Everyone has a mobile device. Networks are everywhere. Everyone is online everywhere, all the time.

Not quite true, but you get my point. It’s a digital world, made possible by the growing ubiquity of high speed networks. For the small and medium-sized business, it means a dizzying array of choices – Websites, Mobile, the Internet of Things, Cloud computing, Software as a Service, Digital marketing, Social media, Data & analytics. So how do you choose where to spend your time and money on digital?

Here’s the Enterprise IT for SMB way to approach it. Firstly, some preparation steps, then a look at your business from different views.

Preparatory Steps

iPad with IconsBusiness Objectives – always a good place to start. Digital is no different from other aspects of your business, so when you are thinking about what to do, be sure that you have a clear view of what you plan to achieve with the business as far ahead as you can see. When it comes down to choices, you will then have a good context for prioritizing.

Digital Philosophy and Other Guidelines – before you embark on the process of determining specific opportunities for digital adoption, take a moment to establish consensus on what your overall philosophy is regarding digital technology. Are you the kind of company that vigorously explores new technologies and pilots them on an early adopter basis? Or do you take more of a practical approach, where you adopt technology as a fast follower, and only where there is a strong business case?

Pick a Leader – adopting digital as a strategy will inevitably cross departmental boundaries, so you will need a leader that can navigate the business with authority. As the owner, you may want to consider taking this on personally – digital can certainly be sufficiently strategic to warrant it. If not, then pick a leader with a direct reporting line to you.

Relationship View

Broadly there are 4 relationship groups that you need to focus on in any business – customers, staff, stakeholders/owners and suppliers. Think about how you interact with each group and determine (a) how digital technology can be used to improve the interactions and (b) which improvement will best support your objectives. For example, if cost reduction is a priority, you might explore using a combination of website functionality and a mobile app to encourage customers to be more self-service focused, rather than requiring interaction with your staff.

Value Chain View

A good understanding of the value chain in your business is key to identifying where digital can add value. Exploring improvements in speed, quality or cost of delivery of your product or service by applying digital technology at key points along the value chain is an effective method. Focus on the primary value chain activities of inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, sales & marketing and service. Document the value chain as you work through it, if this has not previously been done. Then tying together the value chain view of the business with the business objectives will simplify the digital decision process.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) View

SWOT exercises are a well tried and tested method to drive out action plans which focus on the things that will bring the most success – or conversely avoid the worst disasters. Conducted in the context of making decisions about digital investment, a SWOT exercise is an effective way to highlight where digital technology could be of most value to the business, either to take advantage of a strength or opportunity, to shore up a weakness or protect against a threat.

For example, if aging internal IT systems is identified as a weakness and a priority for replacement, but preserving cash flow is a prime objective, then SaaS may prove to be the right choice to address the system issue with minimal outlay of capital.

Understand the Implications of Your Decisions

Once you have made choices about adopting digital technologies, take some time to assess the implications of those decisions. You will need to understand the ongoing commitments (and therefore costs) that you are taking on. For example, embarking on a digital marketing campaign will require significant content which needs to refreshed and updated regularly – images, copy, etc. Similarly, if analytics is a priority, then your data needs to be clean and complete, and captured in a disciplined manner going forward. These can be substantial tasks.

Integrate your Roadmaps

Assuming you already employ a road mapping approach for your IT plan, then your chosen digital projects need to be integrated with the IT Road map. It will however be important to keep the non-technical aspects of a digital strategy visible also (i.e. the activities such as content management, data clean up, social media management, etc.), and these will likely cross departmental boundaries. So a road map for the associated non-technical projects will be valuable to keep everyone in sync.

In Summary

By taking a strategic view of digital for your business using this approach, you will establish a clearer picture of where you want to invest in digital and why. In addition, it will help to ensure that digital, like anything else you invest in, is serving to fulfill the objectives that you have set for the business overall.