By Jonathan Kini, Head of Small & SME Business at Vodafone UK

Today’s digital revolution is moving at lightning speed as high speed mobile coverage becomes ubiquitous and connected devices, applications and IT continue to evolve, changing the way we can work, play and communicate. The speed at which these changes occur is further increased with the real-time nature of social media reinforcing customers’ expectations for businesses to be ‘always open’.

The ways in which businesses utilise technology and IT to provide responsive, personalised customer service and to support their workforce to enable employees to work flexibly and productively from wherever they are, have become key differentiators in today’s mobile, digital world.

With this in mind, one question arises - what’s next? And how can I make sure my business is ready for it?

While we may not know what to expect from the future of digital, one thing the past ten years of technology milestones has taught us is that change is guaranteed, and it will happen quickly.

Although the pace of change can place extra pressure on small businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who often have smaller budgets to invest in new technology compared to their larger counterparts, change in fact provides the optimal opportunity for small businesses.

The trick is to adopt technologies that allow businesses to be flexible in the way they operate and how employees choose to work, allowing them to adapt to whatever changes occur and take advantage of their inherently nimble nature.

Making a small business not only ready for change but ensuring it stays ahead of it does not mean making large scale technology investments and overhauling business operations. Instead, SMEs should focus on adopting simple and effective business tools that drive small but impactful changes. Fortunately, the digital revolution has introduced a plethora of affordable tools.

But having the right tools is not enough. There needs to be the right culture, and infrastructure, in place to be ready to adapt and stay ahead of change, both from a people and technology perspective. Below are three ways small businesses can achieve this:

1. Built in agility

In order to drive agility across the business, SMEs should adopt technologies that enable the business to efficiently scale up and down as business needs and priorities are influenced by internal and external factors. A great example are cloud based services such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Security-as-a-Service (SECaas), Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) and Analytics-as-a-Service (AaaS) which have become increasingly available. With a growing number of products and services now being offered through the cloud and on a ‘cost per user’ basis, IT technology and functions that were once costly — restricting them to companies with large budgets - are now affordable. Cloud based services are a cost effective alternative to on-premise solutions for SMEs, while also providing the flexibility to use only however much is needed, when it’s needed. With the technology taken care of, businesses can focus on their core proposition and their customers.

2. Connected employees

The proliferation of digital technology has not only changed customer expectations but also employees’ expectations on their work environment and how they choose to work. Our research found that 86% of employers experience demand from employees for flexible working. Providing flexible working not only benefits employees however, it also provides significant business benefits — the main one being increasing employee productivity which ultimately supports the bottom line.

Simply equipping employees with suitable mobile devices, (eg. tablets, smartphones and/or laptops) and secure access to work applications and information, using a robust and reliable network, will pay dividends in productivity and boost employee satisfaction. Whilst fostering a flexible culture and by providing employees with the tools to work and collaborate effectively from wherever they are, businesses can ensure their staff are connected and able to deliver responsive customer service. These factors ultimately have a positive impact on revenue over time. In fact, a recent study found the 25 per cent of SMEs that use mobile services most intensively have revenues that grow up to twice as fast as their peers and create jobs up to eight times faster.

3. Connect better with customers

Mobile technology underpins an agile and connected workforce. However, SMEs can take this a step further by integrating landlines with mobile phones, desktops, and tablets to create a central communications platform.

Where every minute counts and small businesses can no longer afford to have employees tied to their desk, merging communication channels enables small businesses and SMEs to deliver better and timely customer service. Businesses can appear bigger than they are by setting-up virtual landlines with local phone numbers that are routed to employees’ mobile device. This also ensures a customer call is never missed, no matter where staff are based.

Diamond Logistics, a UK courier service, is a prime example of how mobile and having a centralised communications systems can make running a business more efficient and delivering responsive customer service easier. In an industry where speed is of the essence (same day / next day delivery) and competition is fierce, a missed call could mean a lost customer. With a single customer service number created using a unified communications system, customers’ calls are automatically directed to the frontline operations team who are best placed to help with customers’ enquiries. Using this platform, they can operate a 24/7 service and never miss a call.

As the digital revolution continues and new technologies evolve, it is vital that small businesses and SMEs use their agility as a competitive advantage in order to survive and thrive. They should focus on small, affordable and manageable changes that cumulatively make a big impact. However, these should not just empower a connected and agile business for now, but also lay the foundations so that SMEs are ready to quickly adapt to changes in the future digital world.