Embracing the enabler.

Padraig Sheerin
On: 7 Mar 2019
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Padraig Sheerin, Head of SME Business, Three

The idea that technology is a cost rather than an opportunity is fast being overtaken by a clear understanding of its role in creating successful SMEs. 

When it comes to investing in technology, business operations systems and infrastructure improvements continue to be the top priority for Irish SMEs. However, Three’s Irish Business Mindset Survey 2018/19 reveals that there has been a notable increase in the amount of SMEs planning significant investment in improving customers’ interactions with their business.

The research shows that 35% of respondents plan to invest to invest to improve customer experience, up from 26% in the previous year. In addition 86% now have a website (up 15% on 2017) and 9% more are selling online.

Irish SMEs have forever understood the importance of customer experience. It is the lifeblood of their business to keep customers happy on a personal level. Now however, they are increasingly looking at how technology can add further value to this.

The use of technology – for example, opening up social media channels for customers or allowing them to self service online – is now being seen more as enhancing rather than replacing the customer relationship. Before any of us make a purchase decision nowadays, we will reach out to several sources before making a decision. This could include family, friends business networks and online reviews. Small businesses that have incorporated an online community aspect to their brand really see the benefits of this action. Your customers are your advocates, and this is particularly powerful online.

A key finding of the Irish Business Mindset Survey 2018/19 is that cloud is no longer the preserve of early adopters among SMEs. Only 5% of respondents say they’re not making any use of cloud services, down from 15% in 2017.

The cloud is ever present now. It has become the enabler in the background. The fundamental change it has brought is to give small businesses the ability to act and seem much larger. There is no need for equipment on site and they can scale services up and down on a monthly or seasonal basis.

SME owners used to see technology as a necessary evil and had the attitude of “I don’t know how it works but I don’t want it to break”. Now their outlook is all about the benefits and advantages it can bring and how it can drive the business forward. Because technology has become so pervasive it has become increasingly vital to keep security in mind – for example having the ability to wipe devices remotely if they’re lost or stolen.

Use of the cloud.

File storage and sharing (arguably the “entry level” cloud service) still lead the way in terms of what cloud services SMEs are availing of. But there appears to be a willingness to think beyond these most obvious uses. For example there has been a 50% increase in the use of cloud-based productivity tools and apps. Those companies using the cloud to facilitate calls and messaging using applications such as Skype and WhatsApp also saw a 50% increase compared with 2017.

Tied in with the cloud trend is the fact that today’s SMEs expect seamless connectivity at all times and in all places, making mobile communications key. The number of respondents who say they are essential or important to their business, its productivity and efficiency has risen from 94% to 97% in the survey. In fact 82% say mobile devices are essential, and that they could not operate without them.

Mobile devices combined with collaboration tools and cloud services allow people to have a better work-life balance. In the war for talent, every employer has to have a flexible working option. We need to bust the myth that remote working is less efficient or productive. Once you give people the right tools and access to systems, there is no reason for concern. They joy smart devices and connectivity has brought is how much can be done in real time. Invoices can be processed in hours rather than days compared to a paper-based system, for example.

In the context of the general discussion around digital transformation at the moment, Sheerin has the following advice for small businesses: Think about your strategy first – where do you want to go to, your growth ambitions – and place that front and centre. Then look at how technology can be the enabler to help you achieve those plans. Your digital transformation journey has to align with your business objectives – it is not something to do just for the sake of it.

The Irish Business Mindset Report is an annual snapshot of how Irish business people feel about business in Ireland, it is based on comprehensive research that Three undertakes each year. It provides insights into the opportunities that lie ahead and what Irish businesses are doing to maximise them.

View the report

(Note: This article appeared in the Irish Independent on 7 March 2019)