How can SMEs make the most of their ICT?

Posted on
7th November 2018

From buying online, booking cinema tickets to signing up for online education courses – we all use digital technology now for so many areas of our lives. It’s no surprise then to find get-ahead businesses adopting the latest technology to maximise their offer to potential customers and boost their business.

Digital advantages in business

Computers have become smaller, faster and more powerful with a constantly-increasing range of ability. Today’s teenagers have known no other way. So used to new technology at their fingertips, there are even reports of toddlers at play who try to ‘swipe’ across Lego bricks!

While this comes as no surprise to today’s millennials, there are still business-owners old enough to remember the days before computers. Electronic typewriters loaded with messy carbon paper were no fun and, more important, highly inefficient. The 1980s and 90s saw the gradual introduction of desk-top computing to many businesses.

With the introduction of computing came the need for a degree of new expertise or specialist knowledge. Common business questions then included: What should you buy? What is the best way to connect to the internet? How should we store our files?

Getting digital computing right in business

Fast forward thirty years or so and small business are facing similar questions. It’s not just established firms but start-ups too are faced with a dizzying array of choice on hardware and software not to mention networks and internet providers. A small business typically spends £2,440 on their IT set-up costs , and that’s before monthly broadband charges, according to a leading bank survey (Lloyds Bank survey).

So what technologies are businesses using and are they getting results?

This month figures were released about the intensity and productivity of information and communication technologies (ICT) amongst businesses. The Office for National Statistics report shows that businesses have moved on from what’s often referred to as “basic ICT technologies” i.e. use of computers, access to the internet, having a website.

Showing that UK firms are keen to adopt the latest tech, the ONS observes that “Since 2009 when our records began, the share of firms using a mobile broadband connection via a portable device has increased from less than 4 in 10 firms to almost 7 in 10 firms in 2015.”

Other key findings of the report include:

● E-commerce pays off 
– firms which used e-commerce (i.e. website sales, EDI sales [sales processed through Electronic Data Interchange], and e-purchases experienced an uplift in productivity; the report found “a significant productivity premium for engaging in e-purchases of around 10%; it is the intensity with which businesses use website sales and EDI sales (as a share of turnover) that is correlated with productivity.”

● Digital tools improve business – a productivity premium of around 25% can be expected by businesses which use digital tools to manage processes within their organisations or relationships with customers (customer relationship management), or to exchange information with suppliers (supply chain management). However the report also found that quite a large percentage of the businesses surveyed – 24% – were not yet using any digital tools for these purposes.

● Effective ICT resourcing strategies improve productivity – having good ICT support in place is associated with a productivity premium whether it is through direct employment, providing ICT training to employees or by outsourcing to a professional ICT support firm. In fact, in some sectors the productivity uplift is only experienced when combining these three methods.

Cybercrime, GDPR and the dangers of cutting corners in ICT

Realistically, many businesses will use a combination of methods to support their ICT – most staff will have some digital knowledge while others can be trained for specific tasks. However, experienced businesses know that ICT is too important to leave to chance. Without an effective IT plan and expert advice, your hardware and software decisions will drift and could potentially be disastrous.

When relying on in-house skills, having sufficient measures against cybercrime is one of the most neglected ICT areas within small businesses. Unfortunately cybercrime such as malicious viruses, ransomware and online theft has become more prevalent and SMEs are being targeted. Over four in ten businesses (43%) and two in ten charities (19%) experienced a cyber security breach or attack in the last 12 months , according to the government-commissioned Cyber Security Breaches Survey for 2018. A professional ICT firm can provide the support and expertise which is essential for SMEs to combat cybercrime.

Aside from the potential financial and reputational losses, all UK businesses now have to guard against falling foul of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which came into force in May 2018. Designed to protect personal data, failure to comply with GDPR can mean hefty fines, at the moment 4% of turnover.

So it’s more important that your business has the right security measures to ensure that you don’t lose money and that you don’t suffer damaging data breaches.  For effective, holistic and safe ICT support it pays off to consult an external professional source.

ICT in SMEs: Lifting the Long Tail

The benefits and barriers around effective ICT use by SMEs is discussed in the latest report from the Institute of Directors. The report highlights how, despite productivity uplifts from have good ICT support, the UK’s world-leading role in technological innovation has often not percolated down to practice within SMEs. Often they just don’t know where to go for the advice and support which can help their business.

When asked about “the top 3 challenges to developing technological solutions in your organisation”, a lack of ‘skills/expertise’ featured highly amongst small, medium and micro businesses. The report gives the example: “while downloading software is fairly intuitive, firms will still require specialists to install and integrate wider programs and new hardware, execute web designs, and ensure new technology is secure and interoperable with existing data, processes, and systems.”

At 360ict, we know it can be challenging to choose, procure and embed the best ICT for your business. That’s why we specialise in helping SMEs.

Make the best of your ICT budget

It’s not an easy time for business. Political uncertainty and global trading tensions are putting the brakes on the ambitions of many businesses in the UK. The annual EEF/Santander Investment Monitor has revealed that three-quarters of small businesses are holding back from increasing investment in their firm over the next two years. Building on economic tensions, there is also a digital skills shortage with which to contend.

Businesses that are slowing down reinvestment in their operations need to make the most of what they’ve got:
● Are you making the best ICT choices?
● Have you got good cyber security?

Solution for making the most of your IT spend

Given the choices to be made, the expertise required and the precious investment required, it’s important that firms go forward with their IT in the right way. While you could ‘wing it’ and hope for the best, using the services of a professional IT firm is by far the best option.

360ict Ltd can help businesses to make the most of their ICT choices. We’re here to help you preserve your business services integrity, customer experience, legal compliance and reputation.

To arrange your on-site review or talk to our IT support team about your options, call 0208 663 4000 today.

If you require any further advice or information please do contact us on 0208 663 4000 or Contact Us.

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