The spread of IT has been a game changer for small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Once only affordable by larger organisations, small businesses can now take advantage of IT to compete against larger competitors.
Competing against bigger firms has always been a challenge for SMEs. Not able to achieve the economies of scale of the major players, smaller businesses are left with having to exploit other advantages. From hospitality, construction to cleaning, SME sectors are often able to offer flexibility, a more personal service and can be lighter on their feet in responding to change. Yet smaller firms are missing a trick if they’re not exploiting the benefits of IT too.
The benefits of information and communication technology (ICT) are many – overall, the right ICT can mean a more efficient use of staff time, increased customers and the growth of your business. Some small firms who think they are too small to worry about IT may find that their sector moves on leaving them behind. There’s little doubt that that IT has increased productivity, a goal for which every small business aims.
The advantages of ICT for SMEs include:
● Better marketing – SMEs unable to compete with mainstream media advertising can use digital marketing to advertise themselves. Apart from websites, platforms such as Google and Facebook have been enormously important in equalling up the score. Digital marketing has allowed many SMEs to sell on the global stage, something they previously could not do.
● More data – computing power and use of analytics allows SMEs to know more about their customers: who they are and what they’re buying.
● More sales – setting up e-commerce means your customers can buy online. Smaller firms are in danger of missing out on the massive boom in online sales if they don’t embrace online selling. E-commerce sales by businesses in the UK non-financial sector were £511 billion in 2016, up from £503 billion in 2015 (latest ONS figures available) with the retail sector at £36 billion, transport at £38 billion and Information and communication at £28 billion:
● Better customer engagement – a good presence on Social media (e.. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) allows interaction with existing and potential customers. The best recommendation to buy often comes from other customers.
● Reduction in costs – paper-based processes take longer and are prone to error. Using ICT in your business makes lighter work of keeping records, analysing data and communicating with customers. Cloud-based services are the big trend where smaller businesses can now use SaaS (Service as a Software) for a variety of functions such as invoicing, accounts and human resources, saving on time and money.
One firm, which went from start-up to a £158 million business, has been singing the praises of IT for SMEs: “ It’s of massive importance – far more than when we first started in 2006. It allows you to raise funds, to get out on social media, to have a platform… there’s nothing that you cannot do with tech. ”
However, like other aspects of your business, you need to optimise your IT and take care of it. For technology, this means you need to:
● Maintain your equipment – old computers and printers will slow your business down. Documents crashing and hours of work disappearing are frustrating for staff and will lower productivity. Like your other business tools, it’s important your IT is fit-for-purpose whether it’s your computers, your software, your network or your storage.
● Protect your IT – It’s vital that you protect your computing equipment, your network and your devices against malicious activity. In light of the increase in cybercrime this is more important than ever. Customers using your website for e-commerce are also looking for assurances that their data is safe. Data breaches, hacking and ransomware can be fatal to a business, especially for SMEs where there is not much slack. According to an Ipsos report, 52% of small businesses experienced cyber security breaches in 2016-2017 ( Cyber Security breaches survey 2017 ). What’s more, these breaches are said to have cost the UK’s 5.4 million SMEs £5.26 billion according to a Federation of Small Businesses survey though some put this figure much higher. Attacks can typically come via fraudulent emails, less secure mobile devices or website.
● Be proactive with your IT security – Despite the cyber threats, small businesses invested only £2,600 in cyber security in 2017. Cybercrime is becoming more sophisticated with some companies not even knowing they have been infected until it’s too late – while we were all shocked when British Airways recently found that it had been under attack for two weeks before someone noticed that customer details were being stolen, that is not unusual: a government report has said that it takes 120 days for a business to know its data has been compromised.
Do you have a policy for dealing with cyber security risks?
Do your staff know what to do in the event of an attack?
How would you deal with a cyber security incident?
Cyber attack threats against business are not unsurmountable and looking after your IT is not onerous when you know the options – it’s just like any other part of your business.
Research has shown that the biggest obstacles to business technology are budget, followed by skills and training and then the firm’s culture. The good news is that technology which is off the self is mostly affordable by ambitious SMEs. As for skills and company culture, one solution is to consult professional IT experts who specialise in helping small firms. Many small firms are doing just this – 63 percent of small firms sought information, advice or guidance on cyber security ( Cyber Security breaches survey 2017 ).
When it comes to IT, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. At 360ict we can help you optimise your IT – whether you have 2 or 100 employees – and provide sound advice about protecting your IT against attacks.
360ict Ltd offers a variety of IT services from supporting your in-house IT team to managing your IT for you. You can be confident you are making the best of IT to further your business while receiving the best backup support when you need it.
Our numerous customers – SMEs, large private firms, public sector organisations and charities – have been delighted with our services – see what they have to say and contact us for free specialist advice about the needs of your business.