Digital transformation for your business

John Cradden on what technologies your SME business should be investing in to stay relevant and competitive.

As a business owner, you’ve probably heard the terms ‘digital transformation’ and ‘digitalisation’ more times that you’d care to remember over the last two or three years.

However, it’s not exactly a term that is immediately recognisable or widely understood. Indeed, what digital transformation means for your business may be challenging because it has come to mean different things to different companies.

“The latest discussions around digital transformation are now laser-focused on the opportunities and threats of AI”

What is not disputed is that digital transformation is about incorporating digital technology into all aspects of business operations, and that it’s been driven by the enormous pandemic-driven shift in consumer demands towards digital channels.

A consumer trend report from 2021 by KPMG showed 68% of Irish consumers said they shopped online more than they did before the pandemic, and by 2023 a similar trends report by PWC found that 36% were planning to increase their online spending.

The digital transformation agenda has also been turbo-charged by the normalisation of ‘work from home’ and hybrid working practices, as employees incorporate digital into their working lives.

All this has massively inflated expectations about any company’s ability to adapt to rapid changes, many of which ultimately depend on embracing technology.  Fast-forward to 2024, and the latest discussions around digital transformation are now laser-focused on the opportunities and threats of artificial intelligence (AI).

So what technologies should your firm be investing in to stay relevant and competitive as we pass the first quarter of the 21st century?

Cloud computing

If your IT systems have not yet made the transition to the cloud, the advantages are very compelling, the main ones being that you can eliminate the need for costly on-premises infrastructure and gain immediate access to scalable computing resources. This enables greater flexibility, agility and cost-effectiveness – all essential capabilities for adapting to constantly changing market conditions. It’s an almost mature market at this stage, with almost every major software player offering cloud platforms with associated services like data storage and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, including Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services.


As its name implies, Customer Relationship Management software is about helping businesses build and maintain strong customer relationships, which it does by centralising all your customer data, streamlining communications, and automating sales and marketing processes.  CRM has been around in some form for generations, but cloud computing has given this software sector a massive new lease of life, improving accessibility, flexibility, scalability, customisability, security, integration with other apps etc. This means that there is a lot more you can do with them, such as tracking customer interactions, analysing purchasing patterns, and running razor-sharp marketing campaigns – including digital marketing. There are loads of SME-level options from the likes of Salesforce, Hubspot and Zoho CRM to name but a few, and investing in one that fits your company will give you an competitive edge.

E-commerce platforms

One of the main elements of the whole digital transformation impetus has been the acceleration in the growth in online-shopping. For SMEs with limited resources to build an e-commerce site, the good news is that there are a range of cost-effective e-commerce solutions that can do most of the hard work for you. You could use an open-source platform such as WooCommerce, or a SaaS (software as a service) platform like Shopify. Other options include becoming a third-party seller using Amazon or eBay, or using Facebook Marketplace or Instagram in a similar way. Whatever option you pick, you should at least be able to do things like customise your own website to some degree, accept secure online payments, and track sales performance in real-time.

Data analytics

Once upon a time it may have been a nice-to-have, but the ability to make good strategic decisions for your business depends more than ever on the data you can dig into about such matters as your customer behaviours, market trends, and operational performance. Investing in data analytics and business intelligence tools enables small businesses to unlock the full potential of this data. Consider platforms like Tableau, Google Analytics, and Microsoft Power BI.


For a digital business, there is a huge imperative and expectation that you are taking all measures necessary to protect sensitive data and thereby preserve customer trust, but also comply with data protection regulations. On top of that, the almost relentless nature of cyber-attacks these days means that no business can be complacent. Investing in security measures such as firewalls, antivirus software, and encryption tools help mitigate risks and prevent unauthorised access to systems and networks. But one sure way to undermine the effectiveness of your chosen security solution – whatever that is – is not to train your employees in best practices and foster a culture of security awareness. So factor this into your plans.

Mobile optimisation

According to 2023 CSO figures, nearly all internet users (96%) used their smart phone or mobile phone to access the internet, so optimising digital experiences for mobile devices is essential for small businesses. Investing in mobile-friendly websites, responsive design, and mobile apps enables small businesses to engage customers wherever they are and deliver consistent user experiences across devices. It also improves accessibility and search engine visibility.

AI and automation

Artificial intelligence is the one issue that’s attracting nearly everyone’s attention thanks to the advances of technologies like ChatGPT and Microsoft CoPilot, but there’s already a suite of AI and automation technologies that can help small businesses today to streamline workflows, reduce manual tasks, and improve productivity.  Automation tools can help with repetitive processes, such as invoicing, inventory management, and customer support, while AI-powered solutions like chatbots and virtual assistants can enhance customer interactions and deliver personalised experiences at scale. Look at platforms like Zapier, Microsoft Power Automate and IBM Watson.

And if you need help or guidance or financial support with your digital transformation, check out the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment’s Digital Transition Fund, and supports from Enterprise Ireland, Digital Business Ireland and others.

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John Cradden
John Cradden is an experienced business and personal finance journalist and financial wellbeing content designer.