Introduction

Small and midsize businesses’ path to recovery will depend on how quickly they can adapt to the changing business environment and incorporate digital transformation.

Very few have yet to experience the daily disruptions the Coronavirus pandemic has introduced to our lives. Individuals, businesses and governments continue to endure the effects of the global pandemic, even as governments roll out vaccines to slow the spread of the virus and return their countries to normalcy. The effects of the pandemic are visible. It has slowed global economic growth, significantly reduced total income across countries, increased unemployment and disrupted lives and livelihoods. For many small and midsize businesses, the pandemic continues to present severe challenges. Governments are trying to mitigate the economic impact with aid programs, but for some small businesses, these programs may not be enough to keep them afloat. According to Yelp, as of December 11, 2020, 60% of closed businesses will not be re-opening.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Governments have started rolling out vaccines to help slow the virus and return their economies and businesses to some operational levels. From a PwC US Pulse Survey dated October 6, 2020, 28% of CFOs expect an increase in revenue within the next 12 months. For economies to return to normalcy, small and midsize businesses must return to growth. Small businesses will have to navigate an increasingly complex business environment, as well as adapt to new business models incorporating speed, agility, customer-centricity and digital transformation. They must also focus on training, retraining and developing their workforce.

For a post COVID-19 economic recovery, small and midsize businesses should rethink how they operate. The path to recovery will depend on how quickly they can adapt to the changing business environment and incorporate digital transformation. Below are critical areas that business leaders should focus on as they return to growth.

Revisit Business Operations

It is not a coincidence that digitally savvy organizations that were quick to adapt to the changing business environment and consumer behaviors amid the crisis were the ones that survived. Today’s organization must be built around agility to respond quickly to global shocks and crises. To do that, some would have to diversify their Strategic Business Units (SBUs), reorganize their business processes and reevaluate their core mission and objectives.

The pandemic has changed the way we work. The workplace has changedmore businesses have come to accept the remote workplace made prevalent by the pandemic, and are already realizing some of its benefits. Small businesses must review their existing business operations, processes and procedures to assess which ones they would have to modify to become more resilient to shocks. They will also have to invest in technologies and systems that support remote work and open communication, while maintaining control of their company data in a very secure environment.

Unemployment remains high due to the layoffs from the pandemic. But as global economies recover and businesses begin to operate at their pre-COVID-19 levels, expect labor shortages across many industries, and rising labor cost to hinder business growth. To prepare for this, small and midsize businesses must start investing in automating processes and the technologies that support them. Which processes can be automated? Which ones can be outsourced? Which ones can be done efficiently through project management-based operations? And which ones can be done efficiently remotely? These are questions small business leaders should be addressing as companies recover from the pandemic.

Focus on Improving Customer Loyalty

Reversing the slowing services trend requires simplifying and diversifying existing marketing strategies. For example, turning in-store customers into online customers requires leveraging the right technologies to secure the business as the economy recovers. Tech-savvy, self-sufficient customers demand delightful online shopping experiences with personalized buyer journeys across multiple channels, as well as a website that that makes it easy for the customer to shop online. Across all industries, customers require personalized customer experiences to build deeper relationships.

Businesses must return to the basics of marketing and place the customer at the center of their marketing initiatives. They must understand their customers’ wants and needs, and shifting consumer preferences as a result of the pandemic. Now is the time to review old marketing practices, systems and platforms that have resulted in dispersed customer data to replace them with one that is built around an intelligent platform, and systems that incorporate AI, data analytics, customer data protection and privacy. Invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems or platforms that offer the tools to get actionable insights on your customers.

Accelerate Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is a term so easily associated with large enterprises that its meaning is lost to small business owners. Digital transformation, according to Salesforce, is the process of using digital technologies to create or modify existing business process, culture and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.

From a survey by BCG in late spring of 2020, 80% of respondents across industries planned on accelerating digital transformation in response to COVID-19. The high percentage reinforces the need for all organizations to digitally transform their operations in order to be more resistant to global shocks. According to KPMG, the following advantages of digital transformation include resilience, efficiency, agility and customer-centric innovations.

Digital transformation begins in the cloud. Most large enterprises have adopted cloud technologies to scale operations or fend off disruptions. Cloud computing enables businesses to turn IT capital cost (CAPEX) into operating cost (OPEX), enabling them to invest in their core business activities. The cloud provides the platform to businesses to deploy custom applications, scale their infrastructure needs and test and drive innovative digital ideas.

For small and midsize businesses, digital transformations should not involve completely reinventing their operations. Small businesses can start adopting cloud services in a phased approach to minimize business disruptions and costs. They can start by moving their storage and backup systems, or their customer-facing applications to the cloud, while maintaining critical workloads in-house. Today many Cloud providers support hybrid cloud computing.

The key to successful digital transformation is to have a big picture view of your organization’s digital transformation process and to begin the process with a piecemeal approach to minimize disruptions to your business processes. This approach gives you the best chance to learn more about the digital systems, and gives you time to study which works and which does not.

Empower Your Workforce Through Training

Executives and managers tasked with managing their organization’s human capital face new challenges. First, they must see to the well-being of their workforce and ensure that the workplace is safe. Secondly, they must deal with how to manage and empower a widely dispersed workforce to be consistently productive. Today, due to high unemployment, there is not much competition for labor, but as the economy recovers and many businesses begin to operate, many HR managers will be faced with competition for skilled labor.

They will also have to deal with the fact that rapidly changing technology and innovations are reshaping old careers and introducing new ones. Not all organizations are prepared for this transformation and post COVID-19 recovery. To prepare for the changes in the workplace as a result of the global pandemic and changing business environment, organizations must establish clear workforce management strategies. Such strategy must be centered around the following areas recommended by McKinsey & Company:

  • Attracting and retaining talent,
  • Motivating and engaging employees,
  • Building an employer brand,
  • Creating a values-based culture,
  • Developing employees’ capabilities.

Build Internal Training Programs

Organizations that have the means to prepare their own internal training programs must do so and design their programs according to the following recommendations within Danquah Group’s publication, “Train to Gain“:

  1. Align its human capital training program to an objective and continuously evaluate the two for harmony.
  2. Training programs must also be designed to accommodate continuous changes in industry practices, norms and regulations.
  3. To get maximum returns, and increase employee retention and engagement, the program must be designed in conjunction with an overall employee career goal-driven strategy. Employees are much more engaged and motivated if they see a clear career path towards their future with an organization.
  4. The program must be well-designed and comprehensive, taking into consideration the age of the workforce, culture and employees’ needs, coupled with the organization’s strategy and objectives.
  5. Training programs must incorporate data analytics from beginning to end.

Conclusion

The return to growth for many small and midsize businesses won’t be easy. Businesses will have to adapt to new business models that incorporate speed, agility, customer-centricity and digital transformation. This will require tools and technologies that support remote work, and business process improvements that meet shifting consumer preferences. Business leaders will also need to provide consistent leadership, management and technical training to their workforces if they are to accelerate digital transformation and return to growth.

How We Can Help

We provide consulting, training and technology solutions to help small and midsize business accelerate digital transformation, improve business operations and project delivery programs. We can connect your entire business ecosystem through a unified suite of Azure cloud applications and platform services. With experienced partners and expertise, we are dedicated to helping you optimize your investments in the Azure Cloud. We can help you transform your organizations and build efficient business systems using people, processes and modern technology to be more productive, cut costs, increase revenue and maximize value for your organization with Microsoft application tools, such as:

For consulting services, visit our Business Transformation Program web page to learn more.

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