Digital Transformation is the jargon-of-the-year for SMEs and government and big industry is touting education as the key to getting SMEs engaged in digital technology to modernize their companies. To that, we say, nay.

Leaders of SMEs don’t need education, or, that’s not all they need. Every SME CEO we talk with and work with is well aware of the technology deficiencies within their organization. They may not understand exactly what tools are out there to solve their specific problem, but they have been well educated on the fact that there are technology solutions to outdated processes. Their challenge is that they don’t have the time or resources to do anything about it.

As an SME ourselves, we are frustrated by the ‘educate and share knowledge’ strategy for making change. For SMEs to make a change, they need financial and resource support, not more knowledge. Here’s why:

Knowledge isn’t always power

A CEO that spends a few hours a day for 2 weeks learning about technology solutions, implementation strategies and configuration options is a CEO that has wasted their time. That investment in time and energy has an opportunity cost to the organization, and the ROI on that investment isn’t good. The knowledge the CEO now has took a lot of effort to gain and it doesn’t contribute to the growth and trajectory of their team. To be clear – the decision the CEO makes as a result of that information has a huge upside (increased productivity, automation, better customer engagement, etc.). The opportunity cost to the organization is the time invested to gain that knowledge, time that should have been spent on strategic objectives. The way to avoid this opportunity cost is to engage a team that already has that knowledge to analyze the scenario and recommend technology solutions based on that analysis.

Put your money where your mouth is

If governments really want SMEs to transform digitally they need to give SMEs money to bring people in to do that work for them. Leaders of SMEs are extremely busy and overwhelmed with keeping their businesses open and reaching toward growth. They need money to throw money at problems, and instead of investing in ‘education campaigns’ the government should invest in Digital Transformation Grants and quickly and efficiently funnel money to SMEs to simply get this work done for them.

For example:

Digital Main Street is a program for small businesses in Mississauga. It’s funded through a grant awarded to the City of Mississauga by FedDev Ontario and the Province of Ontario, in partnership with the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association. The City of Mississauga sent their Digital Services Squad into small businesses with the specific purpose of doing their digital transformation. They did it for them. They didn’t educate and empower with knowledge on how to do it, they just DID IT.

Next steps

Marsha and I are singing this message from the rooftops. We have joined some roundtable discussions, technology groups and government conversations about Digital Transformation in the SME sector. Talk to your local BIA, your City or Municipality, your Development Corporation or any other group that has access to government funds and is touting money for education. Tell them education isn’t what you need, you need someone to come in and do it for you, and instead of spending tens of thousands on information campaigns to take that money and funnel to SMEs that can use it to actually transform, not just talk about it.