Building Digital Capabilities for UK Small Businesses with AWS


Cloud technology is widely adopted in the UK by businesses large and small, and across many sectors. However, research commissioned by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and conducted by Public First found that the use of cloud technology was not evenly distributed across UK regions, with some lagging behind others in their digital capabilities.

AWS recognizes that helping regional businesses improve their cloud technology skills is a way to help the UK accelerate digital growth across the country. The AWS Digital Innovation Program for Small and Medium Businesses aims to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMBs) reach their full potential in terms of productivity, savings and revenue through the adoption of cloud technology and customer-centric practices.

The program has already held a series of workshops in the East of England, South of England and Scotland, and is set to roll out nationally later this year. The workshops help local SMEs streamline business processes and improve digital skills. Technical skills developed include using AWS tools and services, evaluating business architecture, and developing working models for products and services.

By providing hands-on support and practical advice, participating companies will be able to explore “the art of the possible”, uncover opportunities to drive growth and drive digital innovation.

Rob Hodges

Head of Digital Innovation at Amazon Web Services and Founder of the AWS Digital Innovation Program for Small and Medium Businesses

Workshops not only benefit SMEs by providing technical skills, they also promote agile working methods and innovation. A workshop encourages companies to weigh the value of acquiring another company (and their software) versus the option of developing their own software. The process improves companies’ skills on how to decide whether to “build” or “buy” the technology for their products, a common starting point for digital product development.

The program also gives businesses hands-on experience with Amazon’s “working backwards” methodology to develop new products, services, or experiences. “Backwards working” is Amazon’s innovation mechanism and has been used to develop Amazon Prime, Amazon Kindle, AWS, Amazon Echo and Alexa, and Amazon Fresh.

To put this into practice, a “RP FAQ” workshop encourages participating companies to take a customer-centric approach by taking customer needs into account in depth. Businesses are encouraged to write a press release and FAQ for a hypothetical solution, which helps them determine exactly what their customers would expect from a finished product and develop a solution from there. This approach ensures that the company builds the right product, and that its customers will love.

“We are delighted to share Amazon’s approach to innovation with hundreds of SMEs across the UK and help them apply it to their businesses. By providing hands-on support and practical advice, participating companies will be able to explore “the art of the possible”, uncover opportunities to drive growth and drive digital innovation so they can invent on behalf of their customers.” said Rob Hodges, Digital Innovation Lead at AWS and founder of the program, “We want to give businesses of all sizes the same opportunities as large enterprises to adopt the technology, mindset, and methodology needed to succeed.”

Modification of hours for watch repairs

REPAIR — an innovative scale that aims to connect independent jewelry and watch repair shops with customers — used Amazon’s backward working process to help refocus its goals, enabling it ultimately to produce a tool better suited to its immediate market.

“AWS encouraged us to move from a focus of rapid development with many different solutions for customers to a much narrower focus where we could really excel,” said Michael Jakobson, Founder and CEO of RPAIR. “As a result, we challenged ourselves to identify the exact services our clients really needed. Then we backtracked from there.

“AWS connected us with some of their expert partners who consulted with us for free. They spent hours with our CTO going over ideas and showing us how to implement them. They showed us how to innovate in a flexible and streamlined way using AWS tools and cloud computing.

“Bringing more technological knowledge into our industry could improve the sector for generations to come. Removing the reliance on walk-in visits would really help a lot of our business partners. Many of the partners we approach to join RPAIR do not have a website and operate online from a personal email address. There is so much potential for improvement and sustainability, and these workshops and programs can really help. »

Build confidence and capacity

CitNOW was founded in 2008 to allow customers to view and buy cars without the customer needing to visit a showroom. Soon after, it was introduced in workshops to foster trust and transparency by showing the work needed on a vehicle while it is still on the ramp. Today, CitNOW has grown further, providing a number of digital solutions to bridge the digital-physical gap between dealer and customer, and is part of the wider offering CitNOW Group business portfolio.

For Robert Fyfe, Group Director of Product at CitNOW Group, one of the main reasons for attending the workshop was to learn more about the processes AWS uses when developing products.

“I found the discussion about whether it was better to ‘build’ or ‘buy’ the technology fascinating,” Fyfe said. “It was a particularly interesting subject for me because it is something that we recently experimented with during our own development process.

Robert Fyfe, Product Group Manager, CitNOW

“Another reason the AWS program appealed to us was the support we could get to tackle a new product concept we already had in mind. Ultimately, the workshops helped us determine the best approach in the next iteration of this concept. The program helped us feel confident to accurately weigh whether we should use what we learned in the AWS workshops and build this solution ourselves, or pursue a well-planned acquisition.

Changing mindsets and behaviors

Jonathan Custance, founder and owner of Green pastry cream – one of the AWS partners that helps facilitate the workshops – promotes the importance of a “customer first” mentality.

“The workshops try to make sure that people start thinking long term and about the customer. It’s not about copying what AWS does. This mindset helps internal teams align and share an overall goal. Otherwise, you risk having teams trying to develop or position products thinking short-term – perhaps about their revenue goals or other pressures they might have.

Two colleagues chatting in the offices of Green Custard Ltd

Jonathan believes that challenging traditional business practices is just as important as training attendees to use AWS tools.

“Once participants begin to understand the importance of changing their approach, they begin to see how technology and development can achieve their goals in a more streamlined way.”

This is echoed by Hodges, who believes that for regional economies to thrive, a move towards more digital-friendly markets is needed.

“The overall mission of the program is inspired by the UK government’s ‘Leveling Up’ programme. Research conducted by Public First reveals that if we could increase cloud prevalence in the North East to match that of London, it would help boost local productivity and wages by 2.6%, the equivalent of three years of salary increases. »

Hodges believes the innovation demonstrated by workshop participants will inspire other SMEs to pursue their own cloud solutions, furthering digital culture and adoption across the UK.

“These workshops are part of a solution to help regional areas drive digital adoption and cloud technologies, and I’m excited to see the program grow further.”

The next workshop will take place on the 25th October 2022 in partnership with Business West. Businesses in the South West of England can express their interest in the workshop if they want to participate.

Learn more about the AWS Digital Innovation Program for Small and Medium Businesses.


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