Businesses have to go where their customers are. Many businesses are doing that too. On Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, and so many more.

Their challenge now is in taking the next step. To prepare themselves to be where the customers are going to be. More importantly, to be able to continue being relevant to their customers.

And I use the term ‘customers’ to include partners, collaborators, and suppliers.

The hyper digital customer will expect nothing less than personalization; in the pre-sales and post-sales periods.

They will expect to see ads and marketing content most relevant to their needs. They will want businesses to know the products and services they desire at any given time.

After all, this data is going to be made available to businesses via various platforms and networks the customers live on in the digital space.

This level of service is impossible to achieve without getting rid of existing data silos.

Any business that has access to the most pertinent customer data, ideally in real-time, will be in the best position to beat the competition.

While technology integration is part of the solution as any CMO and marketing technologist can attest, there is a bigger challenge to overcome, before an SME (small and medium enterprise) can get there.

Your workforce needs an upgrade.

You see, most SMEs who have been dealing with legacy technology stacks are affected by an inevitable side effect. One of their biggest strengths, the employees, end up in a legacy technology environment.

In most cases, the workforce doesn’t even know that its technology competencies are on a free fall towards irrelevancy.

Obsolete tools deliver a double whammy by crippling both innovation and operational efficiency. Technical capabilities to serve hyper-digital customers become redundant, and so does the fate of the business.

Implementing a technology stack that increases efficiency and innovation is not enough if the company culture is not prepared to support the change.

What change management tactics to upgrading the SME workforce can look like;

 Creating awareness for a buy-in

Depending on the culture at the SME, it could take from 6 months to a year to create awareness. Change is not easy. Especially when people are not tuned in to the need to change.

Customized legacy technology has had a lot of time to embed itself among the workforce. Usually the workforce also has invested in relationships with legacy technology suppliers. There is comfort to be had in ‘the way things are’.

In a legacy technology environment it is perfectly acceptable to wait weeks for implementation of a feature request, that equals the one-click-install widget that a solo blogger has on their WordPress blog.

It takes time to create awareness of current alternative SAAS services, cloud-based and otherwise, that can serve all current needs and do much more, at a fraction of the cost and time of legacy systems.

If the c-suite has to be educated, that is a good place to start. Usually, the economics of SAAS can be a great eye-opener for the c-suite. Again, patience is an ally.

Assessing and preparing the workforce for the transition

Once you have a buy-in and have worked with the management to address your technology integration needs, you will need to prepare the ground for a successful transition from legacy technology to a new technology stack.

I find that an average SME workforce can be classified into these three categories:

1)      The innovator visionaries: Probably 1%  or less of the workforce. These are the people like you who will be creating awareness and taking on associated risks and blow-back.

You can identify them by their ability to look beyond the legacy environment to identify new, more efficient and cost effective technology. By their ability to conceive seamless technology workflow integration that unifies customer data. By their eagerness to integrate technology in a way that improves efficiency across all business units.

These are the ones heading the charge. These may come from the IT department. And since they connect directly with the hyper digital customer, these visionaries increasingly also come from the marketing technology side of the SME.

They will also be able to spearhead rapid innovation using new technology.

If your SME does not have one of these, you need to acquire access to one.

2)      The tech adaptable: These are the ones who will use technology and in due time innovate around the flexibility that an integrated technology stack offers. They account for about 20-40% of the average SME workforce.

You can identify them by the ease in which they can adapt to new software. They may also be the ones who previously lead the legacy technology environment development effort. You should pat yourself on the back for having their buy-in.

These individuals will be vital in guiding technology focus towards increasing operational efficiency as well as incremental innovation and general staff training.

It may take up to a year for these individuals to reach maximum effectiveness. The sooner these individuals have the right tools the better. Their training should emphasize the fact that the new technology stack allows them to access a huge developer ecosystem that is constantly innovating to meet customer needs.

All this at relatively low costs and implementation time lines.

The tech-adaptable could be found in any departments and from any level of the organization including the c-suite.

The long-term goal should be to provide a business culture where these individuals to evolve to the first category in due time.

3)      The tech rear guard: 60-70% of the average SME workforce will be content to learn the new technology and apply it to current operations.

They may need time to understand and adapt to the new technology. Some of them are not going to be happy and others are not going to be able to keep up.

But once the dust settles, those who can adapt will move up in their technical competencies to the second category or maybe even the first category.

Realignment of  the  work force competency mix

I’d say the most effective tech start-ups contain a workforce made up of the first and the second category. That’s a good role model for our average SME.

An SME that is serious about being relevant in the era of the hyper-digital customer, should  think seriously about laying the groundwork towards upgrading the workforce.

In my estimate they have less than five years to do so. I think they should get started now, or they will be left behind in as early as 2-3 years.

The real goal is to realign the workforce competency mix to meet the demands of the hyper-digital customer. To ensure that a culture of innovation is given time to percolate throughout the organization.

Unfortunately, I think most SMEs are simply unaware of the pace of change that will soon impact their business.

Do you agree or disagree? Have you been involved in change management within the workforce? Share your tips.

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