The dramatic technology shifts in 2020, driven by COVID-19, mean that businesses of all sizes – but especially SMMEs – urgently need to position themselves as digital challengers.

There can be little doubt that the global economy and business resilience has been tested in 2020 like never before. The COVID-19 virus has led to a significant shift in everything from how we do business to where we work from. It goes without saying, then, that whatever the size of the organisation, it has felt the impact of the huge shift in the way we work.

Inevitably, though, the impact of the pandemic has been more keenly felt in the small and medium enterprise (SMME) space. Lockdown and the need to social distance has made technology all the more important in how we conduct business, effectively becoming a default setting across multiple economic sectors.

This, explains Adeshni Rohit, Cisco Business Unit Manager at Axiz, means in order to survive, SMMEs are going to have to place more focus on adapting to a rapidly changing world. Of course, the vast majority of these businesses already agree that technology is changing the industry and understand that they need to transform too.

“The nature of an SMME is such that most are unlikely to have technology experts on board who can help them to transform their businesses. However, by undertaking the following seven steps, SMMEs can much more easily manage their technology and be prepared for this rapidly digitising world,” Rohit says.

“The first step lies in understanding that transforming your business digitally is neither easy nor quick. Therefore, you need to consider developing a digital technology roadmap of at least three years in length. It is important to create a transformation plan that can evolve, and to also ensure that it has enough time to evolve. Moreover, the digital technology roadmap must be aligned to the business goals, and you must always keep expansion in mind.”

The second step, continues Rohit, is to prioritise the critical business processes you wish to automate. This step forces your company to acknowledge which actions and/or systems need the most attention when digitally transforming the business.

“Thirdly, it is important to evaluate and right-size the technologies you invest in. Small and medium businesses obviously need to invest in technologies like cloud, mobility, data analytics and cyber security to differentiate themselves and become more efficient. While such investments are unavoidable in today’s digital world, SMMEs must begin with a realistic budget and scale up accordingly, as time progresses.

“Remember too that a digitally equipped business will not survive without a strong operational team. Therefore, for the fourth step, it is important to invest in digital talent and skills by attracting accomplished individuals and focusing on ongoing employee training in this arena.”

Rohit adds that step five is vital, as even with investments in digital skills, SMMEs simply cannot undertake a transformation of this nature alone. Here, one needs to look for a partner that offers consultancy and project management services. Such a partner will not only assist in defining and implementing your digitisation roadmap, they should also provide an opportunity for your organisation to learn other necessary technological skills.

“Once you are well on the digital track, you need to remember that since technology evolves rapidly, it is imperative for the business to stay up to date on current affairs, keep track of the latest digital developments and become more involved in technology conversations,” Rohit says.

“This can be achieved in multiple ways, including by attending technology events and webinars, participating in digital forums and utilising product assessment tools.”

The final step is to simplify, start small, and as you learn, begin to scale. There is a common misconception, continues Rohit, that one needs to invest in complex and expensive equipment or services in order to run a successful enterprise. It is instead important to choose technology that is simple, secure and reliable, and which can grow with you as your business grows.

“Looking at the changes shaped by COVID-19 and the nature of our new reality, we are being presented with new and decidedly complex challenges. However, by investing in a digital transformation strategy and a resilient and open-minded approach that encompasses the skills and partnerships necessary to succeed, any business – whatever its size – has the potential to not only challenge in this new world, but ultimately, to punch way above its weight,” concludes Rohit.

Johannesburg, 18 Nov 2020