The top 5 IT investments for SME leaders right now
As well as navigating how major environmental events like bushfires and floods affect business, Australia’s SME leaders have also had to keep pace with drastically changing consumer and employee expectations when it comes to digital experiences.
Yet SMEs are clearly rising to the challenge, says Alexi Boyd, Interim CEO at Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA).
Speaking during the recent business nbn™ webinar Balancing digital acceleration: opportunities and challenges for small and medium businesses*, she said SMEs pride themselves on adapting quickly to change, something we saw in practice as rapid investments in technology were made in the face of restrictions imposed due to COVID-19.
For many businesses, says Alexi, it was a time of reflection on the way organisations are put together and on their business models. Technology adoption has increased to keep up with customer expectations and stay ahead of future challenges.
New Telsyte research into the digital state of SMEs in Australia, commissioned by nbn, reflects this. 84 per cent of SMEs with a digital strategy say their digital transformation strategy was fast-tracked by COVID-19, while 76 per cent of SMEs are invested in technologies with high connectivity requirements such as cybersecurity, data management, video conferencing.
But a question that remains for many business leaders is: what technology should I already have invested in , and what will help me best prepare for tomorrow?*
1. Video conferencing
The widespread disruption caused by events like the pandemic and bushfires has made it clear that maintaining communication with stakeholders, employees and clients is paramount to business continuity.
It’s no surprise that video conferencing was deemed the most financially impactful IT investment, with 81 per cent of respondents to Telstye’s survey saying it provided a good or substantial impact on financial KPIs.
COSBOA’s Alexi Boyd says this investment shows how government-imposed restrictions to fight the pandemic have been a formidable challenge for SMEs.
“It’s been a constant change and a constant battle to be able to manoeuvre work from home, work from your business, deal with your staff on an online basis and manage those relationships as opposed to having them in-house.”
Skills shortages caused by border closures are also a key hurdle for SMEs, says Alexi.
Foad Fadaghi, Principal Analyst at Telsyte, believes the investment in key technologies gives SMEs a chance to turn challenges into opportunities.
Communication and collaboration tools remove boundaries on talent pools and give leaders more access to new skills, something traditionally restricted to enterprises, says Foad.
“One of the things that the larger businesses have been doing for many years is looking at globally sourcing skills and capabilities by utilising technology, and I think the tools are plentiful and available today for small businesses in Australia to utilise some offshore capabilities,” he says.
Brendan Donohoe, Executive General Manager – Business at nbn, says that the many advantages of cloud applications and video conferencing have made them priority investments.
That said, it's crucial to have the right network foundation to use these tools effectively, he says.^
Investments in digital protection have clearly become crucial for SME leaders, with the majority (69 per cent) of respondents ranking cybersecurity as the most impactful technology on non-financial KPIs.
Many factors are lifting the importance of data security . From an operations perspective, moving information and business processes to the cloud has become widespread, with two in every three SMEs now using some type of cloud application. Many businesses may not have the required skills to use these new tools, leaving business leaders wary of new risks that come with technology adoption.
Maintaining security of data was also ranked in the Telsyte research as the top barrier to cloud adoption by SMEs with between 20 and 199 staff. While most companies collect personal information, many shy away from sensitive information due to the increased requirements of managing that data classification.
Again, it’s a problem that most SME leaders say comes down to a lack of understanding within their own business, with Telsyte research stating ‘cloud security skills’ is the largest skills gap in the ongoing management of cloud deployments.
3. Workplace modernisation
Workplace modernisation also had a major operational impact on SMEs, showing the importance placed on digitising business processes where possible. This is partly driven by the SME workforce itself.
Within that group, Telsyte reports 57 per cent are ‘digital natives’ – a segment characterised by the technology on which they’ve been raised, and the digital solutions they expect to see and use daily.
Foad Fadaghi believes workplace modernisation has also been driven by today’s state of work, where remote and hybrid models demand digitised processes to function.
”SME leaders are learning from competitors and understanding the solutions that can help them streamline operations and employee engagement,” he says.
Telsyte’s research indicates that SME leaders will continue to digitise the way they work, with 53 per cent of respondents stating workplace modernisation as their top IT investment area for the future.
Foad says this is driven by market uncertainty leading to remote and hybrid workforces that, by nature, function on digital processes.
4. Data management
While leaders see workplace modernisation as a major future focus, they have also become hungrier to push the boundaries on their data investments.
According to Telsyte’s research, Business Intelligence and Data Management were next in line for SME IT investment, showing a want for deeper insights from business data.
The pandemic has prompted SMEs to quickly build the foundation of their digital strategies around cloud, cyber-security and ongoing modernisation.
Jon Evans, CEO of Enablis, believes the opportunity for fast-moving leaders right now is to start using the data they’re accumulating to inform business decisions.
“The exciting thing, I think, is that there is a really good chance now for SMEs who may not have invested much strategically in IT, to leapfrog a lot of the legacy IT that is no longer needed and end up in this new world that is so much simpler, cleaner and more agile.”
5. Employee-driven technology
Future investment in employee experience, such as employee devices, is also on the minds of SME leaders.
In the video embedded above, COSBOA’s Alexi reminds leaders that their business growth starts with employees and, to attract priority skills, they will need to create a workplace tailored to a new generation.
Bring your business up to speed
* The views expressed by the speakers in the webinar / this blog are general in nature and are not intended to constitute advice for your particular circumstances. You should make your own enquiries as to what technology and connectivity options are best for your business.
^ nbn provides wholesale services to phone and internet providers. nbn™ wholesale speed tiers available to providers vary depending on the access technology in an end customer’s area. Talk to your preferred provider for more information about availability and the right retail solutions for your needs. End customer experience may vary depending on factors such as their nbn™ access technology, internet provider, plan and equipment.