There are plenty of incredibly useful tools to modernize your business, and many of them have made their way into most businesses—such as mobile smartphones, tablet computers, social media accounts and cloud accounts. It’s important to have such tools—today’s consumers expect the companies and organizations they deal with to be just as tech-savvy as they are.
Still, is having all these enablers enough to transform your business into a 21st-century digital contender? Perhaps, but usually it takes something else, such as an underlying, unifying foundation that connects all these shiny new tools to your core business. To achieve the full benefits of mobile, cloud, data analytics and social media, a company’s mission-critical systems need to be agile and open enough to enable these new ways of doing business.
That’s why modernization is so vital to today’s small to midsize businesses. Yesterday’s platforms- such as Windows 2003 – will not adequately support all the new directions businesses want and need to go. By re-platforming to a modern operating system, such as Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials and Microsoft Azure, business will be able to support and take advantage of the new tools and technologies that are emerging.
Installing new software lays the foundation that helps organizations begin their modernization journey. As they progress on this journey, the myriad possibilities of digital technology will open up to them. The following are potential steps to consider for building a digital business on top of a modern technology foundation:
- Webify and cloudify existing assets. If you need to maintain older core applications and systems, they can quickly be made accessible with today’s Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service solutions. Important parts of applications could be abstracted and run on a web-friendly service layer, while still accessing data from the original system.
- Embrace cloud, both internally and externally. Cloud provides a wealth of resources to assist in every aspect of running a business. There are cost benefits that a small or midsize business will see almost immediately – such as the ability to access functionality at a low, by-the-month fee, versus making large upfront capital investments. As a business becomes comfortable with cloud, additional advantages will become more apparent, such as greatly enhanced business flexibility. For example, with cloud services, new business lines can be operational almost immediately, without the need to build or rewrite software.
- Tap into the power of web APIs. Related to cloud, there are a wealth of online resources – tested and updated – that can be integrated into business operations with the click of a mouse. APIs – or application programming interfaces – were once the technical glue that helped integrate applications inside the computer. Now, they bring businesses together. There are now APIs for every conceivable business function – from security to mailing list sorting to procurement to human resources tracking. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when there is already one waiting to be used.
- Harness the power of big data analytics. Competitive advantage in a global economy comes from understanding customer attitudes and intentions. Businesses have access to a growing amount of data on customer profiles, preferences, purchases and future purchases. This information can be integrated and shared with sales, customer service and product design managers to improve customization, overall service and customer satisfaction.
- Build a culture of security. The online world can also be a very scary place, especially with news articles constantly swirling about the latest break-in to a major corporation’s systems. Embarking on a digital journey requires the confidence and trust of business leaders. To gain this trust, it’s important to bake security into all processes, applications and data environments, to enable the business to interact and engage online with confidence.
- Discover the power of mobile. Increasing numbers of business transactions are occurring over mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. These devices also provide flexibility and boost employee productivity. These devices need to be fully supported by the underlying infrastructure of the business. With these devices, customers, employees and partners can be engaged where they are at the moment – whether it’s at home, at work or while traveling.
- Embrace social, both internally and externally. Collaboration with customers, partners and employees promotes innovation and builds brand loyalty. Social provides a new way to engage with both customers and employees.
- Develop and build online channels. Go where your customers are going. Customers seek instant access to information about products and services, as well as the ability to purchase online. More sales, and therefore revenues, will be coming through online and mobile channels. At the same time, don’t neglect traditional channels – the omni-channel model will prevail.
- Hire strategically. Moving to digital requires new types of skill sets, from programming to data analytics. More important than technical skills, incoming managers and employees need to be open to change and new challenges. Small and midsize businesses need to look for and hire employees willing to take the business to the next step.
- Explore new business models. Moving to a digital business opens up possibilities for new products and services that can be rapidly designed and created as they are needed. A business may discover, for example, that its custom-built online customer service application could be marketable to like-minded companies – thus launching the company into the software business. To think this way, however, requires greater adaptability for many small to midsize businesses, to go outside of their comfort zones.
To begin the process, check out this free e-guide, which shares the experiences of small to midsize businesses across the country that are leveraging technology to modernize. The Office Insiders video series also offers: insights on why the cloud matters to your business; benefits of and best practices for increasing mobility in a small business; and tips for creating a social media strategy.
This article originally appeared on Microsoft