ASK THE EXPERT: DIGITAL INNOVATION – HOW THE MOVE TOWARDS DIGITALISATION CAN HELP YOUR BUSINESS TO GROW

Alexa Greaves, board member at South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and chief executive of AAG IT Services, a regional IT managed services provider, offers advice on how adopting digitalisation can help businesses thrive.

“In an ever changing economy, to remain competitive within their respective markets it is important for businesses to evolve with the landscape and adopt new ways of working, and now more than ever that means a move towards digitalisation.

Introducing digital processes into a business should be seen as a long-term investment that can prove extremely lucrative and offer a high ROI in the long run. In fact, a report* carried out in 2020 by Siemens Financial Services (SFS) estimates that manufacturers in Yorkshire and the Humber for example stand to gain £ 3.3 billion from digital transformation and the resulting improvements in productivity.

For some businesses, we know moving towards digitalisation can seem overwhelming, but what owners may not recognise is that they have probably already started on the journey anyway. Often hailed as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, all digitalisation really means is moving from communicating via letters and over the phone to instead talking and selling online through email, apps, websites etc. We’ve all seen a shift from face to face meetings to online ‘virtual’ meetings and attending virtual exhibitions and events this past eighteen months – all made possible by digitalisation.

Small Steps

It’s worth noting that digitalisation isn’t about expecting businesses to invest in super advanced software systems either, it’s about integrating digital tools into their existing processes to make them quicker, more effective and more seamless.

It cannot be denied that had it not been for digitalisation, the lockdown would have had a much more profound and devastating impact. The South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority was quick to recognise how hard sectors such as retail, leisure and hospitality had been hit by COVID-19 and we launched our Renewal Action Plan which sets out how South Yorkshire can put itself on the path to recovery.

Within the RAP, £2m to £5m funding has been allocated to enable businesses to adapt their working practices and embrace digitisation. In addition, several support schemes for local businesses have also been introduced including the Sheffield Innovation Programme (SIP).

The Growth Hub has also appointed several Business Support Advisors to work alongside SMEs to meet current economic challenges, embrace digitalisation and to recover from the lockdown. The Advisors carry out a full diagnostic and pinpoint areas of improvement, this could include where the business could incorporate digitisation to enhance their processes, products or services.

Making most of the support available

With South Yorkshire as an important manufacturing hub, the introduction of schemes like Made Smarter, which connects manufacturers to the digital tools, leadership, and skills they need to drive sustainable growth, are also coming on stream to further encourage digitalisation within this sector, which is a key industry for our region.

In addition, the recently introduced Help to Grow programme has been designed to help business owners and managers learn new skills, reach more customers and boost profits. The scheme includes

Help to Grow: Management, a 12-week programme offering one-to-one business mentor support, and the new Help to Grow: Digital, a programme offering free and impartial advice on how technology can help a business. Launching in the Autumn, Help to Grow: Digital has been introduced as part of the governments agenda for improving the economy off the back of the pandemic through digitalisation and will help SMEs identify their digital technology needs, assess technology purchasing options and then implement new technologies in their operations.

While it was welcome news recently that the UK economy grew by 4.8% between April and June, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the lockdown has been tough for many sectors and now there is a very real need to focus on digitalisation as the key to unlocking this region’s future prosperity on a global scale. Businesses have this unique chance to get a helping hand from the Growth Hub to develop an action plan for adopting digital technology in their workflow and are encouraged to get in touch to make the most of the support available.”

For more information visit www.sheffieldgrowthhub.co.uk.