Digital transformation and SMEs: the inside story.

Nicola Mortimer
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On: 13 Dec 2018
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Digital transformation SME

It’s easy to preach about the need for digital transformation for small-medium businesses, from the point of view of a communications provider. However, nobody understands the reality of making the transformation journey like the business owners themselves. Sinead Kavanagh, MD of Eirebus/ Swords Express and Brendan Kavanagh (no relation), CEO of Olive Group, recently shared with me their experiences of digital transformation and the lessons they learned along the way.

Firstly, some background on the two businesses.

Eirebus is a leading Dublin-based coach operator with a fleet of 70 deluxe vehicles. As well as offering bespoke coach tours of Ireland and executive private coach hire, Eirebus owns and operates the multi-award winning Swords Express service, with 130 departures per day between Swords and Dublin City Centre.

Olive Group consists of a team of almost 200 learning and development experts, digital designers, editors, scriptwriters, camera crews and account managers, focused on finding the best possible solutions to their customers’ training challenges.

The need for digital transformation.

We first discussed the need for digital transformation. From Sinead’s perspective, there really is no alternative for SMEs. “In the past 10 years, with the advent of social media and smartphones, customer expectations have really changed” she says. “Customers expect answers on-the-go, in real time, and our Swords Express service has had to evolve in line with their expectations and demands.”

As well as the need for skills training to digitally enable employees, digital transformation has led Eirebus to change the working hours of some employees. The customer service team must be available when customers want them – during peak morning and evening travel times – rather than traditional office hours.

As CEO of a training business, Brendan is working with businesses that are realising the need to give their employees technology skills in the face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “If you’re going on a digital transformation journey,” Brendan says, “you have to take your employees with you and give them the necessary skills for agility and flexibility.”

Finding real value in data.

A business undergoing digital transformation will find itself with access to more data than ever. Used properly, this can improve efficiency and customer service; Sinead explains. “We’ve invested in fleet management software, vehicle scheduling software, tour planning software, and we use Internet of Things (IoT) technologies on board our coaches. Our vehicle telematics system helps us reduce the incidence of insurance claims and monitor fuel usage, which cuts fuel consumption. Being able to monitor our vehicles in real-time helps our customer service team deliver relevant updates and optimise our fleet scheduling. These technologies all add to the bottom line.”

The return on investment is encouraging news for SMEs that see the cost of digital transformation as prohibitive. There is often not even a need for large upfront expenditure. After all, as Brendan points out, “with 80% of internet access by smartphone, the hardware is already there. We have the tools for digital transformation already in our hands.” He also feels there is no need to be too bespoke in developing digital transformation solutions, which can be unnecessarily costly. “There are platforms with open architecture; there’s hardware that’s scalable; there are out-of-the-box solutions available.”

Next stop on the journey.

For Swords Express, Sinead expects to see the gradual ending of cash payments. “As a company, we want to become entirely cashless in the next few years, introducing contactless payments. We’ve already carried out two trials and will deploy a contactless payment system across the fleet in the near future.”

Despite a likely increase in autonomous functionality on vehicles, which will serve as aids to drivers, she believes driverless coaches are a long, long way down the line.

For Olive Group, augmented reality (AR) is one digital solution that is already being used to deliver some training solutions. “For example,” Brendan says, “because language can be an obstacle, we’ve delivered a course where, in an immersive AR environment, there is a mannequin to show you how to clean up chemical spills and you just copy it.” Brendan expects to see growth in the use of AR, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, to be used in the delivery of even more effective training.

More businesses like Eirebus and Olive Group are realising the need for digital transformation and coming to see it not as a destination, but as a continuing journey. Sinead and Brendan certainly do.

Talk to our Business Advice team about digitally enabling your SME. Call 1800 200 017 or