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How have small businesses rapidly re-invented themselves during the pandemic?

One year after the start of the pandemic, there is evidence of businesses improving their resilience by rapidly re-inventing, transforming and incorporating digital in their relationships with customers, staff and in the development of new products.

Business model transformation was key, focused on 5 different areas:

(1) Customer needs changed during the pandemic. Resilient businesses accommodated those needs by incorporating digital options. One small business provided webinars on makeup and facilitated the purchase of products via Facebook and WhatsApp with home deliveries. Another created mental health care webinars to support customers. Both these businesses had only previously provided services face to face with their customers.

(2) Partnerships and collaborations are seen between small businesses in diverse industries. A completely new platform “lekka” was created enabling disenfranchised small businesses to sell their products online.

(3) The value chain of many small businesses was disrupted by the pandemic and owners had to adapt. Restaurants became temporary take-aways maintaining staff and customer relationships, allowing orders to be placed through Facebook and WhatsApp with some waitrons becoming packers and others delivery personnel.

(4) Retailers changed their sale and delivery models, collaborating with remote customers to create an online store. Allowing for ‘buy online and pick up instore’ as well as incorporating home deliveries of medicines to elderly clients. Software companies added cloud-based options facilitating migration and adjusting payment plans so businesses could mitigate the financial strain of the pandemic.

(5) Most small businesses adapted their product lines to their customers changed needs with some bringing in new lines such as sanitising stations and masks to help them cope with the reduction in sales of other products.

These digital transformations focused on the changing customer requirements and staff safety and resulted in the launching of new product lines and online services and in adapting the sales and service models to improving customer experience.

How did your business change during the pandemic? Please add your experiences in the comments below.

People in digital transformation.

Successful digital transformation must benefit people inside and outside the organisation through the use of data converted into information. Digital technologies are ineffectual without the people that use the technology to solve external challenges experienced in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) external environment of the business. Customers increasingly expect to interact, communicate and pay digitally for goods and services. Digital transformation improves the chances that the business has of providing the service required within the reduced range of customer tolerance.

 Better data quality creates transparency in the business and improves the understanding of its external environment, market sector, customer behaviour and user experience while allowing the horizontal scanning for disruptors. Better data converted into information empowers the sharing of knowledge among staff while data transparency facilitates the breakdown of silos and improves the continuity and internal culture of the business.

Acceptance of Social media channels such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter and others improves the variety, veracity, velocity and volume of data available to the business, that can be used not only for marketing but also in the early identification of opportunities and threats to the business.

Fenton, A., Fletcher, G., & Griffiths, M. (2019). Strategic Digital Transformation: A Results-Driven Approach. Routledge Ltd. Retrieved from https://www.dawsonera.com:443/abstract/9780429020469

The benefit of hindsight.

Hindsight is 20/20 when identifying what non-survivors of digital disruption did wrong. People make decisions and try to hang on desperately to their established way of doing business, resistance to change, limits their ability to see potential disruptive threats. Blockbusters and Toys R Us are examples of companies that failed to respond to the changes in their external environments that ultimately contributed to their demise; the threats were identified but dismissed as ineffectual – competitors that would remain in niche markets.

Predicting these disruptors is near impossible; however, improving the business agility and increasing the innovative mindset of staff would have allowed a quicker pivot as the threat became evident. Kodak was able to do so and continues trading with an evolving business model that reflects the mission and vision of their immediate future.

Planning for a long term future is no longer viable, short term goals backed by invested people with available, accurate information, allows for quick, cyclical innovation.

Fenton, A., Fletcher, G., & Griffiths, M. (2019). Strategic Digital Transformation: A Results-Driven Approach. Routledge Ltd. Retrieved from https://www.dawsonera.com:443/abstract/9780429020469

VUCA and VUCA Prime.

VUCA Prime suggested by (Raghuramapatruni & Kosuri, 2017) if adopted by the firm, counteract the effects of VUCA.

The Vision of the future of the firm aligns all stakeholders around the purpose of digital transformation, reducing the Volatility.

Understanding counteracts Uncertainty, using (PESTLE) to increase understanding of the political, economic, social, technological, legislative and external environment of the firm.

Clarity reduces Complexity, learning to simplify, breaking down complex systems in the firm into smaller components, looking at the past, at competitors and scanning the horizon in sectors unrelated to the business to inform digital strategy as strategy enables transparent execution of the Vision.

Agility surpasses Ambiguity, with the continuously changing customer-driven business environment adaptability and a dynamic business model ensures that the firm adopts a people-first approach of collaboration and transparency setting agile innovation cycles that allow for quick wins or quick exit based on improvement against agreed measurements.

Raghuramapatruni, R., & Kosuri, S. R. (2017). The Straits of Success in a VUCA World. IOSR Journal of Business and Management, 16–22.

The digital difference.

The digital difference initially developed as availing products sold in brick and mortar stores on the internet, examples of which are Amazon and Alibaba, progressed to the selling of purely digital products and services such as Microsoft and Netflix, removing the need for a physical supply chain, warehouse storage and delivery logistics. These are the visible differences that we see on the internet as we make use of these firms products and services. There is, however, digital transformation that happens within the firm and its components, hidden from the direct view of customers and competitors. Digitally different firms, disruptors such as Uber to the Taxi industry or Netflix to Blockbuster, have created new business models, whole new business sectors.

VUCA Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous signifies the continually changing of the external business environment of the firm with consumers ever-changing needs and desires being satisfied by an internally resilient firm that dynamically reformulates its business model to handle these changes, is transparent and collaborates with customers. VUCA blurs the internal and external environment of the firm, requiring the involvement of stakeholders outside the firm to participate in the development of products and services inside the firm, innovation powered by the use of digital differentiation.

Fenton, A., Fletcher, G., & Griffiths, M. (2019). Strategic Digital Transformation: A Results-Driven Approach. Routledge Ltd. Retrieved from https://www.dawsonera.com:443/abstract/9780429020469

Why should a small business change.

Why can they not continue working in the same way, with the same people indefinitely doing the same things at the same pace using the same processes and methodologies?

Is there a correlation between the length of time a small business has been in existence and its resistance to change?

There seems to be, the longer a small business is in existence while making a continuous profit that affords the small business owner a sustainable lifestyle, the more likely there is high resistance to change and high resistance in adapting (Pietersen, 2002) to the VUCA volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous external environment.

The small business sector reduces in profitability, due either to competitors or disruptors taking away business, only then does the small business owner realise that change is necessary and that their business model in use is no longer viable. At this late stage, small business owners find it difficult to pivot and adjust to make the business sustainable again.

Continuous change should now be the expectation in all organisational planning and operations, targeted change, starting with re-focusing the business vision, mission and value system. No longer just a plaque on a wall or a piece of paper in a drawer, the transparent vision must epitomise the way forward in a way that every member of the organisation understands its applicability and significance.

Once the vision is clear, overcoming the stasis in the small business, includes:

  • Addressing the legacy issues in people skills and archaic infrastructure (hardware, software and communications).
  • Nurturing an innovative environment within the firm.
  • Ensuring the interoperability and transparency between all of the sectors of the small business.
  • Encouraging participation from customers, competitors, other sector interested parties and staff identifying and internalising these stimuli into opportunities to dynamically shift and introduce new business models while proactively re-defining the product and services expectations within the firm’s sector.

With the arrival of the triple revolution of smartphones, high-speed internet and social media, the way we network, communicate and conduct business has changed, requiring a much more collaborative, transparent and responsive way of doing business. The four V’s of high volume, variety, velocity and veracity of data transactions due to the speed of technology progression underpin the provision of value that customers require. Understanding this data requires people with the right skills invested in providing value to customers.  

(Fenton, Fletcher, & Griffiths, 2019) ‘The ultimate goal of digital transformation is to create innovative working environments and business models that support a data-driven, people-focused organisation.’

Digital technologies alone are not a solution to the VUCA environment problems. The firms’ employees address these challenges through the skilful use of digital technologies, making them the drivers of a successful digital transformation.

In order to digitally transform the small business, there must be a holistic alignment of the business model, the required technologies, data requirements and employee skillset. A pre-identified strategy, rather than an ad-hoc approach, anticipates the difficulties in change, avoids employee resistance and increases participation and buy-in, thereby improving the value and user experience of the customer.

Fenton, A., Fletcher, G., & Griffiths, M. (2019). Strategic Digital Transformation: A Results-Driven Approach. Routledge Ltd. Retrieved from https://www.dawsonera.com:443/abstract/9780429020469

Pietersen, W. (2002). The mark twain dilemma: The theory and practice of change leadership. Journal of Business Strategy, 23(5), 32–37. https://doi.org/10.1108/eb040272

Why digitally transform?

The VUCA world volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous defines the fast and connected world in which we find ourselves. Covid-19 has forced us to disconnect through physical distancing. However, we continued working and interacting with people anywhere in the world using remote access to our business applications, communicating using affordable digital technologies exemplified by Skype, Whatsapp and Zoom for affordable calls and meetings not forgetting the ever-reliable though not as responsive email.

The 4 Vs Velocity, Variety, Volume and Veracity and their derivatives are the suggested solutions and apply above where the velocity of technology change, the variety of software options and the volume of available communication throughput allowed a mostly seamless transition from commuting and working at the office to working from home. There is a Veracity requirement between coworkers and management, in this challenging to monitor, though novel working environment. Efficacy and efficiency of results can be verified, and cooperation and transparency encouraged through virtual participation enabled by digital technologies.

To end with two quotes relevant to the Covid-19 wave in our VUCA world, Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher suggests that ‘the only thing that is constant is change’ and ‘our need will be the real creator’ attributed to Plato. Businesses that adopt affordable digital technologies and transform have a better chance of surviving this new wave of our VUCA world.

Fenton, A., Fletcher, G., & Griffiths, M. (2019). Strategic Digital Transformation: A Results-Driven Approach. Routledge Ltd. Retrieved from https://www.dawsonera.com:443/abstract/9780429020469

Digital Revolution – Millennials

Millennials lead the digital revolution. Having grown up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, WeChat and Google Search, the world’s greatest encyclopedia at their fingertips. Peer-reviews and analytics direct their purchasing power and underpin their sustainable, ethically sourced purchases. Social Media, Mobile and the worldwide web are digital tools used daily, at work and socially. They are representative of our customers and our workforce, engaged and participative in the causes that they believe in. Our firms have already crossed the digital divide with these employees bringing in digital at grassroots on an ad-hoc basis. Harness this, determine a strategy and give this movement direction and focus. Whether you like it or not, digital transformation is already happening in your firm, make it part of your mission, vision and strategy.

Matilde & Miguel. (2018). Digital Revolution – Discover why Millennials are embracing and leading it | TravelB4Settle. Retrieved June 23, 2020, from https://www.travelb4settle.com/digital-revolution-millennials/#millennials