Running a successful business isn’t always straightforward. And business leaders in any growing SME will be used to juggling a myriad of issues each day. While the unexpected can always crop up, there are a number of IT challenges that we see business owners facing time after time.
By understanding the IT challenges that are likely to occur in your business, you can plan ahead, protecting your business from threats while being ready to seize opportunities when they arise.
Here are the 8 IT challenges we see growing SMEs regularly facing.
1. Inefficient IT systems
It’s common for SMEs to accumulate a series of disparate IT systems which have been incorporated into the business over time. The result is a combination of outdated and inefficient systems that are no longer fit for purpose.
We often find that clients within financial services, property and professional services are particularly at risk from inefficient IT systems. This is because these sectors typically have ‘legacy’ systems that have been adapted or bolted onto over the course of several years.
You might be struggling to get one system to ‘talk’ to another, or you may find that staff are duplicating activities across various systems – in essence doing the same task multiple times. If this sounds familiar, something needs to change.
Often business owners are reluctant to update IT systems because they fear the associated cost and disruption. But the long-term benefits of investing in an efficient IT system will far outweigh any short-term downtime.
Once in place, the right systems will save you time and money every day, while providing a better working environment for your staff – free from the frustrations caused by outdated systems. With integrated systems that work together, your teams can work more efficiently and productively – with fewer errors and less duplication of effort.
Talk to your IT support provider and ask for a health check of your current IT systems. They will quickly be able to identify where efficiencies can be made and suggest ways to replace outdated systems with the minimum cost and disruption.
2. Choosing the right communication tools
With so many different ways to communicate in business today, it’s likely that your staff are using several platforms to talk to colleagues, suppliers and customers.
For conversations, there’s email and messaging services. For collaborative working, there are tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack or Yammer. And for file sharing, there are services such as Datto Workplace.
But with so many different ways to communicate and share information, it’s important to develop a clear company communication policy. Without one, you risk your staff choosing their own preferred methods. This can mean communication is scattered throughout different platforms, opening you up to the risk of security breaches, missing information or the loss of key data.
It can be overwhelming to try and work out which communication tools are best for your business. Each has its own merits depending on the kind of information you are sharing. Your IT provider will be able to chat through the different options and install the right systems to keep your business communicating effectively with all stakeholders.
3. New security threats
Security has been a hot topic for SMEs for a number of years and as cyber criminals become ever more sophisticated, it’s an area you can’t afford to ignore.
Cyber-attacks are on the rise in pretty much every sector. Just one example was reported in a BBC article earlier this year, detailing a spike of 1,000% in cyber-incident reports from the UK finance sector. [source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-48841809]
Without proper protection, a cyber breach may happen at any time and could severely impact on your ability to keep operating. In fact, many companies never recover from a cyber attack.
Knowing that your data is safe isn’t just about protecting your own business, it’s also about complying with your legal obligations – especially if you handle customer data.
Talk to your IT support provider and establish a strong IT security strategy to keep your business safe from cyber-attacks.
4. Moving to the cloud
Cloud-based services offer a host of benefits to SMEs. From flexible working and improved collaboration between teams to increased security and easier disaster recovery; cloud computing offers enhanced efficiencies throughout your entire business.
So, for many SMEs, moving to the cloud makes good business sense and many have already made the transition. But others might be worried about the broader challenges around cost and security. Whether you decide to move to the cloud, or not; your IT provider will be able to talk through the options and ensure that whatever you choose, your systems and information are secure.
5. Data protection laws
Changes in UK data protection laws mean that SMEs must be more aware of how data is stored and handled within their organisation than ever before.
Since the introduction of GDPR in 2018, businesses of all sizes must comply with the latest data protection regulations, or risk facing large fines.
Despite the new guidelines being in place for over a year, some SMEs still need to review their data policies. It might be a task you’ve pushed to the bottom of your list – but it’s a priority you should tackle as soon as possible.
6. Disrupt or be disrupted
Disruption has become something of a buzzword in recent years – but for good reason. After all, we’re now used to hearing media reports of long-established businesses folding after trading for decades while another fresh new start-up makes its first billion.
But why are new companies with no track record succeeding where established businesses are failing?
Well, often when traditional companies buckle, it’s because they’ve failed to adapt to changing customer demands. Meanwhile, start-ups have become skilled at recognising exactly what modern consumers want and are able to give it to them quickly and efficiently.
With advances in technology, the way we interact with product and service providers has changed. In today’s world, you need to be able to provide what the customer wants right away. Consumers expect to be able to get a quote in seconds from their smartphone, or hop online to ask a question at 2am. And with modern technology, you can make this possible – without the need to hire extra staff.
Essentially, you can choose to be a disruptor within your industry – or risk being disrupted. If you fail to innovate and respond to changing customer trends, it’s likely that a competitor will. Meanwhile, if you use technology wisely, you can modernise your service, making you the number one choice for new and existing customers.
7. Outsourcing and finding the right partners
You may have particular roles to fill in your team that don’t require a full-time member of staff. Equally, there may be skills you only need once in a while, or at particular times of the year.
In these instances, it makes sense to outsource certain roles. Whether it’s a part-time marketer, a freelance web developer or an external IT support consultant, it can make great business sense to seek external partners to bring new skills into the business cost-effectively. However, it’s important to take the time to find the right partners.
When using third-party suppliers, you need the confidence that they’ll adhere to your own security and data protocols and always work to protect the interests of your business. Make sure you have a clear onboarding process for new suppliers and maintain all your usual IT security procedures – just as you would with a full-time team member. Ensure that your suppliers use your preferred platforms for communication, rather than bringing new methods into the business.
8. Recruiting and retaining the right people
Ultimately, to build a successful business, you need a strong team behind you.
Recruitment and training take time and investment so once you’ve found the right people, it pays to keep them. By offering good training opportunities, the option for flexible working and a great working environment, retaining valuable team members becomes much easier.
Having the right IT systems in place is the first step to providing a positive and productive environment and happy team culture. When your people have the right systems to do their job, they’ll feel confident and empowered to get on with the task in hand and eager to help you grow your business. Meanwhile, efficient IT processes make it easier for staff to work remotely, with flexible hours.
It’s particularly important to have efficient IT systems when recruiting the younger generation of ‘digital natives’; those who have grown up with technology and expect things to work effortlessly. If you’re using software and systems that are several years old, it will be frustrating for new team members who are used to working with modern technologies.
Using IT to address business challenges
As we’ve seen, there are a number of IT challenges faced by today’s SMEs. The good news is that with the right IT support partner, all of these challenges can be transformed into opportunities for growth.
From streamlining the processes you use every day to helping you retain the best staff; IT has the power to shape your business. With a clear IT strategy at the heart of your business, you can improve every aspect of your processes; building a strong foundation for your company to grow and prosper.
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- Want to learn more about what the right IT support looks like? Check out this article on how to choose the best IT Support provider for your business.