'Making SMBs tech-savvy can boost retail'

Adam Simon talks about the UK SMB sector
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There’s room for improvement in the UK SMB sector, with both Government and retail having a part to play, argues Context’s global MD for retail business Adam Simon.

In the early ‘90s a public school which was struggling to increase pupil numbers decided to adopt a radically different policy: every single pupil would have their own PC.

As a result they differentiated themselves from other similar schools and drew the attention of tech-savvy and ambitious parents who wanted their children to start off with an advantage in the tech world. Enrolment numbers went up.

The same thinking can be applied to smaller UK businesses: supporting SMBs, and making them more tech savvy, would give a great boost to retailers and the whole tech industry. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group defined leaders as those who use cloud-based solutions: online, social and mobile capabilities, VoIP and messenger tools, and productivity hardware and software. Their study demonstrated that SMBs which invest in technology are at a great advantage.

UK SMBs have much progress to make. In the most recent Federation of Small Businesses survey (2012) it was clear that most companies are online but very few have adopted leading practices – only 20 per cent use shared resources/software or file storage, just 20 per cent search for tender opportunities online, and a measly 17 per cent use web conferencing or VoIP.

It is here that Government has a vital role to play. It is clear that any investment in helping SMBs to become more tech-savvy would differentiate Britain as a place to invest in, and boost the productivity of a key part of our economy. The investment could take many forms – advertising campaigns to make SMBs realise the importance of technology, assistance with hardware and software upgrades, acceleration of high-speed broadband deployment, increased education about the cloud and creation of the right legislative and entrepreneurial environment.

Our politicians need to recognise the importance of this opportunity and position Britain well for the next revolution, the interconnected ‘Internet of Things’, of which Britain and its SMBs need to be the vanguard. In his CES keynote speech the long-standing and highly respected CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, said that the IoT will have five to ten times more impact on people’s lives than the internet.

So where is the opportunity for retailers? In a recent study commissioned by Microsoft, 53 per cent of the SMBs surveyed said that retailers could meet all their tech needs. When SOHO and micro-businesses were excluded and just the views of companies of five to 24 seats taken into account, this went down to 38 per cent. This is a great building block for retailers.

IT retailers should be working with the industry and the Government to push the needs of SMBs – assuring their own future in the process.

Adam Simon is Context’s Global Managing Director for Retail Business. www.contextworld.com

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