Yesterday, I attended a roundtable event, hosted by The New Statesman in association with Lloyds Banking Group, called SME Insights: Go Digital, Go Global. The purpose of the discussion was to explore how British businesses – SMEs in particular – can capitalise on overseas trading opportunities, especially with the looming prospect of Brexit.
I was very keen to attend because I think through Good Things Foundation projects involving SMEs and digital skills, such as our Digital Garage project with Google and our rural project with Prince’s Countryside Fund, we have a lot of insight to offer.
There were two discussion points that I was keen to capitalise on:
- How critical is digital literacy to UK’s overall global competitive edge?
- How do we motivate businesses to change their digital capability?
When we talk about digital innovation for SMEs, we need to recognise that there is a broad continuum. (Of course) not all SMEs are the same. Almost half don’t have a website so are very immature digitally, and others are digital first companies or what Nick Williams at Lloyds calls “born digital” small businesses.
This SME digital skills continuum looks a bit like this:
|DIGITALLY IMMATURE (don’t have skills, confidence or awareness)
|DIGITALLY AWARE (have a website, have some skills)
|DIGITALLY MATURE (have a website, use social media, staff are confident using digital technology)
|DIGITALLY INNOVATIVE (either “born digital” or who have evolved to develop digital products or services for their customers)
Digital maturity and digital innovation can be demonstrated in a number of ways:
There are two key points here:
- You are much more likely to be digitally innovative if you have a team that understands and uses digital technology.
- Digital innovation doesn’t always have to be complex or new – it’s really about doing things better. We also talked about charities, so one example of this digital innovation is where really simple tools connect people better. Take Streetlink, a very simple online referral service that enables people to report rough sleepers so that Streetlink can then alert local referral services and provide you with an update on progress.
Motivating Businesses to change their digital capability
The risks of not innovating are much greater. I told the roundtable that many customers expect to engage digitally and by not engaging them and not embedding digital within all aspects of service delivery, it’s much harder to reach them.
Innovation and frontline delivery have become two sides of the same coin; the challenge for small businesses is to continually consider how they can improve service delivery and embed digital technology in their strategies, and the challenge for us and other organisations like Lloyds Banking Group, is to make sure we’re finding ways to help them do that.
Lloyds has got a great portal to take the pain out of exploring overseas market – their international trade portal.
Good Things ourselves is an SME and we’re now in the foothills of going global. We know first hand some of those barriers, but also we know that without digital we wouldn’t be doing it – making contacts via Twitter and email, and developing contacts via Skype, is clearly a very low risk and low investment way of starting out. There are still 4bn people who have never used the internet, many of whom are also extremely socially excluded, so there’s a big world out there. I’m hoping we’ll be able to support a small proportion of them to thrive in the digital world we all enjoy.