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SMEs should embrace technology but they must know the pitfalls

Posted: November 26, 2015 Comment: 0 Read: 87 times
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Digital technology has disrupted industries of all kinds, presenting new challenges and opportunities for Irish SMEs. Terms like cloud computing, digital marketing, data management and big data are now commonplace in boardrooms, as new and wonderful IT systems come on stream every day.

They are tearing down traditional barriers, and levelling the playing field, in an environment where consumer behaviour is utterly changed. Most businesses today depend on technology of some kind. Research by Amárach found that 30% of Irish SMEs were planning IT investment in 2015, and reports suggest that 14% of Irish SMEs have “online initiatives” in place to handle festive shoppers.

Many of these programmes and systems certainly save on resources and drive business efficiencies that were unthinkable just a few years ago. SMEs can streamline, integrate or automate their business processes, develop new services and reach new customer bases, all on a relatively low budget. However, with hundreds of new technologies coming on the market every month, it’s crucial that they pick the right technology for the job.

Security and risk

Among the greatest advantages of modern technology are its user-friendliness, and its cost efficiency, made possible by cloud computing. Cloud computing eliminates the need for on-site servers and brings significant data-processing and storage advantages. Cloud service providers will also keep the hardware and software updated, bringing down implementation and maintenance costs.

However, SMEs need to consider the downside to cloud computing – which mainly involve security and data protection. By storing data in the cloud, SMEs lose control of it, leaving potentially sensitive information open to compromise by competitors, mischief-makers or just bad luck.

Many SMEs think that hackers won’t bother going after their data, but in fact hackers are starting to see them as the low-hanging fruit. And as companies collect ever-larger volumes of information on their customers, data protection law is catching up at both State and EU level. SMEs must pay close attention to risk management and legal compliance when negotiating their cloud computing contract.

Employee training

Before any business decides to invest in any new technology system, they must think about who’s going to use it.  Do they have the capability to quickly learn new technical skills? Who’s going to train them? While fewer business technology systems require a PhD in programming, SMEs must ensure that they’ve the resources to train staff in the new technology – otherwise there’s little point in making the investment in the first place. And considering the speed at which technology is changing, this is not going to be a once-off activity.

SMEs should also design a security policy, and promote it among the staff when they’re up to speed on the systems. Ensure they are familiar with critical concerns such as data backup procedures or password protection. Many SMEs have suffered because their staff ignored, or were unaware of, security risks, but regular security training will mitigate this danger.

This security policy should be extended to social media too – even when SMEs are not using social media to promote their products and services, their employees are most definitely on it, and they need to know what is and is not allowed. There is a long list of brands and companies which have suffered severe harm because their staff were posting inappropriate material or sensitive company information, whether maliciously or otherwise.

Resources

There are many other concerns involved when considering a technology-driven shift in your business strategy, and they’ll undoubtedly depend on your business operations, your customer base, your staff’s competencies and your budgetary resources. Irish SMEs are catching up with the international trends of bringing tech to the heart of business – though research consistently highlights worrying lags in terms of ecommerce capabilities.

But while today’s powerful technologies can bring immense rewards for companies which apply them in the right areas and in the right ways, like anything else in business, the risks are ignored at peril.

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