If the lockdown has delivered one lesson to small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) it is that to be sustainable and succeed requires that the business has digital capabilities, writes Simpli Connect’s CEO Farhad Suleman.

The lockdown imposed by the South African government in late March 2020 in a bid to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus accelerated the previously slow pace of digital transformation taking place within SMEs.

As remote working rapidly became the norm, those businesses with digital capabilities had the advantage given that they were able to continue to operate and service clients. Digital laggards, on the other hand, were forced to play catch up and fast track digital capabilities – or risk going out of business.

At the very least the need for a reliable Internet connection became critical to allow employees to continue to be productive. If connectivity was the foundation, the building blocks are to ensure security. This can be as simple as implementing an encryption solution or stepped up to a virtual private network solution (VPN).

Ironically, the pandemic occurred at a perfect time from a technological point of view. A decade earlier and there were far fewer applications and platforms available for SMEs to fast-track digital and e-commerce capabilities. Today there are numerous technology solutions which can be accessed quickly and relatively inexpensively, and which allow SMEs to continue to operate and be sustainable. Yoco, for example, offers a plug-in payment gateway to process sales through an e-commerce platform, while Shopify allows SMEs to build an e-commerce site on their platform.

The reality is that an e-commerce platform is no longer a nice-to-have but an essential component. What many SMEs were forced to realise during 2020 was that a business website is only the starting point. In order for the website to act as a digital shop front requires that it has e-commerce capabilities and with-it appropriate security features in order to protect customers’ financial information.

From a financial perspective there are numerous ways for SMEs to increase their revenue using the tools made available by technology. Consider, for example, the ability to offer customers the ability to pay in instalments, interest-free, at check-out. Or what about the option to use mobi-credit or an RCS store card, the latter which offers convenient credit facilities to customers. In addition, businesses can offer customers lending facilities or even cyber insurance.

Simpli Connect recently partnered with a customer on their digital journey. The customer, a company that supplies granite for kitchen counters, saw a rapid expansion during the lockdown. In addition to needing to expand their connectivity access and increase their bandwidth to handle increased traffic, they needed a flexible PABX system that could service remote workers. At the same time cameras needed to be installed at its two sites for increased security.

The company’s PBX system was upgraded to a cloud PBX. This allows seamless call management between employees irrespective of their location or device. Both sites acquired Internet access through a primary Internet solution as well as a backup. An overlay technology called SD-WAN was implemented which allowed the company to have a view of the entire network at any one time and allowed the company to prioritise traffic between on and off-site locations. Cameras were installed at both sites in order to better manage inventory including the ability to identify stock loss or damage.

The lesson here is that it is perfectly acceptable to start small and with what the business can afford. Take a step back and evaluate what can be automated and where technology solutions can be deployed.

We assisted another customer, a hardware store, to go digital. Previously the customer had copper-based ADSL connectivity and as a result experienced a great deal of down-time. Not only did they need a more reliable connectivity solution, but one contact number for all three of their branches which they could advertise on their new website and e-commerce store.

A wireless microwave solution was installed to provide Internet access, with an LTE failover. Essentially, what this means is if one link to the Internet goes down the client has a backup link over another access medium. We ported the client’s geographic numbers over to us and gave them a Cloud PBX solution just like our client in the granite industry. Not only did this solution save them money but it has allowed them to be reliably connected to their digital customers.

The secret to becoming digitally enabled is to start somewhere and to get the buy-in of all stakeholders. Those businesses that ignore the clarion call to transform digitally jeopardise their future sustainability.

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