- The economy is moving online and failure to respond is likely to lose enterprises business.
- SMEs are likely to be the least well prepared to take advantage of the digital economy, but the transition can be relatively straightforward.
Much attention has been given in the UK over the last six months to the provisioning (or lack thereof) of broadband services. Much of the criticism that has been levelled at Openreach, and by association BT, has related to concerns about the perceived lack of progress in rolling out superfast and ultrafast broadband services. The UK government has now also dropped its commitment to the provision of universal broadband access. This in itself is something that businesses, especially those in rural areas, should seek to have their say on.
Criticism has centred on the fact that all houses and especially all businesses (particularly SMEs) do, or at least will, need superfast broadband connectivity to be able to properly engage and do business with the wider world. Earlier this year, Virgin Media Business (VMB) research suggested that GBP 92 billion could be added to the UK’s economy if companies of all sizes engaged better with the digital economy. What is more, the gearing is such that the research suggests fast adoption would produce this boost to GDP in as little as two years. Around GBP 56 billion of this boost relates to SMEs, who tend to be less well engaged with the digital economy than large enterprises.
Unsurprisingly for the UK’s only cable broadband provider, and one of the leading fibre access providers, VMB has used this report to enhance the case for adoption of its broadband and Ethernet; and VMB has a point. Without good connectivity, it is hard to access the best services. But even then, UK SMEs are proving to be slow adopters, even when services are available. The reason seems to be limited awareness, which is also perhaps due to the necessity for smaller businesses to take their attention off the day job in order to assess and address their IT deficiencies.
And this is where SMEs in particular need to be more proactive. Improving Internet access alone is likely to deliver benefits, but it is the applications that run over the access that are likely to help enterprises reach new customers and better communicate with customers. Access to new CRM and logistics tools over reliable connections offers proven value through improved customer service, asset management, access to new customers and order fulfilment. For example, hosted voice has been slow to take off in the UK and elsewhere in Northern Europe (e.g., the Netherlands). Conservative attitudes to change are a factor, but doubts over reliability also persist. Business-grade connectivity aligned with backup services such as 4G-enabled routers should overcome these concerns. Furthermore, if IP voice is combined with single number dialling, FMC solutions such as Vodafone One Net Express or BT One Phone offer maximum availability, as well as potential cost savings. More bandwidth also allows for adoption of services such as hosted micro contact centres. Ask not what your bandwidth can do for you, but what you can do with your bandwidth.