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By Garsen Naidu, Cisco South Africa Country Manager

The global pandemic has been impacting many facets of our society; and entrepreneurship is one of them. South Africa’s economy has been negatively impacted from the Covid-19 lockdown. This can be seen through the effects the lockdown has had on SMB’s, startups and entrepreneurs. According to 22 On Sloane’s COVID-19: Impact on South African SMMEs report, over 263,224 small, micro and medium enterprises that employ 3.9 million people are considered to be the primary ‘job creators’ and the backbone of the South African economy. Unfortunately, it is estimated that over 55 000 SMME’s will not survive the pandemic, leaving at least 42 350 people jobless.

In light of this, we have to do our best to support startups, SMB’s and to advance the entrepreneurship ecosystem by creating an environment that is conducive to resilient businesses. The world as we know it has changed, but we need not fear this, as according to Albert Einstein, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Admittedly, when you’re trying to survive in challenging circumstances that opportunity can feel out of reach. However, it’s equally true to say that some of the world’s most successful companies started during tough times. Overcoming the incredible challenges that still lie ahead of us will be no small feat. Therefore, adaptability and a willingness to innovate will be essential in the remaining weeks of 2020 and 2021.

We’ve already seen the effects of small business innovation from the first half of 2020. In addition to cutting costs and seeking financial aid, many small businesses quickly adopted technology that under normal circumstances would take months to on-board. According to Software Device, nearly 90% considered these purchases critical to the survival of their business. With more than 80% of small businesses stating that using new technology was key to their company’s survival and growth. Still, adapting to a new digital reality shouldn’t mean straining your resources to onboard every available digital advancement.

What do small businesses really need to drive innovation?

To quickly roll out innovations and drive business results, you need three things. We will touch on them here, but you can find more details in this new resiliency guide from LinkedIn and Cisco.

  1. An empowered workforce

In, The future of work is here, blog post by Nick Chrissos, CTO Commercial and Small Business, Global Cisco states that making sure employees have the digital tools they need to work productively and securely—wherever they are. Equally important is that these tools help employees work together, collaborate and stay connected to our teams.

Furthermore, according to leading global researching and advisory company Gartner, almost 75% of organisations will enable some employees to permanently work outside a traditional office. Global Workplace Analytics echoes this sentiment, reporting that 30% of the entire workforce worldwide will work from home at least a few days a week.

  1. A secure e-commerce platform

Over the past seven months, the ways we shop have been transformed. More and more, small businesses are innovating to respond to the challenges they faced by offering products and services online. E-commerce order growth is up 54 % compared to this time last year, and according to Shopify, many brick-and-mortar stores have been able to replace 94 % of their in-store sales online. Your ability to deliver truly exceptional online customer experiences starts with choosing the right e-commerce platform for your business. Visit the guide to learn more.

  1. A robust cybersecurity network

Of course, no degree of small business innovation works if it isn’t secure. Long before the first reported cases of coronavirus, small businesses said that security was their number-one priority. This is not surprising, as nearly 50 % of all cyber-attacks are aimed at small businesses. That’s more than the data breaches faced by public entities, financial institutions, and healthcare organisations combined.

Fortunately, putting robust defences in place does not mean you’ll need every solution on the market. Respond with the basics, then growThe right combination of firewalls, endpoint security, and cloud security forms a strong foundation, even when employees are working outside your physical space. Make sure you apply the latest software patches and security configurations. Ensure your employees are cyber aware, relying on strong passwords and dual-factor authentication whenever possible. Also, encourage caution with emails from unknown senders that contain attachments or embedded links.

Taking the time to understand the needs of your business and working with a technology partner who can customise cost-effective solutions will allow you to build a more efficient infrastructure. The technology that makes it all possible is available now.