Everywhere you look these days, there is some expert or another exhorting businesses to digitise, to embrace the Internet of Things, to join the Industry 4.0 Revolution. 

In the most extreme cases, we are being told to “Evolve or die!”  Within the world of scaleup, digitisation is identified as a key enabler and transformer of businesses.  So, if you are a non-digital business who makes things, sells things, or just simply does things the old-fashioned way, where do you start?

I work with over thirty businesses within the Scaleup North East programme, mainly manufacturers, but also IT and architecture.  The common theme in most of these is that their business leaders are really good at their core product or service, and that is what has enabled them to be successful and grow their business to its current activity level. However, with the obvious exception of the IT businesses I support, the vast majority of my Scaleup North East businesses have had no education in IT or digital technologies, and are too small to enjoy the luxury of employing a digital specialist in their business.  So, in this world of ever evolving technology, where do you start, or do you even bother?

First things first, you should definitely bother! If you don’t, you can be sure one of your competitors will.  Having spent around 20 years of my career bringing new technologies and processes into the businesses I have led, I would offer the following personal advice to all businesses:

1.    Try and stay reasonably close to the leading edge of technology, but avoid the spontaneous approach of bleeding edge technology adoption.  In other words, try and invest at least a little bit of time in finding out what new technologies are out there which could help improve your products or your business processes.

2.    Remember that while your product or service may be unique, the business processes you use will be the same as, or similar to, other businesses. So, don’t be scared to plagiarise best practice from other businesses, and do be prepared to get out of your business and attend events which may help you understand which new technologies are best for your business.

3.    There is a big focus on digitisation, both nationally and locally. Try and find out which organisations are out there and available to help.  RTC North is obviously a good starting point, but we also have other organisations such as the Digital Catapult North East & Tees Valley based in Sunderland, which may have support which you can access.

4.    If you are considering investing in new software systems, always look for an off-the-shelf product first, as this will be tried and tested, reliable, and cost effective.

5.    If an off-the-shelf software package doesn’t exist for what you want to do, don’t despair, we have a community of software developers who can assist and develop your bespoke software application.       

Following the above steps will get you started on your digital journey, but don’t be scared to ask for support, and where better to look than Scaleup North East?