These last few years, we have been so engrossed by the “tech startups of India” that a significant part of the startup and SME discourse often overlooks a whole different India, one that is made up of small hyper-local businesses. Even with zero technology capabilities and understanding, these operations contribute significantly to the industry, as they continue to engage more customers and workload than tech-led consumer service startups. The latter is often a luxury limited to the metro city dwellers. Let’s talk a little about the businesses outside of the privileged tech and metro circles.
Small businesses, especially in developing economies, have many challenges. Finding the right, yet, affordable talent, ensuring financial health, just-in-time manufacturing models, increasing customer volume and expectations, and an always-on culture are just some of them. Add to that the absence of a sufficiently staffed team and you will often find many small businesses struggling to keep up with the constantly evolving demands of a mobile-first economy.
Small businesses, often due to lack of expertise or funds, mistake technology for a “set it and forget it” tool. This couldn’t be further from the truth. With the onslaught of AI, IoT, and a constantly connected customer demographic, technological evolution is constantly in the headlines. Every quarter or so, there are new tech milestones to meet, new pathways to connect and deliver to consumers, and a general need to keep evolving and learning continuously.
In such times, small businesses need to get even more mindful of potential pitfalls of their technology adoption practices. Here are some of them –
External IT consultants cost money, these are funds that can be used to purchase better tech. And mind you, your employee with 15,000 followers on Twitter is not exactly a “technology expert”, if necessary place him in your social media marketing team. Sure, your hardware comes with a call centre full of “experts”, but do they see your business in action to deeply understand your IT and time and data-sensitivity needs?
Every business in our time needs tech experts as part of the team, someone who understands your business needs and financial situation closely. Trusted, consistent technology partners and/or employees go a long way in steering the organization in a progressive direction as far as tech adoption and updating are concerned.
Business hardware does cost a pretty penny, that is because business hardware is designed for minimal downtime, is sturdy and keeps organizations up and running at all times. Mass-produced consumer technology cannot keep with the workload of business tasks. Although inexpensive, they can cause loss of manpower and resources in the long run. Small businesses must understand the long-term financial repercussions of cheap tech before investing in it.
I am not sure I entirely understand why even consumers would cut corners and have sub-optimal experiences with pirated software. But clearly, businesses just can’t afford to do this. Sub-optimal experience and lack of customer support are in fact smaller issues surrounding the use of pirated software in businesses. The larger repercussions include getting disabled if the vendor finds out about the malpractice (as they often do now, it is 2017 after all) and heavy fines. It is too much trouble for too little savings, if you think about it rationally.
Many small businesses don’t update their hardware and software for years on end. Sometimes it is a way to cut corners. But most of the time, it is also because of lack of awareness. Your servers and all other business-critical tech need constant care and updates. PC hardware, for instance, has a life cycle of three to five years. So businesses must ensure a solid back-up technology and replace old tech every few years. It is worth the money you spend on it.
Much like your business, HR and finance operations, your technology needs a strategy too. Is it prepared to scale? How do you see yourself steering your technology adoption in the immediate to long-term future? Do you have funds allocated to tech personnel and investment for the next few years? Tech adoption is the worst when it is short-sighted. It is by far one of the most expensive investments you will make as a business. Surely you want it to be thoroughly thought and planned? A medium to long term strategy and planning helps.
Fortunately, we still live in times when technology investment alone will not take businesses very far. Tech still needs human intervention without which, it is a centrepiece at best. Firms must ensure in-depth training workshops for their employees so the technology is used in the most optimal manner and has the intended return on investment.
Hyper competitive startups aside, most small businesses don’t think they need to ramp up their security technology. While data theft may not necessarily be an issue they have to contend with, lack of security has many other repercussions like heightened vulnerability to viruses, scams and more. These last few years, security has been the number one priority for IT professionals across the world. It has proven to impact small business owners as much as larger organizations.
A lot of these issues can be simply rectified by making technology a business-critical function. Hire the right talents, bring the conversation to the table and be open to long-term investment.