Technological prospects for SMEs: Challenges and alternatives forward

With almost half of 2022 behind us, the challenges facing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) remain significant. The Covid-19 pandemic is still with us, causing continued pressure on revenues and cash reserves, labor market shocks and disruptions in supply chains.

Energy prices, already rising due to strong demand as economies began to emerge from the 2020/21 recession, have risen further with the war in Ukraine, leading to widespread rising inflation.

And these difficult times will not go away soon.

Macroeconomic trends

In December 2021, the OECD noted that production rates in most OECD countries are now higher than at the end of 2019 to return to pre-pandemic levels. But weak economies, especially those in countries with low vaccination rates, risk being left behind. ”

Graph: OECD.

Inflation, which was expected to peak at the end of 2021, is expected to rise by an additional 2.47% worldwide this year. This is due to the shock on the financial and commodity markets caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The impact on global GDP in the same period is expected to be 1.08%.

Health and trust of small businesses

How do these macro trends emerge in small businesses?

In the United States, the health of small and medium-sized enterprises (ie, companies with less than 500 employees that are not independent enterprises) is monitored quarterly by the American Chamber of Commerce / Met Life using the “Small Business Index”. Its latest result, based on research conducted between January 14 and 26 (ie before Russia invaded Ukraine), was 64.1 – the highest level since the beginning of the pandemic in January.

American Chamber of Commerce / Met Life: Small Business Index

Graph: US Chamber of Commerce / Met Life.

Inflation was at the forefront of the challenges SMEs have faced in recent quarters, accompanied by supply chain problems. Issues related to Covid-19 also remain relevant. Meanwhile, concerns about the welfare and morale of employees are on the rise, while revenues have become less of a problem as the U.S. economy emerges from recession.

It will be interesting to see if the picture changes significantly in the second quarter, when the impact of the war in Ukraine is felt, and if 51% of US small business owners who thought in the first quarter thought the small business climate would return to normal within six months to a year have changed.

Challenges and priorities for SMEs in 2022

To gain insight into the specific problems that small businesses will face in 2022, we reviewed more than twenty surveys and future-oriented articles published in the past year and noted the mention of various problems and areas. Here is the resulting table:

Challenges and priorities for small and medium enterprises in 2022

Graphics: ZDNet.

Five main issues – digital marketing and customer relations; employee experience, training and well-being; digital transformation and new technologies; IT and process management; and telecommuting and hybrid work – all linked, to some extent, to the pandemic experience.

Digital marketing and customer relations

At the time of closing, the focus on attracting new customers and satisfying existing customers was inevitably shifted to online channels.

But it’s not enough to build a website with a functional e-commerce solution and then hope customers come: you need to work on your SEO, attract and convert new leads through email campaigns and social media.

For that, companies are increasingly using video and influencers of all kinds. And when customers are acquired, it is clear that you need to have effective customer relationship management (CRM) systems in order to provide a satisfying and loyal experience.

Employee experience, training and well-being

In the world before (pandemics) we didn’t care so much about the employee experience. But two years of widespread changes in working conditions and practices have changed the game and brought to the fore concerns about burnout, workers’ mental health and work-life balance.

Today, employers not only have to rethink how they manage employee workflows and monitor their performance, but also how to communicate effectively with them. And so find new ways to train, teach and mentor them. Especially when they are at a distance.

A company that fails in this area will find it difficult to retain employees. And small and medium enterprises that do not have staff dedicated to human resources must pay special attention to this parameter.

Digital transformation and new technologies

Digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies is an important focus for SMEs, as they can put them in a better position to overcome difficult economic conditions and gain an advantage over competitors.

Cloud-related technologies such as SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) applications – especially those targeting specific vertical markets – offer clear benefits in terms of shifting capital expenditures to operating costs, outsourcing and maintaining core technology.

This should allow companies to focus on adding value through agile custom product and service development, and transforming the online experience using new technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) or machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence. (AI).

IT and process management

Initiating a company’s digital transformation is not just about adopting state-of-the-art technology for new projects: it often focuses on the need to increase the efficiency of existing systems and processes, and this will continue to grow, which is a priority for SMEs.

Knowledge of how to use disaggregated data (structured and unstructured) in IT possession can, for example, unlock business value.

Implementing solutions that make SMEs look like a large enterprise – adopting an interactive voice response system, for example – is also an important success factor, such as increased automation, simplification of website development and maintenance, transition to e-commerce and faster delivery and delivery. Less glamorous than adopting AR / VR and AI, perhaps, but equally important.

Remote work and hybrid work

One of the most profound changes caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to be a lasting shift towards telecommuting and hybrid work, and the disappearance of the traditional office as the primary workplace for many employees.

Despite the predictable resistance of more conservative circles, companies seem to be adapting to changing employee expectations due to closures in 2020 and 2021: many employees have proven they can work productively from home or rarely go to the office. And they have no desire to return.

In the future, work is likely to fall on a continuum from fully remote to fully in the office to hybrid work, with the balance depending on the role of the employee, the industry in which he operates and personal choice. SMEs will need to ensure that productive, communication and security technologies are set up to serve remote and hybrid workers, as the demand for flexible working will not disappear and those who are late are likely to struggle to retain and recruit staff.

Other priorities

Not surprisingly, among other challenges and priorities listed above, although concerns about inflation and the supply chain are likely to be stronger now than they were when the surveys and studies used to compile them were published (mostly before the conflict in Ukraine). It’s also nice to see the headline “Sustainability, resilience and the environment” appear in the middle of the table.

The state of IT in 2022

To analyze the current state of the IT field, SpiceWorks Ziff Davis has released an edition of its 2022 annual report on the subject. Conducted in July 2021 among 1,145 IT customers from organizations in North America (57%) and Europe (43%), it is clearly biased towards small and medium enterprises, with 35% of companies having 1-99 employees and 32% from 100 to 499 employees.

Before the war in Ukraine and the recent rise in inflation, there were “reasons for optimism, after the general decline in growth in technology spending in 2021,” the report said, noting that the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to have a noticeable impact on the information technology sector. – either directly, through problems in the supply chain, or indirectly, through the legacy of raising security levels, the flexibility of teleworking ”.

The challenges planned for 2022, broken down by company size, looked like this in July last year:

Spiceworks Ziff Davis: Expected IT Challenges in 2022

Graphics: Spiceworks Ziff Davis.

IT customers, especially in medium-sized enterprises (100-499 employees), were most concerned about limited product availability, delivery delays or logistical disruptions, supply chain problems, increased product prices and chip shortages. Supply and support to remote workers were lower on the list (perhaps because these problems were largely resolved in 2020).

Outlook

As economies begin to recover from the recession caused by the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and rising inflation have created new obstacles that SMEs have to go through.

SME health and confidence indices generally rose between 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, but recent political and economic shocks may soon dampen this optimism.

The main concerns of SMEs in 2021 and in anticipation – before the war in Ukraine – in 2022 include digital marketing and CRM, employee relations, digital transformation, IT and process management, as well as telecommuting and hybrid work.

At the same time, IT product buyers anticipate challenges related to product availability, delivery delays, supply chain problems, rising product prices, and chip shortages.

Source: ZDNet.com

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