SME solutions
    27 November 2017


    The importance of SMEs going digital

    How do you maintain your appointments? It may not surprise you that most business owners use email-based calendar systems. Many also still double up with a physical diary, but the sentiment is clear.

    Using a digital calendar makes tremendous sense, particularly in this era of smartphones. Your appointments are always right at hand and it is so much easier to coordinate meetings with other parties. If we were to measure the digital footprint of small and medium companies by their digital calendars, they will seem like a truly 21st century team of achievers.

    Yet if we delve into the rest of a Vodacom survey on local digital business trends, things look decidedly more archaic. Only 34 percent of surveyed companies store files in the cloud. More than a quarter have no digital presence, not even on social media. Over half still rely on physical timesheets to monitor attendance. Barely 14 percent use cloud-based payroll software.

    The survey is not alone in noting this strange lack of digital awareness among South African SMEs. According to the paper The Awareness of Cloud Computing: A Case Study of South African SMEs, published in the International Journal Of Trade, Economics And Finance, most local small businesses have scant appreciation of the value and opportunity presented by digital products.

    It found that 40% of respondents have a very low knowledge of cloud computing, 13% have averagely low knowledge and 27% a basic knowledge. Only 7% have a high knowledge and 13% have very high knowledge

    This is important because if you are not part of that final 20%, you are ceding a huge competitive advantage.

    There is no better time to switch to cloud services and become truly digital. Between falling data prices, faster networks and the blazing speed of fibre, your business can do much more for far less. Look at your digital calendar system. It is convenient, very cost effective and always available on any of your devices. Now, let’s look at your backup strategy:

    Digital services and the future of business

    Let’s assume it’s an external hard drive. Firstly, you paid a fair amount of money for that drive, then you have to make sure it isn’t dropped or damaged in some other way. After backing up your files, it goes into a cabinet or drawer - hardly useful if you need your files while on a business trip. Even if you did have the drive at hand, can you find those files easily?

    Compare this to a cloud backup system: it’s cheaper than a hard drive and far less likely to fail. Your files are always on hand through an internet connection, and they are easy to find through search. Unlike the hard drive, you can also easily share documents with collaborators.

    This is what the cloud world calls Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): a small subscription opens up powerful applications for you. Heavy-duty accounting software that used to cost thousands can now be accessed monthly for less than a light lunch. Sales management software is now at your fingertips where and when you need it, again without the huge costs. Better still, the software you use is constantly updated, so you always have the latest version available to you.

    The fact is that your business is already digital. If you use an online mail service such as Gmail, Google Apps or Office365, you are relying on the cloud. The same can be said if you manage work chats over Whatsapp.

    Look at how convenient those have been to your operations. The business cloud world has grown a lot since those type of services came into being. From your accounts to your sales and procurement, backups to collaborating with your teams, it’s all available without the hefty price tag of yesteryear’s software. Vodacom has helped countless SMEs engage with such services. Through offerings such as Office365, Exchange Online and OneDrive, small businesses across South Africa access world-class software services, even on a shoestring budget.

    The future of business can be found in the soil of modern digital services. At the very least, if you take days to process an order, because you do it manually, and your competitor does it in minutes on their smartphone - right there with the customer - you are going to lose.

    But this is not about losing. It’s about being the best your business can be. Why weigh down potential with outdated practices? South Africa’s SMEs should all become digital. It is the future: yours, ours and South Africa’s.