By Alexander Moiseev
Small businesses are some of the most represented in many countries, employing millions of workers and making a huge contribution to the global economy. In fact, they represent around 90% of the business population and more than 50% of employment worldwide. In recognition of the sector, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 27 a Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day to “raise public awareness of their contribution to sustainable development”. Such initiatives become even more relevant today, when many small companies face challenging times due to the pandemic. With small businesses looking to get going again, now is the time to take on board lessons learned and improvements that can help organisations move forward.
Technology as one of the key factors for survival
To adapt to the new reality, businesses have been strongly advised to adopt and embrace new technologies so they can continue operating effectively during the COVID-19 lockdown. That meant introducing new digital tools for collaborative working or specific ones for online sales for example, to enable effective remote working while maximising productivity. Indeed, according to a survey from the Connected Commerce Council, 76% of small enterprises in the US said they rely more on digital tools than before the pandemic and that without their use, a third would have had to close part or all of their business.
However, the attitude towards technology implementation is not uniform: some companies do not feel ready to adopt digital services and are reluctant to accept changes, even when operating under normal circumstances. Any halt to normality, or a crisis, can highlight the value of deploying new technology. I don’t mean dramatic innovations like the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) or the Internet of Things (IoT). I’m talking about using technologies that facilitate operations, such as cloud-based or more convenient software.
Expectation of cloud adoption versus reality
Although cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS), for example, are still buzzwords and their adoption rates considered high, many small businesses of up to 250 employees still use on-premise solutions. According to a survey from Analysys Mason, cloud-based applications are the top priority for these businesses, and 60% of them are planning to increase spending on cloud services. However, the survey also revealed that on-premise solutions still dominate in all types of services – including productivity, procurement, and business management software, among others.
The COVID-19 lockdown revealed the extent to which companies are ready to move the entire office to work remotely. Those that only have on-premises infrastructure may have struggled, as their IT administrators would not have had the tools or knowledge to manage employees’ desktops remotely.
Uncertainty, risks and compliance issues, and a lack of resources are all common reasons to resist making the move to cloud solutions. Lack of resources, in particular, is cited time and again, with IT managers of small and medium companies often having to maintain their infrastructures on a very limited budget or without any at all. With many businesses currently more focused on meeting immediate demands, it is understandable for strategic visions to be put on hold. But, as soon as the crisis is over, it will be important to bring back priorities and make adjustments to IT operations according to lessons learned.
Resistance to change
Sometimes, even small changes – such as software improvements that are designed to simplify usage – are met with mistrust.
Let me give you an example from our experience at Kaspersky. We regularly update our product features and functionality to enhance the user experience, such as, turning processes from manual to automatic to simplify security management. However, customers get used to manual actions and our support team often receives feedback asking for features to return to the previous way of working.
For example, in older versions of our endpoint security product for Windows, there was an option to manually manage a security application update, run and stop it. In later versions, a seamless upgrade was introduced to reduce the number of manual operations for IT administrators, meaning there was no ‘update’ button anymore. The updates rolled out automatically when it was necessary, even when no one was working on a device.
Our product support team received dozens of requests from customers about this update, as they believed the product worked incorrectly. Most of the requests included questions like where to find the manual function, how to use it in the new version, why it has disappeared, and how to bring it back. As well as a reluctance to change, this reaction also highlights a key lesson for us as a vendor: all improvements should be explained to customers very carefully, so they understand and buy into the benefits.
Change is scary but inevitable
COVID-19 has brought huge challenges for many small businesses. But if there is one positive to take from the situation is has to be the readiness for changes. All of the examples highlighted above are not only about taking a conscious decision to move to the cloud or a new way of working. It is about making a change to your overall mindset. Businesses should be open to new ways of doing things, especially if it simplifies their work. Changes don’t need to be wholesale, but small ones that make daily routines that little bit easier. During challenging times – like the one we are experiencing – when businesses have to transform on the fly in order to survive, this mindset will serve them well. I personally hope that the current crisis will never be repeated, but it’s always better to be prepared for anything that might come your way.
(Alexander Moiseev is the Chief Business Officer at Kaspersky).