Jonathan Kini, Head of Small & SME Business at Vodafone UK, explains how technology is enabling UK businesses to work more flexibly
The global economy is starting to show signs of recovery and, in the UK in particular, SMEs and start-ups are at the heart of this growth. In March this year, 2.26 million businesses were VAT registered in the UK compared to 2.17 million in 2013 – a rise of approximately 96,000 (4.4%). Since then, the UK has made major strides to be ranked as the fourth most entrepreneurial economy in the world.
A recent Vodafone survey of 1,700 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Europe reveals that 80% are confident about continued business growth in the coming years, with 50% already performing better than they were in 2011. With SMEs in the UK performing better than those in most other European countries over the last two years, confidence is understandably higher here than on the continent.
As green shoots emerge and economies begin to recover, SMEs are looking to make smart investments to maintain growth. Our survey shows that, in addition to boosting spending on staff, marketing and premises, SMEs are prioritising investment in technology as a way to help to drive sales and revenue. The top priorities for investment in technology amongst SMEs include company websites (17%) and 4G data and cloud services (equal second with 12% each). Smartphones and tablets are not far behind, with 10% of SMEs making devices an investment priority.
Leveraging technology to enable business success
From cloud services to mobile and tablets, technology is increasingly critical to business operations and is fast becoming the backbone of any successful business, regardless of its size.
Today, customers expect a positive experience and immediate response if something isn’t right. If a customer is unable to get hold of someone to remedy a situation, they will simply look for another option. SMEs realise that in order to maintain a competitive edge, as well as keep up with larger enterprises, they need to invest in the right technology that will enable them to provide the 24-7 service their customers expect. Four out of five (82%) SMEs that have already invested in technology to help them become mobile and work more flexibly say they have seen direct business benefits as a result.
Take Diamond Logistics, for example. As one of the country’s fastest growing logistics providers, its success depends on its ability to respond quickly to customer requests. With business growing at a rapid rate, the company needed to invest in a communications infrastructure that would allow calls to be answered anytime, anywhere. By linking its landline to mobile, Diamond Logistics has been able to increase its level of customer service and satisfaction, which has led to the opening of 14 new locations and plans to open a further 25 in 2015.
Many other SMEs recognise that as they grow they will need to ensure they are supported by the right technology. A majority of SMEs in Vodafone’s study say communications technologies are fundamental and will help transform their business, particularly mobile solutions and smart devices. In fact, two thirds (68%) say the cost of not having mobile solutions is greater than the cost of having them, a clear example of where the benefits of technology outweigh its costs. In the UK, 57% of SMEs have adopted tablets and 45% have adopted cloud services, a number that’s likely to grow as the need to access information anytime, anywhere grows.
Most SMEs reported customer service as the main benefit of mobile services, ahead of internal efficiencies. This highlights the importance of providing SMEs with cost-effective mobile solutions that enable them to compete against larger organisations and deliver a more responsive customer service.
The study reveals that tablets, cloud services and unified communications are the emerging technologies that SMEs are most likely to adopt over the next 1-2 years. In light of the recent flexible working legislation, these technologies will be key in enabling employees to work remotely and increase productivity no matter where they are located, whilst also providing OPEX savings.
Low adoption levels of unified communications and managed devices to date, with less than a quarter of UK SMEs already using them, highlights an opportunity for growth as workforces become more mobile and the proliferation of devices increases.
Barriers to adoption
Despite the clear benefits of emerging technologies, about 40% of SMEs perceive cost as a prohibitive barrier to their adoption. However, that doesn’t have to be the case, as cloud-based infrastructures allow SMEs to deploy innovative technologies without heavy CAPEX investment in hardware.
As SMEs get ready for tomorrow’s new opportunities, they recognise the value of leveraging emerging technologies. Doing so, not only gives businesses the flexibility to operate from anywhere, it also aids customer service, workforce productivity and operational agility. No wonder most SMEs see technology as fundamental to their future success and are willing to make the necessary investments