Business Technology

Top tips for SMEs: Making IT relevant to your business

9 min read

07 March 2016

There’s no doubting SMEs are vital for boosting the UK’s economy, driving growth and ensuring employment. However, to continue this success, SMEs need to keep up with the technology available, truly embracing IT.

From hardware to software, IT can influence the performance of a business, benefit its customers and affect the impact a company can have within its competitive landscape.

Here are some tips for SMEs to make IT relevant to business:

(1) Educate yourself

One of the major barriers to bosses not utilising the new technologies accessible is that often they are not actually aware of what’s available. Organisations are too focused on the day-to-day running of the businesses to realise the opportunity to be a leader in the space through the use of modern IT.

Take for example the expanding portfolio of cloud solutions. Today, the word “cloud” is an unnecessarily overcomplicated and overused phrase. Because of this, employers tend to ignore it because they don’t understand it, resulting in a lack of cloud adoption into their IT strategy.

SMEs should consider the cloud like a holiday home; you can either pay upfront for a one-bedroom flat in Spain that you visit once or twice a year, but own completely. Or, you could rent a four-bedroom villa with a pool and only pay for it when you use it. This is just like IT. You can either pay the high costs of owning your own IT servers and storage on-premise – with the likelihood that you will only use ten per cent capacity for the majority of the time – or, you can utilise cloud technologies, to run your computing off-premise and only pay for what you use.

(2) Embrace the modern workplace

The changing nature of today’s workforce means people are now expected to be more productive on the move. It is crucial that even the most traditional SMEs embrace this new way of working. Employees are used to operating in a connected, digital way during their personal lives and have now come to expect the same capabilities in the workplace. If they feel skilled and capable to use this technology, think of the impact it has when they find that they cannot reach their potential at work? They are held back and they start to under-deliver for that business and its customers.

Employees are now expecting consistent connection and accessibility to the workplace from any device, from any place, at all times. It’s reported that employees are 84 per cent more productive when they have remote plug-in capability, as they can instantly access data they need, when they need it.

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Additionally, bosses need to begin to look ahead five, ten even 20 years and consider the kind of employee base they want in the future. If they are a business that wants to grow and become more agile, there is no better way than investing in the workforce and catering to their demand for 24/7 connection. This is where we are seeing the rise of the mobile workforce – and it’s showing no signs of slowing down – with the world’s mobile worker population set to reach 1.3bn last year.

So why haven’t SMEs embraced the modern workplace yet? This could be due to the fact that previously an organisation needed to be a big enterprise with wads of cash to get the very best of IT – predominantly because the infrastructure could only be purchased in one hit and had to be installed on premise. Now however, down to the accessibility of the cloud and its pay-as-you-go offering, SMEs don’t have the “it’s too expensive” challenge to justify their lack of innovative IT solutions.

Additionally, some SMEs believe upgrading to the cloud is an “all-or-nothing” approach and are nervous about moving all their IT at once. In fact, organisations can start as small as they want to – even one app or process at a time – as a slow transition to hosting more of their estate in the cloud.

(3) Treat data security seriously 

By 2020, the amount of internet-connected things will reach 50bn devices. Right now, most Internet of Things (IoT) smart devices aren’t in your home or on your phone, they are in factories, businesses and healthcare. But what does this mean for SMEs? Consider each device as a doorway into your company’s network. The more devices that are bought and used in the workplace, the more opportunities and “doorways” open to malicious attackers.

Yet, as of today, there is no water-tight solution to protecting against threats or malware and instead organisations must implement a multi-layered security defence. Cloud-based security services have the capability to deal with potentially damaging threats as the first line of defence, but businesses must also proactively implement a regimented security training programme for all employees. 

Doing so will reduce the potential fallout of data breaches and maintain reputation as a secure business. In addition, the implementation of an automated backup via a cloud service will mean that a business is always in a position to restore its information to a pre-intrusion state. The final piece in the jigsaw, for the worst eventuality, is the existence of a disaster recovery plan which will allow for business continuity in the event of any natural or human induced event which brings a business to a standstill.

(4) Utilise social selling

Think about it; how often do you review destinations or book your holiday accommodation through TripAdvisor or a similar online platform? The way the consumer now researches and purchases – whether its clothing, food or even IT infrastructure – has evolved. Over recent years we have seen the transaction process transform into a place where digital and mobile platforms lead the way. What was once a small part of the industry has grown into something consumers, and SMEs, can no longer live without.

The underlining message is that businesses need to remain relevant – social selling is fundamental to this. It has become a necessity for all SMEs to have some sort of online and social presence. This is where the consumer journey begins, and often ends. If SMEs want to remain competitive, they must adapt.

Don’t be afraid, IT isn’t as complex as it sounds

Employers have the great advantage of being able to strategise and shape their IT function from scratch, selecting the technology they want to use and in the way they want to facilitate it as they grow. While the sheer scale and complexity of the modern IT environment is threatening to overwhelm even the smartest IT departments, SMEs simply need to take a step back, assess the options available and work with those who have the know-how to design a real IT strategy – one that not only benefits their customers but ensures SMEs are able to achieve their business objectives.

From what we have witnessed, the majority of SME bosses aren’t using technology despite the fact that they could use technology a lot more to improve processes, productivity, customer service and margin. Businesses need to play catch up. Here’s how.

Rob Ashworth is SME sales director at Insight UK.