02 Sep 2020 | 09.04 am
Is Your Business Future Ready?
Vodafone report highlights five key challenges
02 Sep 2020 | 09.04 am
Vodafone Ireland Business Director Sinéad Bryan (pictured) discusses the changing priorities for SMEs disclosed by the company’s major international study
As we start to look beyond Covid-19 in the short to medium-term, with the majority of businesses now back operating, many are faced with finding new income streams and ways to generate cash flow, adapting their products and services, and re-inventing themselves in a bid to attract new customers.
Small businesses, startups, entrepreneurs, and growing companies are the backbone of Ireland’s economy, accounting for two-thirds of employment, and these enterprises in particular are facing significant challenges in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a bid to better understand the growth potential, Vodafone Business recently commissioned a major report, Future Ready 2020, amongst more than 1,800 SMEs globally prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and 800 businesses from various sectors in Europe during the crisis, and to look at the changing business priorities over the period and what makes a business better prepared for the future.
The study revealed that SMEs globally are feeling the impact and strain of the pandemic, with half of survey participants believing their profits will be lower than previous years, and with many in survival mode.
When asked about their top five priorities in 2020, the most common answers respondents gave were financial stability, employee health and well-being and protecting jobs and salaries.
That said, according to our report SMEs should also be focusing on real-time business transformation, with sustainability, social responsibility and digitisation as key areas to build on to ensure future success.
The report also offered valuable insights for the SME community in Ireland on how best to manage such significant change, with a number of key priorities to focus on for the future.
For decades, the business world has moved and innovated at a comfortable pace. But in 2020 we’ve seen a paradigm shift. Time-frames of years and months have changed to weeks and sometimes days.
For SMEs, any interruptions and uncertainty in day-to-day operations is likely to have a significant impact, and yet our research shows a clear lack of preparation by a large portion of SMEs.
Our study confirmed that prior to the pandemic one in six of respondents did not have any kind of business continuity plan in place, with a further one in five stating confirming they had one that wasn’t fully documented.
All SME operators should be considering ways to future-proof their operations against any potential threats and employ best practice plans in business preparedness.
For example, the research confirmed that many businesses are now planning to strengthen supply chain operations, with 40% investing in the use of local or regional suppliers, at a greater cost, rather than relying on one specific international market, in a bid to ensure greater control and resilience in the current market.
Employee Health and Wellbeing
Central to business priorities in the last number of months has been how to protect the health and wellbeing of employees, with 90% of respondents confirming they were giving additional support to employees.
Looking forward, half of of businesses expect that providing for the diverse needs of their employees will become more challenging. Therefore the importance of having a well thought out people strategy that offers opportunities such as flexible working and demonstrates a commitment to health and wellbeing is critical when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.
Without a doubt the pandemic has highlighted the crucial role that technology plays in the modern business environment. The health crisis has also exposed digital weaknesses among SMEs, which many are now scrambling to address. Our research revealed that seven out of ten firms have made at least one new technology investment in direct response to the pandemic.
Digital transformation is a critical pillar in any future planning or business change strategy so that SMEs can unlock new markets and services and diversify their product offering, thereby creating greater operating efficiencies and better supporting employees using a streamlined IT offering.
With greater digitalisation there are also new challenges to be managed. For example, 80% of businesses agree that the volume of data being collected is vastly increasing, but 70% of respondents said harnessing this data effectively is a major challenge.
Data is becoming a strategic asset for businesses. The companies that don’t collect it and use it in the right way will soon be at risk of falling behind their peers. Companies that are handling increased quantities of valuable data need to be conscious of the security and reputational risks, as well as ensuring they are compliant with privacy regulations.
Consumer Behaviour and Social Responsibility
In the digital age, the world of commerce is increasingly transparent and open. It is easier than ever to compare products, services, prices and reviews, and assess the online reputation of a business. This means power has shifted decisively towards consumers, and the recent pandemic has seen a monumental shift towards e-commerce that is here to stay.
Almost a third of businesses surveyed said customers had greater expectations from them, with three out of four respondents expecting brands to serve a wider purpose than just their core business.
Additionally, businesses recognise that customers across multiple demographics prefer to buy from and work with sustainable organisations with climate responsibility at the top of the agenda.
With this in mind, SMEs should consider their engagement with their local communities and the online interactions with their digital communities and decide what they have to offer wider society in order to connect with customers on a broader level and foster trust and loyalty.
Ireland’s SME sector is of vital importance to our wider economy and there are a myriad of supports that will be required to help them recover in the short-term. However, now is also a pivotal moment to help such enterprises to fully equip themselves for the future and create a vibrant SME sector that is sustainable and fully able to compete globally in the long-term.