It is indisputable that the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing local lockdown have put major pressure on local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), a sector upon which the South African economy relies heavily as it employs a large percentage of the workforce.
It’s an unfortunate truth though that, during times of crisis, SME businesses are often less resilient. “This is because typically they have limited cash reserves, smaller client bases, and less capacity to manage commercial pressures than do larger companies,” a McKinsey & Company article stated.
“It isn’t all doom and gloom for the South African SME,” says Shelley Wanless, Small Business Lead for South Africa and Egypt at Cisco. “Small businesses can be more agile than their enterprise-level counterparts, meaning that they can recover faster and bounce back by adapting, adopting, and persevering. The silver lining shining through is that it is possible for SMEs to weather the COVID storm, and the way forward is digital transformation.”
This fact has been underscored in the 2020 Small Business Digital Maturity Study, commissioned by Cisco and conducted by IDC, which revealed that those SMEs fully embracing digitisation actually saw revenue grow eight times faster than those that didn’t.
With digitisation, SMEs can become more adaptable to the changing work environment. An example is to be able to shift seamlessly between remote working to office operations and back as needed, for office workers. New technologies can improve competitiveness, closing the scale gap between SMEs and larger enterprises, as well as build greater future resilience.
In fact, Wanless says that Cisco has intensified its focus on helping SMEs to accelerate their digitisation agendas and future proof their business offerings, empowering them to better adapt to the current climate by staying connected, protecting vital resources, maintaining productivity and closely managing expenses and cash flow.
Enter Cisco Designed
“While many small businesses might look at the Cisco portfolio and assume that our solutions offering would be too big, too expensive and too complex for the smaller organisation, this is simply not the case,” says Wanless.
Cisco has curated its portfolio to extract those solutions that work well for the smaller business, providing a simple-to-deploy, proven offering that is also affordable. Called Cisco Designed, this subset allows the small business to communicate and collaborate, while focused strongly on simplicity and security.
Cisco Designed addresses a number of common technology-related challenges faced by the smaller company, which have been brought into stark relief over the past year. These include the new hybrid workplace, where staff will likely continue to split their time between the office and home for the foreseeable future, as well as protection against cybercrime. This is of particular importance, with spiralling incident numbers over the past year a direct result of more remote working environments and unprotected end user devices.
It also encompasses safe web browsing, collaboration tools for virtual meetings and conferencing, a next-generation firewall, and in particular network authentication.
More than 80 percent of breaches are linked to poor passwords. To put this into perspective, over half the small businesses surveyed by Cisco stated that they do not have a password protection policy in place. Many networks allow for one method of authentication, which grants access to the whole internal internet of the company, but this is clearly not safe or secure enough.
Cisco Designed provides a smaller, simpler version of the wireless access points, switches and routers that comprise any network, offered in either the cloud or on-premises versions as preferred.
“Furthermore, the cloud iteration of this offering comes complete with smart cameras, which can help companies manage physical security, as well as adding business value, too,” says Wanless. “This could pertain to monitoring social distancing requirements, for example measuring that people within a retail environment adhere to two metre distancing and identifying foot traffic within a business.
“We’ve seen on a global level – even prior to the pandemic but even more so since – that small businesses have been amongst the first to digitise, to actually convert their business design and processes to online, an app or a website. And, in an increasingly connected world, this type of digital transformation will help ensure the local SME’s survival in this new environment and into the future,” Wanless concludes.