digital possibilities, see the benefits to the business and champion its adoption. says O’Donovan
“It must be driven by multiple people across the organisation and developing a digital culture and mindset across the business is key. There are multiple programmes on digital available from Skillsnet, the IMI and others to support this.
“Then finally we get to the technology piece. This part can be daunting for companies with limited budget, so it’s vital to take the time to really assess the technology required. It’s also important to ensure interoperability as new technology comes on stream as part of a multi-year plan – so the technology ‘speaks to each other’. This will avoid expensive integration and data extraction issues at a future date.”
Supports progress your digital journey
While the above might feel daunting, especially for businesses at an early stage in their digital journey, there is plenty of help available. Enterprise Ireland can help Irish exporting businesses to focus on and develop their digital strategy. The new Digital Ready Scorecard is a short self-assessment online tool that enables businesses to assess their current digital readiness and identify any gaps. The scorecard also signposts supports from Enterprise Ireland, the Local Enterprise Offices and across Government. More information can be found on the Enterprise Ireland website.
Enterprise Ireland also offers a €9k fully funded Digitalisation Voucher for eligible companies to engage independent experts to develop their digital strategies before purchasing any technology. All these aids will ensure that Irish exporters can reap the significant rewards of a robust and dynamic digital strategy.