Moving business forward through digital transformation

Dr Wai Mun Lim is an Associate Professor at Plymouth Business School. She lectures on business strategy, research methods and e-strategies. Her primary research interests explore the adoption and use of technology as well as lifelong learning. To keep up with the rapid advancements in her field, she has recently completed a Professional Certificate in Data Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.

Dr Lim frequently engages with entrepreneurs and SMEs. If you would like to find out how her expertise could support your business, please contact her by email.

 

During the pandemic, businesses and employees needed to embrace change. In many cases that change is facilitated by the adoption of digital platforms. As we emerge into the post-pandemic world, it is clear some of these changes are here to stay and that more upheaval lies ahead. I talk about the importance of carefully thinking through the adoption of new technology, the importance of using data to drive decision-making and how learning, unlearning and relearning could become a mantra for thriving in business.


Creating a technologically well-oiled machine

I work with businesses to help them become digitally ready. We explore the possibilities technology offers and how technology can help businesses succeed in the digital age. Being digitally ready can include improving business processes, harnessing data or looking at how to co-create value with stakeholders. It also means being prepared for ‘black swan events’, the rare, unexpected events that confound scientific, financial and technological expectations and leave their mark on history.

I spend time understanding and observing the businesses, identifying what is holding a business back or stopping it from developing. I formulate questions based on my observations to elicit data on the problem and kick-start thinking on how to solve it. Asking the most pertinent questions is key. Technology is a broad area; it is always helpful to drill this down to the specifics.

Successfully adopting new technology is often more challenging for a small business. They are less likely, due to their size, to have technology specialists working for them. Their employees are more likely to be generalists, often having to work across different business specialisms. This can make it more difficult to identify precisely what they want from technology. There can be a tendency to ‘want it all now’.


Shaking things up: learn, unlearn, and relearn

Futurist Alvin Toffler’s remark that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” really resonates with me.
Learning, unlearning and relearning is certainly the case for every business undergoing some form of digital transformation! This requires business leaders and employees to disregard some of what they know, to consider what they really want to achieve and where they need to put money and resources.

Used thoughtfully, technology can help us, but this does not mean every technology platform and gadget can make a positive impact!

It is possible to spend time and money not achieving very much. Some businesses throw money at technology without optimising its use; that is akin to buying the latest smartphone but only using it for making voice calls.


At the social media crossroads

With the explosion in social media use over the past decade, many businesses and business leaders know they need to engage and use these platforms. Some are keen to outsource that work. Others want to do it themselves. Many are unclear at the outset how much time, resource and ongoing work it involves to develop and maintain a credible social media presence. Communication on these platforms is constantly evolving. Leaders and managers need to be clear what social media can help their business achieve. It is tempting to think ‘I use Instagram and Twitter, that’s enough, I can tick it off the list.’ The problem is, the list itself is constantly evolving.

Social media can be a powerful platform for retail businesses to engage with their customers. Working together, both can co-create value. A home furnishings business might have a sales catalogue displaying the furnishings ‘in situ’.

The furnishings will also be on display in their store. In addition, customers can share pictures on Instagram of furnishings they have purchased being enjoyed in their own home. This exemplifies not only the two-way, reciprocal nature of value co-creation, but also how a technology platform adds value to a business’ marketing. It demonstrates to prospective customers how the item might look in their ‘real’ home (as opposed to the sterile store environment) and provides the company with information about how customers have used their product.

It is important to consider trends in how generations use social media channels. Social media users across generations are drawn to visual content; this has fuelled the growth in visually driven platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, especially among younger generations.

Different generations are drawn to different social media platforms. Facebook’s popularity is declining with younger generations: only 36% of Generation Zers use Facebook at least once a week, compared to 87% of millennials, 90% of Generation Xers, and 96% of baby boomers. It depends on the types of content customers prefer and what they hope to gain from their time online.


When the only constant is change, adapt

In an environment where change is the only constant, a business cannot afford to stand still; Business owners have to commit to learning new skills in order to be better able to adapt and keep their business going in challenging conditions. It’s no longer a case of simply achieving performance-based goals or outsourcing the work, so that everything else can remain constant. New technology adoption often prompts the process of skills evaluation within a business.

The pandemic has also kick-started various change processes. Keeping businesses afloat in evolving circumstances, people have had to transform and find new ‘digitally enhanced’ ways of doing things.

Business owners will need to decide what training is required to develop their own and their employees’ skillsets: are these skills being used and are the businesses gaining value from them? Are there gaps in knowledge or in employees’ skills that are holding the business back?

Most businesses will employ people from a mixture of generations. This can be used strategically. We know most young people adopt technology more readily and are more likely to experiment with cutting-edge gadgets and solutions. They could help feed into an organisation’s digital strategy.

For a business to be successful, it is necessary to adopt a learner’s mindset. Learning is no longer an exercise that finishes in school or college. It’s become imperative to how we grow, develop and improve ourselves. The author of Good to Great, Jim Collins, wrote that ‘The most important lessons lay not in what I needed to learn but what I first needed to unlearn.’ This means accepting the (often uncomfortable) process of continually challenging our own best thinking and letting go of the old in order to master the new.