The pros of digital tech for MEA's SMB market

Microsoft MEA’s Bruno Delamarre discusses how digital technologies could greatly impact the region’s SMB market.

Tags: Cloud computingData analyticsMicrosoft CorporationUnited Arab Emirates
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The pros of digital tech for MEA's SMB market Bruno Delamarre, general manager, Small-Mid Market Solutions & Partners, Microsoft MEA.
By  Alexander Sophoclis Pieri Published  May 8, 2017

ACN: How would you rate the adoption of technology, in terms of recent advancements and current IT trends, by the Middle East’s SMB Market?

Bruno Delamarre:
Businesses are increasing investment in in the cloud to grow revenue or improving the quality of their offerings. The combination of rapid adoption of mobile devices and cloud based applications is changing the way small and medium sized businesses (SMB) operate. According to a recent Forbes report, SMBs who adopt mobile technologies see double the revenue growth and create eight times more jobs than their less mobile-ready peers. Even with these statistics, SMBs in the Middle East are in the initial stages of adoption, and there’s room to grow.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) digital transformation market is forecasted to reach nearly $2bn by 2020. More than 85% of customers are beyond the discovery phase in cloud. Despite this wide acceptance, cloud maturity levels remain relatively low. In the SMB segment, technology innovation is progressing at a rapid pace. The need to constantly innovate means that for many business owners, what they achieve today will not translate into success tomorrow.

ACN: To what extent would you say SMBs in the Middle East are prepared for digital transformation and what challenges will arise for those opting not to invest in the latest technologies? How will their interaction with the market alter?

BD: For SMBs the notion of reinventing the way they do business with digital transformation can be slightly intimidating. Embracing technological innovation through digital transformation enables SMBs to achieve what hasn’t been possible earlier, uncovering new revenue streams through data insights or automating routine business processes to save time.

In many industries, digital transformation is already being driven by small business owners and entrepreneurs. They are nimble, take calculated risks and act faster than their larger competitors. In a global study of more than 3,000 SMBs, conducted by analyst firm IDC, 39% of respondents said active participation in the digital economy will be essential to their company’s survival. At least half of the SMBs said they use collaborative software as a result of their digital transformation, making it the most used technology in the survey. Customer relationship management (CRM) and business analytics software were the next most used by SMBs, with at least 38% and 37% of respondents in every region using the respective technologies.

However, most small businesses are aware of the challenges that come with the early adoption of technology. Protection against evolving security threats, cyber-attacks and high profile customer data theft is key.

Despite the challenges, the opportunity for SMBs to embrace technology to change the way they do business, connect with customers, drive profits and innovate has never been greater. Digital transformation has a substantial impact on small business, and SMBs should think about navigating a digital transformation journey that lets them transition easily into the digital world.

ACN: What key trends will SMBs need to adopt in order to remain engaged within a digital environment?

BD: Continuous digitisation of multiple aspects of business, intensified competition, discerning customers, and increasing need for high quality talent is disrupting the way SMBs do business. Digital marketing and advertising, sophisticated security, collaboration, and business continuity are high on the list of solutions SMBs are seeking out as they seek to transform their businesses.

According to a research by SMB Group, 2017 is bringing unprecedented changes to the technology landscape for SMBs. Most small businesses understand that they need to put technology to work to transform their businesses for the future: 72% of SMB decision makers say that technology solutions can help them significantly improve business performance, and 53% plan to increase technology investments. SMBs are increasingly opting to put new workloads in the cloud, relying on cloud providers to supply, manage and maintain IT infrastructure and applications for them.

Growing revenues and attracting new customers are SMBs’ top two business priorities. The ability to acquire and retain customers is perhaps the principal factor for small business success. Customer expectations are rapidly changing in the digital era and SMBs need to keep pace using the relevant technology, like CRM apps that reflects some of the diversity that characterises the SMB market.

To understand how to grow and evolve their organisation, SMBs are gravitating toward newer solutions to better organise, automate and streamline information sharing to work smarter and increase productivity and efficiency within the workplace.

ACN: What advice would you share with IT leaders in SMBs, who are deliberating on which technologies to implement, given that it is often the case with such entities that resources are at a premium?

BD: In SMBs, IT management isn’t typically a full-time person. It’s often either the business owner or simply whoever knows the most about technology. We call this the involuntary IT management.

SMB IT managers today wear multiple hats, and while they juggle between roles, the business may be suffering. Put simply, the cloud takes the responsibility of technology maintenance and updates off the small businesses and puts it on the cloud service provider, freeing up small business owners and employees to focus on other revenue-generating tasks.

According to a Forbes 2016 survey, 59% of SMBs using cloud services report significant productivity benefits. Today’s cloud platforms and applications empower small businesses to reduce the cost and complexity of their IT investments while also boosting compliance and security with automatic updates that give them peace of mind.

ACN: What are some of the ways that Microsoft is improving its offerings for the SMB market?

BD: Microsoft’s cloud solutions are empowering SMBs to tackle their business challenges and achieve more. Our innovation and cloud technology brings together the best platforms (Windows 10, Surface, Azure) with best-in-class applications (Office 365, Skype for Business, OneDrive, Dynamics 365,) to make work easier for SMBs and help them better compete and grow.

With Microsoft’s cloud solutions, small businesses now have access to the same caliber of technology that their enterprise counterparts use, thereby removing the long-standing barriers that used to give big business a leg up and empowering small businesses to drive forward industry transformation.

We believe we are doing more than any other company in the world to protect customer data and safeguard their business. With our technologies, even as SMBs grow their businesses, they will be protected through our cloud tools.

ACN: What IT trends do you believe will become more prominent over the next five years and how will these trends impact the Middle East’s SMB market?

BD: IT infrastructure is heading towards cloud solutions. Most businesses have accepted this. Individual consumers are already fully embracing cloud even if they don’t know it and most personal services are dominated completely by cloud. As governments in countries across the Middle East introduce strong legislation to ensure data protection, cloud computing will see rapid growth.

SMBs that leverage cloud technologies will gain a competitive advantage while reducing costs and gaining efficiencies, having access to security features available previously only to larger enterprises.

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