Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have always been compelled to find and leverage every opportunity to remain competitive and stay ahead of the curve. Amidst all of the disruption of the past two years, this need has become a business imperative. The pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, including lockdown and restrictions, meant that many small businesses bore the brunt of the impact, closing their doors for long periods of times, and losing out on revenue as a result. In addition, the shift to remote or hybrid working has often not been easy, particularly with the added pressure of constrained budgets and a rapidly evolving workforce and technology market.
In this article, we look at some top tips to keep SMEs from losing their competitive edge. Let’s start with the most obvious:
- Accelerate digital transformation
A recent World Economic Forum whitepaper found that SMEs are still at the low to moderate level of technological maturity. Less than a quarter (23%) of SMEs noted that the changes brought on by the pandemic had led to the acceleration of their digital transformation goals. However, those that do adopt emerging technologies such as AI, and continue moving to cloud-based systems, for example, are seeing a noticeable transformation in productivity and efficiency, thanks to better access to new markets, slicker operations and reduced overall costs.
While small businesses that are slow to digitally transform their operations are trying to keep CAPEX low in the short term, those that are maturing into digitalisation are setting themselves up to be more resilient to ongoing changes in the marketplace, thereby future-proofing their competitive advantage.
The key to this process is cloud technology, which is crucial for responsiveness and agility. With the right technology vendors, technologies, and expertise, small businesses can accelerate their transformation efforts, to remain better prepared to navigate whatever lies ahead.
- Use the right tools
Employee devices are more than just a means to an end. While SMEs should prioritise open discussions around device expectations with employees, employers ultimately also need to take into account other core devices functional features like mobility, security, reliability and connectivity, in addition to form factor and design. Hybrid working is here to stay, so providing a degree of freedom through end-user devices is vital. SMEs need to be investing in lightweight and compact, yet powerful and secure devices.
Another thing to consider is regular device refreshes to ensure employees can enjoy the latest technologies and SMEs can avoid any unwanted disparity between personal and workplace technology.
To future-proof their employee engagement strategy and remain attractive to new and existing talent, it’s vital that SMEs adopt a new model for procuring and provisioning technology, particularly end-user devices, which involves their workforce from the early stages. For smaller businesses the stakes are high and one of their most important assets is its people – employees are even more so the face and voice behind the business and their productivity propels an organisation forward. In today’s digital era, enabling employees to choose the technology they want to use is one of the most important ways of retaining talent. Indeed, a recent Gensler Workplace Study found that 76% of employees say that having a choice of technology would positively impact their performance, while 60% also said it would likely affect their job satisfaction. Attracting and retaining talent will ultimately give you the edge over your competition.
- Increase agility and adaptability
Agility and adaptability indicate that a business is able to recognise and maximise on opportunities. This is important. We all know that SMEs don’t have the same resources as larger enterprises, so being flexible can often be the defining factor that ensures they keep pace with an ever-changing technological landscape and growing demand from consumers. Disruption is a great way to stay ahead of the competition. In fact, research by the McKinsey Agile Tribe shows that agile organisations have a 70% chance of being in the top quartile of organisational health – one of the best indicators of long-term performance.
Technologies like AI have the biggest and most positive impact on SME agility today. But it doesn’t end there. Collaboration tools to enable remote working, automation, and analytics to help manage and make sense of customer and employee and data all have a place here. Advanced data analytics in particular, can help key decision makers uncover bottlenecks, improve efficiency, and identify areas for optimisation. For SMEs, digitised operations will generate this kind of data for analysis.
- Outsource where appropriate
The competitive advantages of outsourcing can be numerous, but this type of strategy has to applied carefully. For example, in growth periods companies may find that they’d benefit from extra staff – but they can’t afford the expense of hiring and supporting more full-time employees. This slows down momentum and limits growth. For SMEs in this scenario, outsourcing work could be more beneficial. It’s more affordable than building an in-house team, and a great way to gain access to fresh talent and maintain growth while keeping the core of your team focused on internal tasks.
The key advantage of outsourcing is that it means SMEs can refocus and redirect themselves towards their top priority: being competitive. A business’s core is its individuality – what it can offer over and above its rivals. In a competitive landscape, this can be easy to lose sight of, which is why it’s important to remember that some things should not be outsourced. As a rule of thumb, anything which gives an SME its originality and values should remain in-house. Outsourcing should be assigned to back-office tasks that save time, and allow businesses to focus on what makes them different.
Every business needs to maintain a competitive advantage to stay relevant and successful. A combination of accelerating technology transformation, using the right hardware, remaining flexible and open to change, and using the right partners to outsource, can make this a simple feat.