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GM Digital Skills Day – what skills does a business need to compete?

As part of Greater Manchester’s Digital Skills Day on 7 February, Chris Murphy, Senior Business Advisor for Digital Innovation gives his take on the challenge that businesses are facing and recommends some resources to help you stay ahead.

It can be hugely challenging to identify the digital tools and technologies that can help improve your businesses productivity or commerciality.

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"To stay ahead of the game, businesses should continuously improve their knowledge in what is an ever-changing environment." #GMDigitalSkills

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For any business it is important to be ‘digitally-savvy’. To stay ahead of the game, businesses should continuously improve their knowledge in what is an ever-changing environment. As an advisor to businesses operating across a myriad of sectors in Greater Manchester, I see first-hand how difficult it can be to focus in on the tools and technologies that can help improve your businesses productivity or commerciality, I hope that this blog will demystify some of this for you.

It’s not all marketing, but some of it is…

When most people think about digital, they think about marketing. Most businesses now have some form of online presence and if they don’t its certainly something that I would encourage you to consider.

If your sales or marketing is reliant on digital, you cannot underestimate the demand that this will have on your time, and it’s important that you think about ways to resource this. Outsourcing to a digital agency is one way to bring in expertise to your business, but it can be expensive. I would highly recommend considering bringing in a Digital Marketing Apprentice via GC Education and Skills which Emirate’s Old Trafford did recently with great results.

Of course, marketing is just one aspect of digital technology and digital skills that a business should be thinking about. Here are the three skills I think all businesses should get to grips with in 2020.

Data Analysis

Business Leaders need to understand their data and how to utilise it to make key decisions. Tim Monaghan, European President, Diodes Incorporated and one of the Greater Manchester Manufacturing Champions said in the Hub’s report on productivity:

“It takes time to set up effective measurement systems, but it is time well spent. The data will tell you where the biggest benefit can be had and whether you are making progress towards it. Almost as importantly it will help you to bring people along with you and give them confidence in your intentions.”

The types of data at your disposal could be vast – this could be about your people and their performance, how effectively you use any machinery or equipment, the performance of your marketing activity or how efficiently you use your resources or your finances. The ability to track this and report on it is critical to measure business performance. It can also help you to benchmark performance against your competitors or similar businesses - the Be the Business benchmarking tool is a great place to start with this. I would also recommend my colleague Steve Wilkinson’s blog about data which provides some helpful hints for getting started.

Electric Circle, a digital agency based in Manchester, approached the Hub for support when they wanted to develop their range of services. Digital Business Advisor, Matt Fawthrop said:

“The business wanted to add a new technical angle to what they offered. They were keen to upskill their staff, and by doing more with the data that websites generate, not only are they offering greater value to their clients, but they are also creating potential new projects that they can explore, too.

Ben Gross, Managing Director at Electric Circus, said: “Our new digital know-how has given us a competitive edge. We can help our clients optimise their online presence, while the data the sites generate is leading to new ideas and ways of thinking which are proving important in generating work for the agency.”

Cloud Computing

Whether it is understanding how to get the most out of your existing CRM or looking to work in a more agile way through applications such as Microsoft Office 365, cloud computing can improve collaboration and productivity. Knowledge of what tools are out there and how to utilise Cloud software to grow a business is a key digital skill.

For an SME, cloud accounting and bookkeeping tools are a very common way to manage your business finances. This blog from UHY Hacker Young gives some useful tips on selecting the right package for you.

Cloud technology is a topic covered in our Digital Springboard programme which is free for Greater Manchester businesses with 2-10 employees. If learning about this and a wealth of other digital skills is of interest you can sign up here.

Electric Circus utilise data to generate new ideas and commercial opportunities for the business.

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Even a basic understanding of Cyber Security can help to significantly reduce the risk and there is a wealth of resources that help.

Cyber Security

The issue that businesses raise with me time after time is cyber security and unfortunately awareness and understanding of this issue is still lacking and placing those businesses at risk. Business Leaders having even a basic understanding of Cyber Security can help to significantly reduce the risk and there are a wealth of resources that can help.

  • Cyber Essentials/Cyber Essentials Plus Certificates
    Cyber Essentials helps you to protect against common cyber threats and demonstrate your commitment to cyber security to your customers and suppliers
  • National Cyber Security Centre SME Guide
    If your business has less than 250 employees and doesn’t have a dedicated team to manage cyber security, this guide runs through where and how to start
  • GM Cyber Resilience Centre
    This joint venture with Greater Manchester Police & Manchester Digital supports sole traders, family businesses and SMEs across Greater Manchester to reduce their vulnerability to cyber crime
  • GM Cyber Foundry
    This collaboration between the University of Manchester, University of Salford, Manchester Metropolitan University and Lancaster University is a cyber security initiative designed to help SMEs in Greater Manchester with business growth, stability and security.

The skills gap

In order to meet the digital needs of a modern business there is a need for skills including web development, software development and cyber security across all sectors. Unfortunately, this means that there is a huge demand for technical specialists including Web Developers, SEO Managers and Software Developers. SMEs are competing with large multinationals to secure the best talent. This is hugely challenging for businesses with a limited purse-string and requires innovative thinking around filling these gaps. Businesses that invest in apprenticeships or consider student placements may find that they are in the best position to compete, without battling to recruit from a limited pool of qualified professionals.

In the first instance, I highly recommend that businesses start to get a grasp on the possibilities that digital can bring and develop the skills of their existing workforce. A great place to start is with the Google Digital Garage which provides a wealth of free training aids. Alternatively, reach out to the Hub and let a Digital Innovation specialist explore the best opportunities for your business. Take hold of the art of the possible.

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Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy, Senior Business Advisor - Digital

With several years’ experience managing National Digital, Chris now uses his experience of working with private and public sector organisations to help businesses utilise digital technology to grow. He is always on the lookout for emerging technologies that can help Greater Manchester businesses to grow and transform Manchester into one of the world’s top 20 digital cities by 2020.