SMEs: Utilising technology to get ready for change

The world in which we all do business is changing. For small and medium enterprises SMEs this is nothing new.

SMEs have many advantages over larger organisations one of which is the ability to change course and respond to challenges and opportunities quickly. New technology, such as mobile devices, cloud services and unified communications, entering the market means a SME business can capitalise on changes even faster, with the net result being a serious competitive boost.

Being used to change however isn’t enough; SMEs need to embrace change by preparing and being ready for it. Anticipating market developments is near impossible in today’s fast moving environment, but what SMEs can do is adopt tools that help their businesses become more agile and responsive.

By embracing technology, SMEs can create a more collaborative and flexible working culture, enabling employees to work from anywhere and stay productive and most importantly, be more responsive with customers. Business projects should never be delayed or stalled because of unexpected outside events, sales pitches can be worked on at any time or any place, and SME employees can complete admin tasks when it suits them, be it at home, in the office or on the move.

Utilising technology is a fantastic opportunity for SMEs to get ahead, build their businesses and meet the competition on a level playing field, winning sales from the big guys and investing profits in new ways to grow their business.

SMEs can also drive an agenda for change within their business much quicker than many big businesses that are often weighed down by out dated legacy systems that can take months, if not years, to change. Company culture is also harder to transform in a large organisation versus within a SME.

These advances in technology are already enabling some SMEs to get ahead. The last ten years have shown that a single idea can take a business from a start-up to a multi-billion pound valuation in just a few short years; technology being the driving force behind this trend. In the last 20 years, many of the world’s great innovations have come from entrepreneurs and fast-growth businesses.

Speeding up the pace of change

Making change happen quickly can be costly for large companies but SMEs are able to adopt change in a more fluid way. It’s comparatively simple to embed a culture of constant change into a business plan, along with the mantra to “stay curious” about what happens next in the market and future advances in technology.

This means SME’s can bypass the disruption caused by a periodical technology audit and instead update their technology as and when they need it – allowing businesses to readily scale and adapt as needed. Contrary to popular belief, adopting new technology doesn’t always require a big investment. A SME business can make incremental, small investments and still make a big impact, allowing them to adapt and be ready for change. Cloud software is a great example of how SMEs can do this quickly and easily by using tools like Microsoft 365, Google Drive and Dropbox; these are tools that can change the way SME’s work. People don’t need to be in the office so it’s about what their people are doing, not where they are doing it.

These types of tools – and hundreds more – are cost-effective as well. Many have models where the basic product is free and only extra features come at a cost. Incorporating them into a SME business is a straightforward process too and doesn’t require a major upheaval each time a new service is added.

For large businesses, the annual budgeting approach is one-dimensional. Whereas SMEs have a more flexible structure and can approve finances more quickly, making it easier to invest and implement new technologies and processes. Effectively they can decide they want to do something and do it, unlike large businesses who would need various rounds of approvals and complicated supply chain purchasing processes.

SMEs should revisit their technology budgets and consider how increasing spend in this area could ultimately increase savings and operational efficiencies in the long run – enabling SMEs to possibly reinvest in other areas of the business.  In the UK average businesses spend around 1% of turnover on IT, but in other countries it’s more like 3-to-4%.

Motivating their people

There are so many opportunities to recruit, connect and inspire employees that ignoring new technology is tantamount to standing still as a business. Changes in the market are opening up a two-tier SME sector, with the adopters out in front and the reluctant few beginning to fall back.

In most businesses, a much greater proportion of budget is taken up by investment in staff, property and related costs, but a technologically-driven workforce is more mobile and not tied to a desk. By enabling the employee to work flexibly, SMEs can save on real estate and operational costs.

Furthermore it’s easy to see how dynamic businesses can recruit higher-calibre employees by offering them a flexible working environment, enabling them to work productively from anywhere.

Technology will be fundamental to business’ future success. Technology enables SMEs to be on a level playing field as larger businesses. However it is those SMEs that innovate and can adapt quickly to changes that happen today or in the future, which gain a competitive edge and become the next big success story. With the rapid pace at which the market is changing and the average survival rate of SMEs being 5 years, businesses can’t afford to not change the way they work, otherwise they risk being left behind.