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Upgrading Your SME Technology: Where Do You Start?

Takeshi Okuma
Takeshi OkumaExecutive Director, Asia Pacific SMB Business
I am a regional strategic leader and country COO of a fortune 500 company. Based in Hong Kong, I have 10 years of experience in strategic consulting and leadership while always focusing on Tech and related industries. I enjoy diversity and dynamic environments. Currently, I manage a multi-national team remotely (~20 people in 10+ different locations).

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You know that new technology can significantly improve operations throughout your small or medium-sized business. You understand the benefits of digital transformation and automation as they relate to efficiency and revenue generation. Now, all you have to do is convince the business leadership of the same.

That’s easier said than done. Leadership buy-in is consistently among the top challenges IT teams face when it comes to a technology upgrade. In SME environments where resources are limited and the top-end options may not be industry standard, that challenge only magnifies. And yet, finding the right approach is absolutely core to improving your business.

It’s far from impossible, but it does require a comprehensive strategy. Once you have identified SME technology that not only improves upon your existing infrastructure but drives your business forward, it’s time to get strategic. Consider these tips to help you get the results you need from beginning to the finishing touches of SME technology upgrade and implementation.

Step 1: Clearly Define the Problem From a Business Perspective

Even experienced IT professionals can be seduced by fancy features of the new technology. Unfortunately, focusing on these features is a sure way to fail in getting leadership buy-in. New automation opportunities that don’t solve an actual problem in your organisation will have little persuasive weight.

Don’t start with the potential solution. First, you have to define the problem. Build a presentation (informally or formally, depending on your business culture) that clearly outlines the need for new technology, to begin with.

Here, you have to stay vendor-agnostic. The key is not to build a subtle road toward a platform you already have an eye on, but to be honest about the business needs and expectation for your organisation. Even non-technical business leaders will respond to a clear definition of that need, which becomes the crucial first step toward a technological transformation designed to solve the problem.

Step 2: Outline the Shortcomings of Current Technology to Solve these Problems

Once you have defined the problem, it’s time to expand on it. Here, it makes sense to get specific about the exact ways in which your current technology and operations practices fail to or cannot accomplish your organisational needs.

For instance, your basic problem might be organisational inefficiency caused by a lack of automation in your marketing efforts. In this step, you can expand on this general problem by outlining exactly how much time it currently takes to nurture leads, how many resources are needed to accomplish that task and the opportunity cost of not having a better solution that’s more effective.

Again, it’s crucial to keep an open mind at this point. A comprehensive analysis of the problem might show that you can actually solve it through better use of existing technology. Once that happens, be honest about it. In that case, the organisation’s limited resources might be better spent on other technology implementations.

Step 3: Present Business Benefits of new SME Technology Solutions

Third, it’s time to get specific about the potential solutions you have outlined and detailed above. That might take one of two directions:

●  Incremental improvements from a new platform that replaces an existing, but insufficient or outdated alternative.

●  New technology that has the potential to radically change the way you conduct business.

Each of the two requires a slightly differing approach. In both cases, though, it’s crucial to keep the focus on the benefits for your business, not the features of potential vendors. This is your chance to make an argument for the addition of technology, to begin with. If all companies should now be considered technology companies, the benefits offered by digital transformation can lead to competitive disadvantages if you don’t keep up with the industry.

For IT professionals, this can be a surprisingly difficult step to undertake. The key is not to get into technical details, but to stay high-level in a way that even non-technical leadership of your organisation can understand. Broad outlines of the impact of new SME technology throughout your organisations are more important than minute details.

Step 4: Build the ROI Case For the New Technology

Once you have the broad outline in place, it’s time to get specific. Convincing C-suite leadership about any new major acquisition, especially one that requires resources that are otherwise limited, will require a comprehensive ROI analysis. Some components of that analysis might include:

●  Estimated investment, including opportunity costs.

●  Estimated time to break even through increased opportunities from the investment.

●  Estimated profit per year after the break-even point.

The good news is that with this type of analysis in place, your persuasive efforts have a much higher chance of success.

Consider the healthcare industry as an example. Notoriously slow to react to technology changes, IT teams have long struggled to convince company leadership that technological innovation is crucial. A comprehensive ROI statement that outlines exactly what makes an investment in new SME technology so important can do wonders toward a convincing argument.

Step 5: Draft an Implementation Plan, Budget, and Timeline

All of the four above steps consider hypothetical scenarios should the company

implement the new platform(s). They can go a long way toward getting the attention of company leadership, but they mean little in isolation. Now, you have to leverage that attention into a willingness to actually buy in and embrace the potential of new SME technology.

And again, the best route to go is being specific. Work with a potential project team to come up with a comprehensive implementation plan, should the investment be made. Outline the budget required not just for the initial purchase, but to keep the platform going over the years. Don’t forget about the opportunity costs and benefits to gain (and lose) through the software.

Finally, attach that plan to a specific timeline that your leadership team can relate to. In addition to making the implementation process more concrete, this step also sets more specific expectations on when the ROI you calculated above can actually be expected, and when the organisation will begin to see tangible results.

Step 6: Establish Success Parameters and KPIs for Potential Implementation

With a plan in place, it’s time to step toward measuring success. You might find it too early to think about success parameters and key performance indicators before even getting buy-in from the decision makers at your organisation. In reality, though, now is the perfect time for planning in that direction. Build it into your argument for the better success of agreement on the purchase.

The reason is simple: company leadership, regardless of industry, loves and expects accountability. Your C-Suite will become much more likely to sign off on a project where they know they can easily measure success than one in which they have no idea whether the company’s limited resources are actually well-spent. Building potential KPIs early gives you that chance.

Determining potential technology ROI without these KPIs tends to be ineffective, both in your presentation and in the eventual implementation. By the time your implementation team gets to work, you already want these in place. That way, you can measure exactly how the process is going, and where you might need to make improvements on your way to a better technology solution for your business.

Step 7: Allow For Cross-Organisational Input Throughout the Implementation Process

Finally, it’s time for an open invitation: never leave a meeting, presentation, or planning session with company leadership without giving them the opportunity for feedback. Allow them to help shape the way in which the new technology would be

selected, implemented, and use across divisions.

Of course, this step needs to be relatively limited and within boundaries. Too much input from across the organization can water down the valuable feedback you get from your most important stakeholder and slow down the entire process. Still, active input from your C-Suite will naturally increase their buy-in. By the time they have to make a go or no-go decision, they’re much more likely to tend positively because they have been personally invested in the project from the start.

Ideally, you can even go a step further. C-Suite input is important, but you should also take that input to front-line employees. Allow company leadership to help select the team that will actually be responsible for implementation of the technology. That way, they can make sure that sources from throughout the company can be involved in the process and bring a unique perspective to the table.

Convincing Leadership on the Road to Digital Transformation

You know your organisation’s needs. You may even have conducted some of the analyses outlined above already in the recent past. But that doesn’t mean you have the green light to move ahead automatically with any new SME technology that you deem to be a positive addition to your company.

Instead, your major roadblock tends to consist of company leadership, often those who are not as familiar with the technology. Limited resources, so common among small and medium-sized businesses, only add to that problem. Through the above steps, you can build a comprehensive plan all while clearing the way for organisational buy-in that starts at the top.

Of course, that same process works not just for isolated software platforms, but more comprehensive efforts to move your company into the digital realm. Digital transformation, in fact, can only be possible when everyone at the organisation’s highest leadership levels buys in.

Our Guide to Digital Transformation in the Asia Pacific Market is the perfect place to get started. For more insights on this and other topics, and to subscribe to relevant email lists as you begin to transform the technology platforms within your organisation.

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