A new scheme, which is the first of its kind in the UK, is giving business owners in the West of England the chance to transform their companies through technology. The Tech Adoption Lab has been setup by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), technology experts Cisco, and business movement, Be the Business. Ten companies have been through a successful pilot of the scheme, which is now being rolled out more widely.
The Tech Adoption Lab helps small and medium sized (SME) business owners identify ways in which technology can help grow their business. It focuses in particular on one of the biggest frustrations faced by business owners when they buy technology: how to select and then make a success of the right tech solution. The Government also announced the creation of a new scheme: Help to Grow – Digital – to drive tech adoption in the Budget earlier in March.
Tim Bowles, West of England Mayor, said: “I’m proud that the Combined Authority is part of the pioneering Tech Adoption Lab, which is equipping businesses with the digital capabilities and technical know-how required to adapt and evolve in our changing world.
“Backing our businesses with the skills and digital tools they need to emerge strongly from the pandemic and protecting and securing well-paid jobs is at the heart of our plan for the region’s economic recovery. By working together, we can seize the opportunities that digitalisation and new technology present – securing our recovery to safeguard the jobs of the future.”
There are many barriers to successful tech adoption for SMEs. While large companies may have the skills and resources to undertake major tech adoption programmes, smaller business can struggle with the process. The Tech Adoption Lab provides personalised, external tech support that makes the difference between success and failure.
Anthony Impey, Chief Executive of Be the Business, said: “Our research shows more business owners turned to new tech to help survive the lockdowns. Tech became a lifeline for the business. Consumer preferences have also changed. People expect a great digital experience from any business, no matter how big or small. For West of England businesses, it’s clear that the future is digital.”
Ten local businesses joined the four-week Tech Adoption Lab. Working with an independent tech advisor, they tested and trialled up to three tech solutions based on an assessment of their business needs.
The Lab allowed them to see which tech best suited them, in a safe, guided environment. The specialist tech advisor got to know their businesses and was on hand to prepare them for the adoption process, helping to find the solution that works for them.
Throughout the programme, there was additional support in the form of a dedicated team of Cisco apprentices to help navigate the technical challenges of tech adoption. All the solutions tested are based on free trials available to any small business and cover business areas such as lead generation, sales, HR, data analysis and customer relationships management.
The results have been resoundingly positive. For many of the business owners, the Tech Adoption Lab helped them think through the opportunities presented for their business or helped them turn their plans and ideas into action.
Ollie Greenhalgh, owner of RaviOllie, a high-end food business based in Bristol, found tech could provide a way of reaching a whole new market.
Ollie said: “It was a fantastic experience. It’s really opened my eyes to possibilities I hadn’t really thought about before the lab. Business to business marketing wasn’t something we’d really considered. We’re definitely going to take this tech forward.”
The Tech Adoption Lab has delivered some unexpected benefits beyond helping to find a specific tech solution to a business challenge. Many of the business have become more confident in their use of tech and expanded their ambition to use technology across a whole range of their operations. 80% of the participants are going to adopt at least one of the recommended solutions, whilst the others are using the rest of lockdown to continue testing or plan to adopt in the future.
Aine Rogers, Head of Small Business, Cisco UK & Ireland said: “Almost overnight 80% of the world’s businesses had to move their people, processes and customer engagement online out of necessity. When you’re CEO, founder, purchasing and IT support for your organisation, what and how to adopt technology can be daunting.
Aine said: “Working with Be The Business and the West of England Combined Authority, we were delighted to explore new models for how we can help. Our Cisco apprentices relished the opportunity to get involved, and as we heard from the businesses they worked with, really made a difference to how they adopted new technology. Going forward as the UK’s small businesses choose technology with intent, we believe that there are exciting things to come.”
Tech is the future for small businesses, but if we can’t help them overcome the barriers we know exist to tech adoption, we risk leaving many behind. The Tech Adoption Lab enables small businesses to be more optimistic, confident and prepared for their future.