SMEs are being urged to digitalise, but there is so much hype around it that many businesses are justifiably wary.
Margins are tight so investments can’t be wasted on products that fail to deliver returns.
However digitalisation is not a fad, but a commercial imperative, providing a crucial opportunity for SMEs to optimise operations, particularly in the post COVID-19 economy.
COVID-19 impacts on businesses
A survey of 30,000 business owners in more than 50 countries revealed that 25 per cent of small businesses globally closed their doors between January and May 2020, rising to 50 per cent in some countries.
Meanwhile, Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals 41 per cent of businesses reported a revenue loss following the pandemic and 22 per cent reported an increase in operating expenses.
Strict lockdown measures have severely impaired business activity, and SMEs unable to adapt to the sudden change have been most impacted.
Three key priorities for SMEs
Digital transformation is a natural evolution, driven by users, who are migrating everyday activities online.
COVID-19 has punctuated the importance of business agility and adapting to user expectations amid the fast evolving business conditions.
COVID-19 forced the majority of organisations, including ours, to re-think business operations to successfully adapt.
We have found the following focus areas the most impactful for companies looking to accelerate their digital transformation in the post COVID-19 economy.
1. Business Systems
Many SMEs continue to operate expensive desktop IT infrastructure and machines that are difficult to modernise, because of the common misconception that digitalisation costs more than the return.
It is important to look at the big picture.
Historically, the cost of legacy desktop programs has been hidden in the necessary running costs.
This includes the hardware – running servers, physical PCs, cabling, equipment and the most expensive part, hiring experienced IT personnel.
All this adds up to thousands of dollars in a handful of years.
The most painful cost of old desktop technology was highlighted during COVID-19, where many businesses were unable to work from home and forced to shut down, as evidenced in the survey above.
This major drawback emphasised the value of shifting to modern web-based technologies today.
A true web-based business system is run entirely on a web internet browser.
There is no set up, infrastructure or IT personnel costs – just a simple subscription model.
Once set up, a business system can be run from anywhere.
Plus, email, customer relationship management (CRM) and accounting integrations provide a complete solution.
Leveraging web-based technology is the smartest business decision, especially when you work with vendors that understand your industry and recognise the value of digital transformation themselves.
2. Phone systems
An overlooked component of a business is the phone system.
This is especially important if an SME is involved in sales and customer support.
I’ll give you an example. Our business provides sales and support to thousands of clients in Australia, New Zealand and Dubai from our office in Sydney.
We had a complex landline phone system with call-back in queue and complex queue ordering, including voicemail.
We originally paid over $40,000 to deliver the best possible customer service experience. We then paid another $6,000 a year to keep the system running (in addition to paying for technology upgrades).
When our Queensland office opened, we needed better call distribution, but as the cost was too much, we put up with the limitations.
When COVID-19 hit, we had no choice.
We adopted Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to migrate phone calls through a broadband connection, enabling us to continue serving our customers while our staff worked safely from home.
It gave us the flexibility to work from anywhere without compromising on our quality of support.
It also allowed us to incorporate all our previous features, along with bringing our Queensland office into the fold.
The biggest benefit of all was the many thousands of dollars we saved.
There were no upfront setup costs, and it is 20 per cent cheaper to run every month.
3. Sales and Support
The cost of traditional sales and support processes is often unseen.
From experience, we know these two departments can drain time and money from your business and limit the volume of people you can service, particularly if your teams physically visit clients and prospects.
We moved to an online sales and support model years ago.
Both departments use applications for screen sharing to demonstrate software and then to setup and support customers.
We are able to look at our clients’ computers, just as we would on a physical visit.
This change made a huge impact on our business as it yielded much higher sales results and reduced our costs at the same time.
Many SMEs find it difficult to see these costs.
A simple analysis of these departments will show you how much money they can drain.
Shifting to digital improves efficiencies, lowers costs and increases profits.
Focusing on the Future
No industry can afford to lag behind.
In our business, we have seen car dealers forced to consider online sales, website presence, video promotions and online chats to connect with customers – despite having massive car yards.
For the food and beverage industry, this has meant a shift to online payment technologies, e-commerce websites and digital signatures to eliminate delivery paperwork.
Every industry is different, but the common theme is digitalisation.
It is an ‘adapt-to-survive’ world today.
SMEs must have a clear strategy and equip themselves with the right information and expertise to ensure a seamless digital transformation.
Julie Peksis is the Managing Director at software developer, Jeal Computer Services, an Australian family-owned and operated business since 1983.