Colin Dennis, Head of Technical Operations, OGL Computer
While the impact of lockdown on the UK economy continues to reverberate, not all indicators are negative. Indeed, figures from researchers show a record rise in business activity in June 2020, especially in the UK manufacturing sector, which returned to growth after several months of stagnation, while the service sector reported the smallest contraction of output since February.
The reopening of the UK high street pushed up demand in the clothing sector, as well as among suppliers of basic metals, chemicals, and plastics, where new order growth was linked to factories and construction firms increasingly returning to work.
Meanwhile, UK SMEs in all sectors have been grappling with the challenges of remote working, the silver lining is that many have learned useful lessons from the experience.
Online meetings and collaboration really do deliver
Arguably the biggest SME discovery is just what is possible via Microsoft Teams and Zoom – and what isn’t. After years of ignoring collaboration software in favor of face to face meetings, finally, the business world has had to embrace video calling and real online collaboration.
This is great news for travel and energy budgets, as well as remote productivity. While some things are not possible – or not as successful – on Microsoft Teams, there is plenty to be proud of across the UK – online collaboration looks like it is here to stay, and in a big way.
Robots are more affordable than you might expect
The fact is that robots are increasingly part of the supply chain, and recent innovations mean that they are closer to impacting SMEs than ever before. While Amazon might have pioneered mass use of picking and packing robots, a business doesn’t need to be quite the same scale to find robots affordable and useful – especially in the age of social distancing guidelines.
The rise of Robots as a Service (RaaS) has removed the requirement to make significant capital investments to access the benefits of robots in the workplace, so picking and packing robot use is consequently on the rise. Indeed, a recent industry analyst research report predicts that more than 4 million commercial robots will be installed in more than 50,000 warehouses around the world by 2025, up from just under 4,000 warehouses in 2018.
Chatbots are the best start to the customer service funnel
Already recognized as excellent customer service filter tools, ideal for solving a percentage of queries with automated responses and logging and allocating any more complex queries, the chatbot has come of age.
According to the Aspect Consumer Experience Index, 61 percent of consumers feel that chatbots are the future of customer service. Costs have come down to the point that a basic chatbot is easily affordable for any SME, while a chatbot’s ability to generate leads is also considerable.
Getting organized is key to success
Another ‘hidden’ benefit of recent times is that everyone has become more organized. With many juggling childcare with work and thus working more flexible hours, alongside most offices working entirely remotely, scheduling appointments and presentations have become essential.
Making the most of such moments have become important too, so external presentations to multiple people have become the norm, all backed by existing planning and scheduling tools.
The paperless office is (nearly) here
Although this has been a dream of office admins (and nearly everyone else) for decades now, the realities of remote working have suddenly forced the embrace of paperless technologies. From the digital signing of contracts to editable internal documents, digital transformation has certainly arrived in a hurry for some.
As larger enterprises have been finding for some time, digital transformation offers significant efficiencies over the longer term and the immediate benefits of continuing operations remotely.
Virtual desktops aren’t just a ‘nice to have’ anymore
Cloud services of all types have gone hand-in-hand with remote working for years, and SMEs are now very much getting in on the act. The key attributes of cloud services – minimal Capex, low operating overheads but immense scalability are highly suited to SMEs, especially those that experience seasonal or other sudden spikes in service demand.
We’ve also seen real growth in the use of Windows Virtual Desktop and other VDI solutions. These allow compliant office desktops to operate on pretty much any hardware, removing the requirement for complex configuration of hardware, VPN setup and access, and the remote support of all these elements.
Security has to be baked into every level of your business
Of course, remote working raises questions of cybersecurity. Not just related to intrusions or ransomware, but also in terms of data security processes and data protection. Fortunately, endpoint security coupled with good quality phishing training – and an alert workforce – will protect against most everyday attacks. Also, properly configuring cloud products and services also goes a long way in ensuring that company data policies are compliant and represent best practices.
By embracing digital transformation and using the benefits of cloud services and online collaboration to boost effectiveness, SMEs are well placed for success, whatever the market conditions.