Digital Transformation in a Small Business


Digital transformation is for most small businesses the only way to survive the digital disruptions of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The digital disruptions are fueled by technology innovations that resulted in the “3rd Platform” which is built on a foundation of cloud, mobile, social, and Big Data technologies 1.

Many businesses reacted badly when the digital disruptions started to impact on their decision-making processes, operations, product roll-outs, and promotions. More importantly, they’d started to have problems engaging with their customers 1.  Indeed, some big brand businesses that failed to embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution, has closed down.

The retail sector was one of the first sectors to face the brunt of digital disruptions. In fact, things got so bad that Philip Kotler asked rhetorically in The Marketing Journal: “Will the 4th Industrial Revolution Kill Store-Based Retailing?” That’s a fair question because 2017 had been a bad year for U.S. shopping centers, malls and store-based retailers. As a result, big brand retailers Sears, Kmart and R-Toys closed hundreds of shops that year.

So, if big businesses couldn’t cope with the digital disruptions, then how on earth can small retailers do it? Small businesses can indeed cope better with digital disruptions. Since they can act more quickly, and don’t have a bureaucratic system to overcome…

What is digital transformation?

Digital transformation is, according to The Enterprises Project, the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business. As a result, the ways you operate and deliver value to customers are fundamentally changed.

For instance, once you’ve decided to implement a digital transformation strategy, almost everything your business did in the past is now of little value.  Even more, you may need to change the culture and leadership of your business in order to challenge the status quo. Even more, management needs to experiment with the new technology and also learn to accept failures. Indeed, your entire business model may need to be reshaped or even replaced 2.

Why do you want to go through all the trouble by implementing a digital transformation strategy? Here’s why:

The Enterprises Project reported the following reasons why digital transformation is inescapable:

  • Your competitors are doing it – so the longer you wait, the more you’ll have to play catch-up.
  • It will make them more profitable – more than half of companies that recently adopted digital technologies reported improved profits.
  • It will make them more efficient – productivity improves dramatically with automation.
  • Their customers will thank them – by investing in digital technology, customers enjoy enhanced shopping experiences.

How to get your business digitally transformed

If you are sitting behind the counter of your small retail shop in the shopping center near your house and wonder why businesses around you close down or where the patrons have gone, then digital transformation should be your number one priority.

Digital transformation isn’t the prerogative of big organisations with lots of money. On the contrary, smaller businesses can adopt a digital transformation strategy more quickly and efficiently. Even more, you can start by using the technology and platforms that you already use.

But first, you should get a strategy in place for the transformation process.

Digital transformation is a must. Even if you own a small food take-away in the local shopping center…

The digital transformation process

Hess 3 (2016) and others have proposed a conceptual framework for formulating a digital transformation strategy. Also, they’ve identified four key dimensions that are needed when you plan to do a digital transformation of your business:

  1. The use of technologies reflects a firm’s approach and capability to explore and exploit new digital technologies. For example using outsourcing services in the “Cloud”. Products that provide machine learning and the analysis of large data sets are becoming low-cost or even free (Smart
  2. Changes in value creation reflect the influence of digital transformation on a firm’s value creation. Digital transformation brings greater efficiency and effectiveness to your business. As a result, new opportunities may emerge with the potential to create new value.
  3. Structural changes refer to the modifications in organizational structures, processes and skill sets that are necessary to cope with and exploit new technologies. Here small businesses or start-ups have a distinct advantage over their bigger counterparts. Therefore, no need to restructure aggressively or to appoint techno geeks, you can hire them in the cloud…
  4. The financial aspects dimension relates to both a firm’s need for action in response to a struggling core business as well as its ability to finance a digital transformation endeavor. Again, small business and start-up needn’t to rob a bank to transform their businesses digitally. You can use a CRM platform like WordPress with its thousands of plugins to get your strategy on the way. Also tools such as Google Analytics and the analytics services of Facebook and Twitter can help you to know your customers better. All of this can be done with little or no cost…


Digital transformation is affecting everything and everyone around us. Yet, if your business resists the transformation, it will perish. And, you will only be a faint glimpse in history. Indeed, the retailer that’s at the forefront of digital transformation,, has just reached a net worth of one trillion US dollars (CBS News). Isn’t that enough reason to start your digital transformation right now!

Read more:

  1. Success in the Digital Age Requires Extraordinary Retail Leaders
  2. How the Fourth Industrial Revolution Shapes the Retail Industry

A well researched and written Business Plan helps to get your business started the right way.


1 Gens, F. 2013. The 3rd platform: Enabling digital transformation, IDC whitepaper.

2 Matt, C., Hess, T. and Benlian, A.  2015. Digital transformation strategies, Business & Information Systems Engineering, 57(5):339-343.

3 Hess, T., Matt, C., Benlian, A. and Wiesböck, F. 2016. Options for Formulating a Digital Transformation Strategy, MIS Quarterly Executive, 15(2):123-139.


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