Most small business owners expect to face some obstacles on the path to success, but few could have predicted or prepared for the experience of the past 18 months. Many SMBs have fought for their very survival after lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures.
Businesses that were unable to trade remotely had to suspend operations, make redundancies, furlough staff, and exhaust cash reserves just to keep going. Amid such uncertainty, it’s no wonder that one in three small firms that closed were unsure if they would ever open again.
But there is now light at the end of the tunnel.
A phased easing of restrictions and gradual restoration of freedom to socialise is set to unleash pent-up demand for goods and services. Analysts believe the economy will expand by as much as 6.8% in 2021 and this growth represents a huge opportunity for SMBs to get back on track – if they can adapt to the transformation that occurred in their absence.
The economy could grow by 6.8% in 2021.
The world has changed significantly since March 2020 and technology has become vital for businesses that were able to work remotely and maintain continuity.
Hurriedly improvised solutions eventually gave way to more sophisticated, holistic strategies that allowed staff to communicate, collaborate and securely access corporate data and applications from any location. Meanwhile, new models of service delivery allowed businesses to continue to serve customers.
COVID-19 has accelerated digitisation by 4 years.
Many of these changes will become permanent. Businesses have made significant investments in new technologies, employees have become used to flexible working, and customers now expect digital-first services. Digital is no longer optional or desirable – it is essential. In fact, it is thought that Covid-19 has accelerated internal digitisation by up to four years.
SMBs that resume trading in the coming weeks and months must adapt to a more digitised, expectant customer base, while at the same time to rapidly scaling up to meet demand after a year and a half of hibernation. If the coffers are bare, then the cost, speed and scale of the required transformation can be daunting – but cloud technologies and the ‘as-a-Service’ model can be the answer.
Cloud providers deliver infrastructure and applications over an Internet connection, providing businesses with systems, services and capabilities that would otherwise be financially or practically beyond their reach. These solutions also give SMBs the agility and flexibility to react to customer demand and support a fluctuating workforce.
All costs for Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), including maintenance and updates, are included a monthly subscription and businesses always have access to the latest version of each application. This model means businesses do not have to make significant investments in on-premise infrastructure and are not burdened with additional maintenance expenses during periods of lower demand.
The operational, reputational, and financial consequences of a security incident could be fatal for any post-pandemic recovery. Fortunately, the cloud can provide greater protection than on-premise equipment. Public cloud vendors invest billions in security and apply patches automatically, providing greater protection for customer and corporate data and minimising the threat of a breach.
Cloud provides SMBs with a platform for innovation so they can provide the digital experiences that customers now crave. Cloud infrastructure enables businesses to roll out new services faster and more easily, while cloud-based applications facilitate multiple customer communication channels and the digital delivery of services. More satisfied customers mean greater loyalty and more sales.
As separate cloud platforms can aggregate data into a single repository, multiple applications can share information. Businesses can take advantage of cloud-based analytics and AI capabilities to automate processes, offer personalised, targeted services, and make better business decisions. The result is a more efficient business that maximises resources and ultimately generates more revenue.
For example, AI chatbots can ingest an entire organisation’s database to automatically field customer queries at any time of day. Customers receive instant answers to common queries, boosting satisfaction and reducing the amount of time staff spend fielding enquiries. Meanwhile, Microsoft Office 365 applications learn the behaviour of individual users to automate tasks and make suggestions.
It’s not just customers that are more demanding. Employees have become accustomed to working from home during the pandemic and many want this to continue once the world returns to normal. Several major organisations plan to allow continued remote working, and the right to work remotely could eventually be supported by government legislation.
Cloud technologies provide SMBs with a platform to support a remote workforce, help drive productivity and improve employee satisfaction. SMBs can consolidate, abandon, or repurpose physical office space, and businesses that had to close offices during the pandemic will be able to get back up and running more quickly. In the longer-term, businesses will bill benefit from a wider talent pool if jobs are no longer restricted to a single location.
The benefits of cloud services can only be realised with the right end user hardware. Although many staff will want to use their own devices for work, outdated or unsuited PCs and smartphones could harm productivity and security and increase maintenance requirements for IT teams. For cash-strapped businesses, the up-front costs of new hardware are prohibitive.
Device-as-a-Service applies the subscription model to hardware procurement, combining the cost, delivery, setup, maintenance, and disposal of devices into a single monthly fee – and this can further ease pressure on budgets.
The shift away from the office means traditional IT helpdesks are no longer as effective. Outsourced IT helpdesk and security support ensures every part of an organisation’s infrastructure is working effectively – regardless of where the member of staff is located. IT departments also gain more time to work on projects that drive genuine transformation, rather than fixing laptops.
SMBs globally are expected to spend $1136bn on IT in 2021.
It’s been a tough year for everyone, but the end is in sight. Businesses that leverage loud technologies and adopt the as-a-Service model businesses are in the best possible place to bounce back without incurring significant financial stress.
As the economy reopens, small businesses that have managed to survive the pandemic have an opportunity to bounce back. The cloud and the ‘as-a-Service’ model can deliver the capability and scalability required to seize opportunities without breaking the bank.
Find out how Insight can help your organisation become more resilient and ready to grasp the opportunities that lie ahead.