Five steps to boosting SME competitiveness and productivity in Europe

By Thomas Dubois, Western Europe Marketing Director, Small & Mid-size Business, Microsoft

It’s no secret that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the European economy. Representing 99% of businesses and an annual contribution to GDP of €3.39 trillion, the strong performance of these organisations is vital to the region’s overall health. However, with the European Commission admitting that SMEs continue to deal with the repercussions of the economic crisis more than larger enterprises and Microsoft-commissioned research finding that SMEs are busier than ever, the next year could be tough on these businesses.

With European SME Week fast approaching, today we’re kicking off a series of blog posts with a look at five ways SMEs can build their competitiveness and productivity through modern technology:

1. Take advantage of the cloud to grow

In a recent Ipsos Mori study commissioned by Microsoft, we found a divide amongst SMEs and their optimism about growth prospects for the coming year. Amongst the reasons? Those using modern, cloud-based solutions have a more optimistic outlook than those relying on older technology. In fact, these cloud businesses are a third (36%) more likely to expect their company’s financial prospects to improve over the next year and a third (32%) more likely to anticipate launching new products or services.

One such cloud business is Pipe System. The Bulgarian piping specialist was experiencing rapid growth, but often lost information through the accountancy and warehousing software that it was using – impacting the service for customers. By moving to the cloud with Office 365, the company cut costs and let its employees do more and access data wherever they are. Most importantly, Pipe System can now easily scale the service they receive to keep up to date with growing customer demands and increase its IT usage whenever needed.

2. Enable mobile technology for flexible working that meets the needs of employees and customers

Three in five (60%) SME employees admit to working outside of regular business hours, with almost half (46%) citing ‘too much work’ as the reason for going beyond the normal working day. Mobile technology has the potential to alleviate some of these stresses for employees and help make them productive wherever they are – however, only about half (49%) of SME employees surveyed say they can access work-related information when not in the office.

3. Equip workers with the latest devices for improved customer service and productivity

We’ve already covered how using mobile devices can help employees be more flexible and get more done, but choosing the right device is the first step to success. SME workers agree – over a quarter (28%) say that their company uses outdated IT, with more than half of these respondents (57%) feeling held back because their company does not supply employees with tablets or smartphones.

SMEs must assess the needs of each worker and the challenges they face to ensure they pick the form factor that delivers the right return on investment (ROI). Noviplast is a great example. The Dutch merchandiser was previously using a paper-based system to track in-store inventory and take orders, which meant long delays in fulfilment and inaccuracies in stock level reporting. After developing its own app, Noviplast modernised its merchandisers’ pens and paper with touchscreen tablets; removing time-intensive paperwork and data errors, while improving cash flow, inventory tracking and the overall service to customers.

4. Use customer relationship management (CRM) tools to streamline the sales process

With nearly three quarters (73%) of SMEs ranking customer problem solving as an important IT priority for the year, it’s clear that modern CRM systems will be must-have business tools.

As a business that relies on advertising across a broad mix of publications and programs for much of its revenue, Ukrainian media company Vesti Mass Media needed to know its readers and viewers well, as well as being able to understand sales plans and business processes to give advertisers the ROI they needed. Without a unified customer database, the company found it difficult to manage processes and ensure advertising didn’t conflict with news stories. By deploying Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Vesti found it easier to manage relationships – as well as to find opportunities to connect its customers with advertising opportunities – while improving management processes and increasing revenues.

5. Free up senior time to focus on running the business

For most SME leaders, setting up their own business is about being able to do something they are passionate about – not fixing their business’s IT problems. However, this is the reality for many, with three in five (62%) saying that IT purchasing decisions are mainly the responsibility of the SME CEO or owner. These ‘involuntary IT managers’ then spend precious time on IT support, which can decrease their productivity.

By moving to the cloud, this IT support role gets easier. Cloud-based solutions remove the burden of managing IT, particularly for those small businesses who don’t have the budget for IT support. Most importantly, SME leaders can spend their time doing what they do best: managing and growing their businesses.

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