How SaaS Tech Is Bringing Legacy Industries Into the Digital Age Traditional industries have typically lagged at adopting digital solutions, but many have quickly jumped on the transformation bandwagon as they vie to remain relevant.

By Molly Matthews

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Legacy industries such as nonprofits, churches, agricultural organizations and even schools have historically been slow to adapt and evolve with the world around them. While budgets and resource constraints have certainly been at play, it's the traditions and rituals that many of these industries were founded on that have contributed to a lag in transformation.

However, this past 20 months has proven to be an opportunity, as organizations have had to rethink how they engage with their customers, volunteers, employees, supply chains and more. As a result, more traditional industries have had to rely on innovative digital solutions to help streamline day-to-day operations and communication — and it's a shift that's here to stay. So, what are legacy industries doubling down on, and what's next as non-technical industries continue on the digital transformation path?

Related: How SaaS is Changing the Way We Work

The need for digitization

If you would have told me 15 years ago that the number-one trend in the fitness industry would be "tech-focused" exercise and fitness classes, I may have doubted you. Yet today, the on-the-go fitness model has become a way of life for many. Digital interactive classes pioneered by brands like Peloton, who offer at-home livestream and on-demand classes, are wildly popular. And why? Because there's demand. As consumer behavior continues to shift towards digital, organizations and industries need to evolve in order to remain relevant.

I see this firsthand with many of the nonprofit and charitable organizations I get to interact with regularly. While nothing can replace a welcoming handshake, the days of Excel spreadsheets and piles of paper sign-in sheets to track attendance and participation are gone. The lines are more blurred between physical and digital interactions, and those that are responding with a multi-channel approach to reach their community are seeing better engagement.

So what does that mean tactically? As organizations invest to modernize traditional processes, the need for management software is essential. It's the first and most effective step to quickly be able to manage programs, analyze trends and engage with community members, volunteers and employees. Technology can also help identify where the current strengths and weaknesses of an organization lie, and allows leaders to make informed decisions on what to do next.

Beyond a people-management system, investing in an app or digital-donation solution is no longer a nice-to-have; it's an essential business need. Many charitable organizations that have traditionally relied on in-person donations to keep valuable community programs running struggled to find their footing this past 20 months. Those that were either early adopters, or pivoted quickly to respond to the need in 2020, have been able to keep momentum better than those that clung to their traditional ways. In fact, some of the churches we partner with have experienced a shift this past year, with more than 90% of their gifts being donated online now. And research shows that those who give digitally actually give more — a benefit for all.

Related: How Tech Platforms Are Helping People Give Away More of Their Money

For other legacy industries, including agriculture, the capitalization of digitization and SaaS technology has allowed them to streamline existing business processes and some day-to-day operations. Digital agriculture has the potential to make the industry more productive and more consistent, as well as the ability to enable workers to use time and resources more efficiently. Digital solutions offer critical advantages for farmers, as well as wider social benefits around the world. SaaS in agriculture helps strengthen the financial stability of farmers with the adoption of smart-farm analytics. With past antiquated practices, farmers were left to make uninformed decisions with little-to-no knowledge of outside factors at play. We know that connectivity in rural areas is still a concern for many. However, digital tools can help hard working farmers leverage the benefits of cloud computing and carry out farm practices with intelligent, informed decision-making.

Benefits of implementing SaaS technology

Advancements in SaaS solutions for faith-based and nonprofit organizations are not only helping churches and charity organizations manage processes and increase engagement, they're improving communication and accessibility for community members.

When researching digital tools, it's important for organizations to consider what kind of member and donor data can be pulled from the tools and how user-friendly the platform is for the end user. SaaS solutions should provide seamless access to the organization's media, targeted communication, interaction with groups, calendars and events as well as mobile giving. A strong management software, when paired with digital tools and solutions, allows leadership to regularly monitor members and workflow as well as offers the ability to analyze patterns in data.

Applying modern technology to agriculture means efficiency across the board. Recent research from McKinsey brings to life the tangible financial and resource benefits of embracing digital. SaaS-technology farmers can monitor and control crop-irrigation systems from a smartphone and utilize crop sensors, mobile technology, data analytics and collaboration tools among farmers and researchers and representatives across the public and private sectors. This software enables farmers to chalk out work plans against weather forecasts. Mobile task-management tools and data-integration techniques are available, that will measure machine operations and production. Apart from this, there is also analytics software that helps farmers track costs, production yields and profits against benchmarked values. Once modern agriculture is applied widely in the near future, millions of farmers will be able to benefit from the acquisition of real-time farm information.

Related: How SaaS Is Transforming the Multi-Billion Dollar Delivery Management Industry

Integrating traditions into digital opportunities

For some, discussing technology and SaaS with leaders of industries that place great value in long-standing traditions can be a sensitive topic. They're accustomed to the ritual of taking your family to church every Sunday, going door-to-door to collect donations for your favorite charity, afternoon coffee with other local farmers to gather insights about crops and trends they're experiencing this season — the list goes on. The reality is, those traditions and rituals can never be replaced. In fact, as a society, we tend to latch on to those special traditions and moments as some of our favorite memories.

Yet, there is a space for digital adoption in that narrative as well. We have to think about technology as a means to enhance those traditions and connections, not to replace them. Time and time again, I talk with leaders that expressed immense appreciation for the opportunity to be able to reach more people through the digital tools and technology they've invested in. Or, for the family that is wrapped up in the buzz of kids' soccer games and afterschool activities, having an opportunity to tune in online to their favorite nonprofit's annual gala is a great way to still be engaged and a part of the community, even if they can't attend every in-person engagement.

The question to ask is: How are you incorporating digital strategies and solutions to help maximize what your organization is trying to achieve? Bring those traditions with you as you explore new technology. Create ways to compliment those rituals and special moments. Moreso, are you thinking about the possibility of new (and digital) traditions that could spark joy for generations to come?

Though traditional industries have always aired on the side of caution with the implementation of digital solutions and tools, it's clear the time to embrace and invest is now. The world has forever changed this past 20 months, thrusting us into an age where organizations have had to learn to successfully operate digitally in order to sustain and grow into the future.

Molly Matthews

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Pushpay

​​Molly Matthews is the CEO at Pushpay, the leading payments and engagement solutions provider for mission-driven organizations. She leads a global team of more than 500 people who are on a mission to strengthen community, connection and belonging for their customers.

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