One of the hardest parts of running a fast-growing business is how quickly you can outgrow your tooling. In this article, our experts share how you can ensure your software suite works for your future as well as your present.

From CRMs, to marketing software, to reporting and analytics - the move from ‘starter’ to ‘enterprise’ packages can lead to rapid changes in your systems and the requirement to continuously adapt processes as you scale.

With the potential level of investment required and the time taken to run digital transformation efforts, the challenge for SME Owners is often simple - where do you start?

This week, experts from our network shared how to future-proof your software as an SME business owner, from getting started to taking the leap to external support.

Getting started: Priorities, Goals and Requirements


First things first – think about the customer needs 

Claire Williams, Managing Partner at The SME Partners believes that people can often jump on the hype of digital transformation without necessarily considering what is necessary for the customers they’re working with. “What does the customer want out of your product/organisation? It’s often forgotten and the last thing that people think of.”

Claire recommends starting by auditing your existing systems and mapping out the customer journey across your tooling, looking at which digital interfaces interact with customers at each stage of the journey and any potential pain points. 

Digital transformation is not just about the sexy ‘front-end,’ it’s the operational end as well,” the pieces in the back end that can cause trouble in the long term.

Claire Williams offers advice on building your digital suite

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Start with the ‘why'


Adam Roney, Founder and CEO of Calls9 recommends that before you buy into anything, ask yourself why you need it for the individual customer journey? “Understanding why they exist is really important.”


Some questions to ask yourself include ‘what’s currently working within our own culture?’ and ‘what do we already have that’s working that could be tweaked?’


You may have existing systems that you can get a lot more out of by putting ‘connecting tissue’ and new user interfaces on top of. Transformation doesn’t have to be a boil the ocean equation, you can get quite a lot out of what you already have, as long as you go through the right benchmarking process, and you have the people on board.” 

Adam Roney offers advice on building your digital suite


Figure out what ‘good’ will look like for you


For Josh Bolland, Founder and CEO of J B Cole UK, you need to understand what you actually want the systems to do. How much manual time can you allocate, and how much needs to be automated? 


“What’s your wish list of things that you should be doing, and what are you trying to do as a business. What are the key objectives and results that you are trying to meet?” 


Josh also recommends that assessing your efficiency as a team is also a good place to start when assessing your requirements. “It might be that you have eight people doing a job that three people could do by using the right tools.” 


Download: The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Digital Marketing Brief

Josh Bolland offers advice on building your digital suite


Building your digital suite: Common challenges, processes, and pitfalls


Challenge 1 – people not being up-skilled to the new systems 


One of the most common challenges our experts face when companies invest in new technologies is that they don’t have the staff to operate the systems. Claire believes that “technology is only as useful as the people operating it.” It’s all too common for businesses to bring on flashy new tech, but they need to look at the people and the team who are operating it day in, day out and ensure that they have the correct tools to do so.


Another challenge is that the introduction of low-code or no-code solutions has changed the level of responsibility of teams within businesses in terms of what’s expected of them. Adam Roney says when implementing these systems, it’s not just a question of “have you got the people to set it up and get through the project phase.” You also need to ask “Have you got people to run it, maintain it and make sure that in twelve, eighteen months from now etc, is it still doing what you want it to be doing?”


Challenge 2 – not bringing the right people into the work


Another challenge faced in the building of a digital suite is not bringing the right people into the work. Bringing people onboard to oversee innovation cannot be based on job titles. Adam Roney recommends that you do it based on personalities and organisation culture. 


While you might need buy-in from certain leadership teams, it’s crucial to implement the systems with a cross-functional team. This means whoever might be using or building on those systems at the end of the day.


Challenge 3 – Understanding how deep you need to go


One of the biggest problems that Ben Franklin, Technical Director at Quba finds is understanding how ‘deep’ you need to go when analysing your current system. “Generally, where we find the biggest problem is in legacy bespoke systems that no one knows how to use. The person who built it left five years ago, and the business is hanging onto it.” 


At this stage, it’s a case of rebuilding the whole system in a ‘recovery’ project, and the scope of the initial project then increases. 

Ben Franklin offers advice on building your digital suite


Key considerations – Evaluating your digital suite and benchmarking performance 


Think about your people first – what is their capacity to change new systems?


Before looking at any new technology, it’s important to understand the people within the business and what they can do. Technology comes second to the people who will be running the process. If they are not given the skills or don’t have the buy-in to participate, then the tooling becomes unusable.

Where are you planning to go? Will what you are building be able to grow with you?

Claire Williams believes that a key thing to consider when evaluating your digital suite is to understand your growth plan. “It might be that you are currently processing 10,000 parcels, and you might need to get to 50,000. You need to ensure that the system is able to stretch and adapt to that growth. 


Understand if there is anything else out there that can support your requirements.

One of the biggest challenges for Adam Roney around benchmarking is understanding what we don’t know. “We encourage brands to look at competitors in other sectors and take inspiration from brands you might not even think are relevant to what you do. Whether from a creative perspective, a process perspective or technology in digital transformation, it’s the best place to look at innovation.”

Align your priorities

It can be easy to create a sprawling project that tries to fix everything at once, but if you can get a view on the key pieces that need attending to first and foremost, it allows you to create a more manageable process. Josh Bolland recommends that “once you have a good sense of business jobs to be done, the N2D method is a helpful tool to help with prioritisation.” 

‍Making the jump – In-house versus external resource


For SMEs, it can be hard to see the value in outsourcing management of your digital systems – in fast-paced environments, the ‘do it yourself’ mentality can become heavily embedded. However, the benefits of outsourcing this work become clearer for business owners when we begin to consider the resource and time cost of maintaining your tooling.


External support can come in many forms, from:


-       Advisory and benchmarking of your current tools with digital audits

-       Continuous retained support

-       Digital transformation projects

-       Updating and tweaking existing systems in ‘recovery’ projects


So, when's the right time to do this?

Put simply, it’s when the time cost begins to outweigh the financial cost of expert support – evaluating the cost of maintaining your current digital suite pragmatically can help to get a view on the right time to make the jump. Think about how much time you currently spend on:


-       Hours spend by teams managing systems. What is the financial cost of this time?

-       Lost time dedicated to other areas?


If you are wanting to invest in innovation and transform your digital suite but need some extra advice or support, GO! can help. Get in touch here.


With thanks from our contributors:


Josh Bolland, Founder and CEO at J B Cole
Claire Williams, Manager Partner at The SME PartnersBen Franklin, Technical Director at Quba
Adam Roney, Founder and CEO of Calls9

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