Last month, the Federal Government announced a $4-billion Digital Adoption Program – a package of grants and loans – to help Canadian Small and Medium-sized enterprises accelerate the adoption of technology, boost online sales and overall, help them succeed in a digital economy.    

We at Differly welcome this announcement and we are proud to have been recognized as one of the program’s national Digital Advisors. For us, this initiative closely aligns with our own mission. Every day, we help our client organizations, and their leadership teams, define the “why, when and how” to implement technology and leverage data for the benefit of their customers and to increase competitiveness.  

This new federal funding will be tremendously useful to Canada’s SME business community. We also know from a decade of implementation that organizations will benefit the most when the technology is implemented with a focus on the humans that must adopt it (employees) and those that will benefit from it (customers and clients).  

If you think of a pyramid, you have your business strategy at the top. This is where your vision and purpose lie. Up until recently, for most organizations, technology and technological investment often lived alongside marketing, product development, and service delivery on the budget and org chart.  

Those days are behind us.  

Your technology/digital strategy must now exist directly below your business strategy, and it must reach across the entire span of the organization. A successful digital adoption plan connects internal organizational units and looks to create synergies while supporting employee adoption.  

As a business owner or leader, if you are considering where to begin when building your technology road map, here are five key considerations from which to frame a successful digital adoption plan.  

1. Align on vision.  

Before spending a single dime on any specific technology product or jumping into digitization efforts to address immediate pain points, it is imperative to spend time envisioning the future and examining the art of the possible.  

What outcomes are we looking for? How is our industry changing, and what major trends are we seeing that have staying power? What shifts are we seeing in customer behaviour?  How might other players disrupt us? Which technologies will affect how we do business?

This is less about certainty and more about clarity.   You do not need to boil the ocean. Start with foundational projects and aim for continual progress against the vision.  

2. Always put your customers and clients at the heart of digital adoption.  

As small to medium-sized business owners and leaders, you already know that understanding the needs, expectations and behaviours of the digitally enabled consumer, client or stakeholder must be at the heart of any transformation effort. This helps to frame the “why” into a vision of the future endorsed from the top, driven from the bottom and most importantly, resourced for consistent execution. How can you design and deliver a better end-to-end experience using both on and offline channels seamlessly? Can you leverage digital technologies to remove barriers or friction and continually deliver added value to your clients? Are you offering a digital experience or encounter that is reflective of your brand values?  

3. Clear the path and empower your people.  

To create those seamless consumer experiences, you must have an underlying infrastructure that enables the delivery of digital-enabled services. That infrastructure includes your employees, so it is important to remain aware that technology implementation can be intimidating and highly disruptive to the way your people are used to working.  

However, while transformation is led and funded from the top for sustained success, bottom-up engagement by those serving and interacting with consumers is just as critical. Employees who have a better handle on the “why” of the shifts in strategy, and who are engaged in redesigning systems and processes are empowered to ensure success.  

So ask your employees: How can we reduce effort, better serve our customers, and automate processes? Can we make better use of the data we have? Chances are high your employees have very good insights and ideas here.    

4. Leadership, organizational engagement and ongoing support.  

In the end, digital adoption and strategy is more a challenge of leadership than one of technology. Leaders are navigating constant change and complexity and must be able to adapt and evolve the operating model and, in some cases, the business model.  

This requires nurturing a culture where continual learning is incentivized and rewarded and where change is part of everyone’s job.  

5. Digital Adoption is not a “one and done” event.  

At Differly, we have learned from experience that digital adoption plans that are highly pragmatic and aligned to the organization's appetite for change and tolerance for risk have a greater chance of success.

Preparing your Digital Adoption plan is not a one-time event. Rather, it is a living document that you must update regularly.  

As your business grows, your priorities may shift, and new opportunities or challenges may present themselves. Adopting an agile approach allows you to conduct the work in short sprints. This approach helps to adapt to moving priorities without detracting from the overall vision – and most importantly, always puts humans at the centre.  

About the author

Isabelle Perreault

Isabelle is the Founder and CEO of Differly. She has spent her career helping business leaders understand the major drivers of change and helping them survive and thrive in a digital economy. She brings deep expertise in business transformation, corporate and business model innovation and go-to-market planning.

For over 20 years, she has been helping leaders in a wide variety of sectors develop and deploy human-centric, tech-enabled growth strategies. Passionate about entrepreneurship she also serves as a business coach to Startups with several incubators. Prior to launching Differly, she led one of the first Digital Transformation Practices in Canada and was head of Digital Strategy and Marketing for the Ottawa Senators, NHL Hockey Club.Isabelle is Chair of the Ottawa Youth Services Bureau Foundation and a champion for women entrepreneurs.

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