The main challenges SMEs face
Reviewing the data from the current Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) surveys, the top 5 challenges are:
1. The economy – raised by 38% as their main concern
2. Taxation – raised by 12%
3. Cash-flow – raised by 10%
4. Competition – raised by 10%
5. Regulations – raised by 8%
The economic downturn had a serious impact on many organisations but the overall state of health of the nation will always be the key challenge.
How your ICT product or service will enable the SME to grow?
Overall, 68% of SMEs in the BIS survey aimed to grow their business in the next 2-3 years. The route to this growth will come through a mix of activities:
• 74% stated it will be through increasing workforce skills
• 69% by entering new markets
• 65% by reducing costs and increasing employee productivity
• 65% by launching new products and services
• 61% by adding staff
• 61% by increasing the leadership skills of their people
So the key for communication providers is to enable these multiple activities. They need to capitalise on the investment in technology, in particular voice, data, IT and converged solutions. The BIS survey states that 91% of SMEs have broadband but the common uses are still at basic business communication level rather than capitalising on the connectivity and new applications. The need then, is to help SMEs get more from their connectivity and all the devices and applications at the end of the line.
Reaping the befits of ICT
For those SMEs who have invested in ICT, they have seen greater returns in recent years. Some evidence of that was a survey by Cisco, of SMEs who grew at the heart of the recession. These 'Business Heroes' as they called them, shared some characteristics:
• They see technology as an enabler of change compared to other SMEs, especially in access
and use of this for new applications
• They have invested to connect more digitally in advertising online and using social media
• They support flexible and remote working more through use of the right technology
What does this mean? SMEs are UK business. They are the 99.9% and they represent the biggest opportunity for communication providers. They use communications to do the 'day-to-day' and still do so, but now have seen the more connected world – cloud applications, mobile connectivity, etc. The key for communication providers is to not sell the technology, but to sell the benefits of meeting business challenges. Demonstrating how a business can truly grow through use of ICT services is the key difference between suppliers.
Department for Business Innovation & Skills – Small Business Survey, April 2013
British Chambers of Commerce – Quarterly Economic Forecast, Q2 2014
Federation of Small Business – Voice of Small Business Index, June 2014
Cisco Business Heroes barometer research, 2011