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How should SMEs develop their Digital Transformation strategies?

How should SMEs develop their Digital Transformation strategies?

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We asked industry experts for their take on how SMEs can develop their Digital Transformation strategies. Find out what they had to say below.

Thierry Nicault, Regional Vice-President, Middle East and Africa, Salesforce

Middle East SMBs optimistic in leveraging technology to emerge from COVID-19

This year has presented major challenges for SMBs throughout the world, including in the Middle East.

Salesforce recently released the fourth edition of its Small & Medium Business Trends Report, which gives us the most up-to-date look at how, six months in, SMB owners and leaders are weathering overlapping health, economic and racial injustices crises, and adapting to the current climate.

Growing SMBs adapt to focus on customers during the pandemic

  • About half of SMB leaders are putting more effort into their customer communications and expanding the ways customers can reach them
  • A total of 49% of growing SMBs have offered more flexibility to customers during the pandemic (e.g. expanded or updated their return or payment policies or terms and conditions)
  • However, as the pandemic shifts customer behaviour – and SMB leaders are faced with budget constraints – certain competitive advantages, such as bringing innovative offerings to market, personalising customer engagements and providing a connected experience, have become increasingly difficult to achieve
  • The top three operational areas SMBs are using technology to prepare for future crises are customer interactions, workflows and internal communications

SMB resilience and optimism persist amid new challenges

  • The top three constraints on SMBs continue to be money/access to capital, meeting customer expectations and hiring the right talent
  • Three in five SMB leaders say local mandates to close or limit operations are threatening the viability of their business or that compliance with public health requirements creates an excessive burden
  • Even with these challenges, 22% of SMBs say they are very optimistic and 50% of SMBs say they are somewhat optimistic about the future of their business
  • More than half of US-based SMB leaders are taking action to address issues of racial injustice, such as training employees on more inclusive practices, having conversations regarding race and diversity, and taking a public stance on racial justice issues

Digital-forward SMBs are more equipped to handle market volatility

  • Around one in five SMB leaders have implemented new technologies (email marketing software, customer service software, project task collaboration tools, e-commerce software) since the pandemic began
  • A total of 55% of growing SMBs say technology drives their customer interactions; 51% say it drives the growth of their customer base
  • A total of 74% of SMB leaders cite ease of use, trustworthiness of a vendor, and price as the top considerations when evaluating new technology – consistent with pre-COVID times

Despite the significant impact of the pandemic on businesses in the Middle East and across the region, SMB owners remain seemingly optimistic. All countries are sharing expectations of business as usual following the pandemic, or only slight modifications.

The bottom line is that SMBs that can and will move forward in their Digital Transformation will see the biggest business benefit in the post-COVID-19 future.

Jacob Chacko Regional Business Head – Middle East, Saudi and South Africa (MESA) at HPE Aruba

Alongside immediate concerns of the short-term, small businesses also need to keep their eye on the longer-term changes coming down the pipeline this decade. Customer demands are changing. Employee expectations are evolving. The ever-present threat of cybercrime. These are all front of mind for business leaders.

Hindsight has taught us that, to succeed in an era driven by technology, businesses need to be increasingly agile in order to constantly reinvent themselves. Luckily, agility is something small businesses have in abundance. However, agility alone isn’t enough, small businesses also need the right technology in place – both to improve the digital experience for both employees and customers and to keep data safe.

As part of their Digital Transformation strategy, small businesses need foresight into what they should be prioritising. If you’re a small business owner, here are some considerations to ensure your success: 

  1. Go back to basics

Delivering the best customer experience is key to small business success. Your Wi-Fi can be a great asset to help – it’s more than just email access.

The past has taught us that customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product quality alone. Instead, they choose to purchase products or services from companies based on the experience they receive. Put simply, keep up with your customers’ changing demands and secure their loyalty.

With the right network in place, you can focus on improving the customer experience by delivering a consistent, seamless and personalised experience that caters to individual tastes and wants. For example, in retail, once you’ve implemented a secure and scalable network, you can digitise your in-store experience creating a better customer experience and repeat visits.

  • Don’t compromise on security

Small businesses typically consider themselves to be unlikely targets, but they could be deliberately sought out if attackers perceive they lack built-in security in their networks. Or the odds may just fall against them if they are caught in a widespread attack.

If you’re a small business owner and you want to remain competitive, up the cybersecurity ante. To do this you need a simple to use, enterprise-grade network, with foundational security built in to protect against common threats. You simply cannot compromise by using a network designed for homes. An enterprise-grade network segments the network to add an extra layer of security and leverages advanced technology to better understand the devices and behaviours happening on the network.

  • Connected employees equal productive employees

In addition to protecting your business, a safe and secure network keeps employees, visiting clients and customers connected and productive.

This is important because today’s employees don’t only want a salary increase or a promotion, they want to feel happy and productive at work. Employees want to feel like their work is meaningful and that they’re contributing to the success of the company. They want devices that instantly connect and perform flawlessly, whether they’re ringing up sales, taking inventory or running payroll.

With the growing trend of flexible working and the gig economy, employees also expect to be able to log on to the Internet swiftly and securely. No matter where they are. Giving employees the freedom to work anywhere, anytime, is key to small business success.

Ahmed Al-Faifi, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, SAP Middle East North

Across the Middle East, the current economic climate has presented a variety of challenges for SMEs. According to the recent Oxford Economics survey “Digital, Resilient, and Experience-Driven,” SMEs have a major opportunity to transform operations based on new technologies and human experiences. 

Four recommendations for success are:

  • Customer experience matters most. SMEs shouldput the customer experience at the centre of processes and organisational structures
  • Employee experience is also critical. SMEs can boost employee performance and talent retention with meaningful work experiences
  • But data to support decision-making is weak. CIOs need to bridge process and technology gaps in data collection and analysis to improve their business outcomes
  • Digital transformation is a priority. SMEs thatadvance Digital Transformation can better adapt to change with more flexibility

Although we tend to think of Digital Transformation in the context of large enterprises, SMEs are operating in a complex business environment. As a trusted partner in Digital Transformation, SAP and our channel partners are providing small and midsize enterprises with the same level of tools and solutions as for a large enterprise.

In their Digital Transformation journeys, SMEs should align with channel partners and technology vendors that have the knowledge and experience in developing Digital Transformation roadmaps, identifying the right solutions to meet business needs, evaluating KPIs and supporting skills development.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, organizations of all sizes – including SMEs – have been re-evaluating their business strategies. According to a separate Oxford Economics survey, Beyond the Crisis:

  • A total of 32% of organisations are investing in new technologies to analyse data
  • Top three technologies seeing investment are Artificial Intelligence (34%), Internet of Things (33%) and analytics (27%)
  • A total of 34% are retraining employees to work with data
  • A total of 25% are extending data governance policies across the business ecosystem

In the Middle East, we’re seeing a major move for SMEs to run on the cloud, supported by SAP being the first multi-national enterprise applications provider going live on cloud data centres in the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

At SAP, we continue to evolve our Channel Partner Program to meet market needs, especially on educating our channel partners about migrating customers to the cloud. In our experience, Middle East SMEs that digitally transform on the cloud can become intelligent enterprises that can emerge stronger, more agile, resilient and competitive post-pandemic

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