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What challenges do SMEs face when going digital? ExpertChat with Andy Rhodes from Stantec

What challenges do SMEs face when going digital? ExpertChat with Andy Rhodes from Stantec

This week we are excited to chat with information technology (IT) professional Andy Rhodes about the challenges SMEs face when going digital. His 20 year career spanning the globe has provided him many opportunities to apply his enthusiasm for process improvement to benefit several companies and their customers. He continues to share his passion for challenging the status quo on his current projects as Innovation Coach and Practice Solutions Manager for Stantec in Australia. Andy holds a MBA from Robert Gordon University. 

GS: Thanks for takting the time Andy. For a mature SME in a digitally conservative industry like construction, what would you recommend as the first steps towards digitalisation? Where do we start?

Andy: It starts at the very top. You need buy-in as a strategic direction so you can speculate to accumulate. If there’s no buy-in from the C-suite for the necessary workflow, process, and people changes required to facilitate digital transformation, you’ll be constantly pushing uphill. Then you can create a strategy and garner support and initiate this as a ‘company strategic direction’ not an IT-led or middle-management / single area focus.

GS: What would you say are the TOP 3 benefits of an SME going digital?

Andy: First, you get a faster turnaround to capitalise on new ideas. Second, it enables you to attract and retain the top talent as people aged 18-25 most likely won’t accept paper timesheets or leave requests, for example. Third, the gained process and workflow efficiency leads to better serving your clients.

GS: What are some of the key pain points companies might experience embarking on this?

Andy: First off it is necessary to be realistic that it most likely won’t be a cost-saving measure in all areas – going digital is a matter of keeping up with the times. When people ditched the horse and cart in favour of a car; this is the same decision. You can carry on with the horse and cart, but eventually you’ll be left behind.

You WILL most probably lose people who do not want to get on board. As with any change, if you have people (in construction specifically) who’ve done the same thing the same way, for 40 years it is difficult for them to see why they would need to change. Nothing is ‘wrong’ with their way per-se, but it is time to modernise. Also, the C-suite often consists of people with limited technology experience. Going digital challenges that modus-operandi and just as they need to know finance, they now need to have some basic form of IT understanding. IT typically reports to the CFO in most companies because it’s seen as a cost. But marketing typically sits under the CEO as it is seen as Business Development. Being a modern, digitally savvy company capable of offering new and awesome services is… Business Development! Yet often the IT budget will be cut before the marketing one.

GS: Many SME’s have a hierarchical leadership approach. What role does the leadership style of a company play in your opinion to the success of a digitalisation journey?

Andy: You can’t use digital as a stick to hit people with. The change curve detailing how people often respond to change is helpful

Leaders need to encourage and get people to accept changes, rather than inflict them. This leads to an engaged versus disengaged workforce which will cause more harm than good.

Everyone’s opinion at the coalface in particular, is important. Sometimes the leadership needs to operate with a consultative approach to gather requirements and pain points. I highly recommend reading “The Phoenix Project” by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

GS: Looking at your experience in companies of different sizes, can you share some processes that stand out for you that had to drastically change to allow for digitalisation?

Andy: Change leadership skills for all people managers cannot be underestimated. If you can train the people managers in all areas to motivate the teams the right way, and accept that some people will leave no matter what, you’ll have the best chance of success. Not everyone is capable or trained in change management, so that is an important area to address early. Sponsorship and messaging from the TOP. Not a “We have budget to do this” level of support. More, “WE AS A COMPANY are doing this”.

GS: Money to invest in strategic systems is usually tight in SME’s. Any advice on how we can prioritise value for investment? How would we go about identifying the most suitable technology, seeing there are alone hundreds of CRM systems available?

Andy: Start with identifying key areas of the business that will return the greatest value by automating, innovating, or replacing current processes/systems etc. Then proceed depending on the stage of the business. Getting new clients, improving service offerings, reducing cycle times in widget creation and so on. Set quarterly goals; assess and reassess at each quarter depending on your market changes and business priorities. Use tools like the balanced scorecard approach or existing goals from the C-suite, map that back to your digital initiatives, and show how you can help the business goals through technology

GS: Could you outline what a digitally solid SME might look like in 5 years in your opinion

Andy: The processes and systems in all parts of the balanced scorecard/ goals mapping exercise are streamlined. Continuous improvement initiatives are a key part of people's roles. I envision that you don’t have “a job”, you have a role in the company. Empowered staff in a safe environment will look for ways to improve systems – that’s the cultural part of digital change. The ever evolving change is – within reason – led from the shop floor. I hope that the message from the C-suite is still that being ‘more’ digital is a strategic objective and that they believe it…!

Thanks so much Andy Rhodes for taking the time, some great insights and practical advice here! You can connect with Andy on LinkedIN

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