As Europeans are already well aware, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) represent 99 percent of all businesses, and are vital to our economy (European Commission, 2013). As the region looks set to return to a path of growth, we wanted to understand the role technology can play in helping SMEs address the key business challenges they face, and seize the opportunities that lie ahead. We therefore commissioned research conducted by Ipsos Mori in March 2014 among 5,770 employees of SMEs of up to 250 employees, in 13 European markets. The key findings revealed how SMEs across Europe are embracing mobile technology to get the job done, and that security is their number one spending priority among many other interesting points. I had the opportunity to interview Eric Boustouller, Area Vice President of Microsoft, Western Europe, and Don Grantham, President of Microsoft, Central and Eastern Europe, and learnt about their perspectives on the survey’s critical findings.
Well, we know that SME employees have an impressive work ethic and are passionate about their jobs. In our research, the majority say that they are satisfied, or very satisfied, with their jobs, and they’re very hard-working, but stretched quite thin. In fact, three in five of respondents say that they work outside business hours on a regular basis, often due to their workload. And, many are anticipating a very busy year ahead – with about one-third (29 percent) expecting an increase in business and one-fifth (22 percent) expecting more competition in the marketplace.
So there is a lot of opportunity for growth and expansion, but the challenge for businesses will be to ensure these dedicated workers are equipped for success.
The ability for a business to effectively compete often comes down to how quickly it can respond to customer demand. Modern IT – modern devices underpinned by cloud-based tools – offers anytime/anywhere work capabilities, making workers more flexible, productive and able to offer the best customer service. Cloud-based services also allow a company to scale quickly – so, for example, a fledging e-commerce company can quickly ramp up to meet a busy sales season. As such, tech can really create a level playing field for business of all sizes.
The research showed that about eight out of ten SME workers say that they are looking to mobile technology, including mobile devices and services, to help them keep pace and do their jobs effectively. These workers indicated that they need to be able to collaborate with colleagues and access information anytime, anywhere.
Absolutely– but, we know that the idea of modernising IT can seem like a real challenge for many businesses. Budgets are often very tight, and many smaller businesses lack a dedicated internal IT resource to help them make more strategic tech decisions.
The beauty of modern IT is that it removes many of the barriers historically associated with getting the most innovative tech. Cloud-based solutions remove prohibitive upfront costs, and offer greater scalability, letting businesses invest only what they need in a pay-as-you-go model. Furthermore, cloud-based solutions lift many of the burdens associated with maintaining IT on premise – including the installation and updating of software and owned hardware. Therefore, and particularly for SMEs, “modernisation” needs to be viewed for what it is: a real opportunity for future viability. It’s not an extra expense that they may initially perceive as a luxury given current realities.
It’s interesting to see that those companies using modern, cloud-based tech are actually much more optimistic in terms of their outlook for the year. In fact, their employees are approximately one-third more likely to expect their company’s financial prospects will improve over the next year. We also found that SMEs that make the most of cutting edge technology have more bullish growth plans. For instance, over a third (36 percent) anticipate launching new products or services and 39 percent are planning to move into new markets or sectors.
I would venture to say that these companies are competing more effectively because their workers’ productivity is bolstered thanks to the IT tools at their disposal, and because they feel their companies are better poised to scale and seize the opportunities ahead.
We found that security is actually the number-one spending priority for SME workers, as 76 percent of respondents said that this should be a key area of focus for their companies. You might expect workers would say the newest kit is the most important priority, but, I think people generally are becoming more aware of the importance of protecting their data – in their personal lives, and in their professional lives too, something that’s a top priority for us.
What is even more interesting is the myth around security and cloud computing. While 44 percent of respondents overall say that relying on cloud-based services raises data security concerns, those who actually use the cloud at work are, in fact, twice as confident in their company’s IT security. The fact of the matter is that when a company chooses the right cloud services provider, they can enjoy a level of sophisticated security that may otherwise be too expensive to acquire and maintain.
One more related insight that I thought was interesting: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a trend that isn’t just for enterprises. In fact, two in five of SMEs surveyed have a policy that lets employees bring their own tech into work.
BYOD can be a great advantage for a company – workers can use tech they know and like, after all. The challenge for companies of all sizes is ensuring security and that all workers are able to collaborate seamlessly and have access to work-critical information. Again, this is where cloud-based tools and services can enable even the smallest businesses to reap the benefits of BYOD.
We really see tech as a tremendous equaliser – and the fact that the SMEs workers who are empowered by modern technology are more bullish about their company’s growth prospects in the year ahead, really underscores this.
I would also add that modernising can seem like a daunting task – but, taking the step to cloud-based services can not only result in a more productive business, but also alleviate a lot of the headache associated with managing traditional, on-premise tech. SMEs looking to take that step are encouraged to visit the Get Modern section of the Microsoft Business website and reach out to Microsoft’s extensive Partner network for assistance.