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Where SMBs have the upper hand

Published: Feb 13, 2017
Author: Catherine Sugarbroad

I heard about an architect who started his own business, working on additions to large residential properties. What I found really interesting is that he’s using the latest tech to win clients. He bought an inexpensive virtual reality (VR) headset and subscribed to a modelling tool for a low monthly fee. With them, he’s able to give clients a virtual tour of their new homes—and they love it.

It got me thinking. How many other small architect firms are offering that kind of customer experience—for that matter, how many of the biggest ones?

SMBs focus on the core, not the chore

Today, technology is making it easier for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to compete with the largest of enterprises—and even to disrupt them. SMB leaders often wear many hats, but they can’t be experts at everything.  As my friend and colleague Alex Doyle, Director of Verizon unified communications & collaboration, puts it: “they want to focus on their core business, not their chore business.” By embracing the latest technologies, they’re able to do just that.

It’s no longer just huge corporations with equally massive IT budgets that can access advanced HR management systems, CRMs and ERPs. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions like Salesforce mean they’re available to any organization. The latest SaaS productivity tools—think Slack and Google Apps—enable employees to share documents and work on them collaboratively, and conduct video calls, from virtually any device or location. With SaaS, SMBs have access to the latest tech. They’re kept up-to-date with best practices at an affordable cost without requiring a lot of work on their part. This increases the amount of time that SMBs can spend on their core business.

But tech’s not just helping SMBs do what they already did better; it’s allowing them to take their business to the next level. It’s enabling them to provide innovative new services and experiences—take the example of how my architect friend is using off-the-shelf VR tools. And it’s extending their reach. SMB’s marketing activities are no longer restricted to a local mail drop. Well-placed social messages can now provide broad impact and coverage without a multimillion dollar advertising campaign. Combining that marketing reach with near-real-time communication means that any business can now be global—even if it’s just 12 employees in a small office 100 miles from the nearest city.

What can enterprises learn from SMBs?

Of course, enterprises can reap the same benefits from new tech as SMBs—and many are already. For most, social is now a major marketing channel. And many are turning to SaaS solutions for business-critical systems. But, unencumbered by legacy infrastructure, SMBs tend to be quicker to grab the opportunities.

Seize the opportunity

Many SMBs have simply had no option but to embrace change. They don’t have a strong enough customer base to hold out against the digital disruptors. They have to innovate quickly. Large enterprises, meanwhile, have the scale to take more time over organizational change. It may be challenging to disrupt the status quo and a model that’s currently the core of their business. But size shouldn’t breed complacency or false security—not when the digital landscape is changing so rapidly. Be willing to try new ideas and scale them quickly.

Engage the C-level

Large enterprises can find their efforts to adopt the latest tech held up by bureaucracy. Okay, so that can be true of SMBs, too. But they often have a simpler hierarchy, where even the most junior member of staff has access to the CEO. That means big decisions about digital transformation can get made more quickly. For enterprises to achieve that same level of agility, the C-level needs to be engaged with the digital agenda and work together to deliver it. (A key collaboration is between the CIO and CMO—check out this post.)

It’s not just about software—it’s about skills

Digital transformation doesn’t just happen because you have access to the latest software. You need the skills and capacity to use it to drive organizational change. But many organizations, big and small, lack sufficient expertise to push through the necessary change. It may be more efficient to not do it all yourself.  Remember the mantra “focus on your core business, not your chore business.” Look for partners that  don’t just deliver apps but also provide the skills and expertise to help meet your desired business outcomes.

So, what can Enterprises learn from SMBs?  By thinking like an SMB, Enterprises can be more nimble in navigating digital transformation.

Catherine Sugarbroad is the Executive Director of IoT and business products at Verizon.  She is motivated by the opportunities she sees for science & tech to improve the way people live and work in their daily lives.