Blog: To go digital, think smaller

11 December 2020

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who runs a small manufacturing company about going digital. Like many small business owners, Jim has heard about ‘digital manufacturing’ and ‘Industry 4.0’ but feels overwhelmed by the scale of change that seems to be required.


by Shirley Harrison


His business is technically brilliant. They provide great products and great customer service, but they know they could do this more efficiently and at lower cost. There are effective paper-based systems that were implemented when the business was set up 20 years ago, a good-looking shop window website and the usual office-based IT systems.

But Jim has told me he’s afraid that if they don’t get their act together and get some of these systems working together better, the company is in danger of being overtaken by competitors.

He’s right to be worried and, from my experience, he’s not alone.

Whether dealing directly with demanding consumers or servicing demanding business contacts as a supply chain partner, small businesses need to have transparent processes and pricing, and to deliver on very short lead times, and (for Jim’s sanity) still make a profit.

Integrating all processes across the business seems an obvious solution and an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system will surely provide that capability. But time and cost are so important to companies like Jim’s and an ERP system will take a long time, a lot of resource and a lot of cash.

So perhaps we need to think smaller. I suggested a few small steps for Jim to take and maybe they will work for others too.


1.      Start exploring your desktop

There is a plethora of free (or really low cost) collaborative tools available, and many of them can be integrated. For example, apps like Google Docs, Google Sheets are intuitive and designed for collaboration, and right there on your desktop. Imagine a world where you no longer email spreadsheets and documents round to colleagues for input and comments but instead can all work on the live version at the same time – you can have it!

2.      Look for project management tools

Trello, monday.com and ClickUp are just 3 of the project management tools I’ve used. All are designed for collaboration and really easy to use. Best of all, you can try all of them out for free.

3.      Find a digital champion in your business

There is probably someone already in your business who could champion the adoption of digital technologies. Most people need encouragement to try out new systems and having a confident colleague to lend a hand will get you far.

If there’s no-one already in the company, this role is ideal for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), graduate or apprentice.

A couple of teams in Jim’s business have cautiously started to try out some of the desktop apps and hopefully that is the start of their digital journey – I’ll be following their progress closely.

Maybe you can try out a few apps in your business. Change doesn’t have to occur in big steps and nor does it have to break the bank – to go digital, think smaller.

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