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SMEs adapt to life after the COVID-19 outbreak, continue to explore new tech

As SMEs adapt to what has been a strange and challenging year, they continue to explore new technology solutions that provide new ways of working, new patterns of demand and help to combat ongoing risk of disruption.

This is according to the latest MYOB Technology Snapshot. The report states that in the last six months, almost half (49%) of New Zealand's SMEs looked into new technology to help their business.

This continues a trend seen in the initial response to COVID-19 in July 2020, when 55% of SMEs MYOB surveyed had started exploring new technology options.

Top trends from the last 6-12 months

Looking back to MYOB’s 2019 Technology Snapshot, less than a third (31%) of SMEs had employees working away from the office.

During the nationwide lockdown last year, the work from home rate doubled, with almost two-thirds (62%) of SMEs having staff working from home.

One year on from that first response to COVID-19 restrictions and remote working has settled into a regular pattern, with 56% of local SMEs having employees work from home at least once a week and 42% allowing employees to enjoy more flexible working hours.

Over the past six months, SMEs made a number of changes to the way the way they use technology to do business. 

This includes more than a quarter (27%) increasing staff training on the use of work-from-home technology; just under a quarter (24%) implementing digital marketing; 14% creating an e-commerce website; and 10% reducing or closing their physical store space to put greater emphasis on online sales.

Although the regular use of video conferencing platforms has fallen from the heights it reached during the lockdown, from 78% in 2020 to 58% in 2021, the results of the research underscored the importance of remote collaboration tools to local SMEs, the report states.

While less than a third (32%) used document collaboration tools in 2020, this rose to 40% in 2021. The use of cloud storage has also increased, from 36% in 2020, to 51% in 2021.

Beyond the immediate response to COVID-19

Looking beyond the immediate response to COVID-19, SMEs assessments of the importance of key technology trends have been steadily rising.

This year, improvements in connectivity such as 5G, has been deemed the technology most SMEs think will change their business most significantly in the next five years, followed by cloud computing and big data.

Top three technologies that will change business in the next five years are:

  1. Improvements in connectivity 37% (2020: 34%, 2018: 32%)
  2. Cloud computing 34% (2020: 38%, 2018: 33%)
  3. Big data 30% (2020: 21%, 2018: 17%)

However, while recognising the potential of what these technologies could mean for the future of their business, many SMEs rate their understanding of some of these key technologies as quite low.

Almost a third (32%) of SME owners and decision makers admit they have no understanding or a limited understanding of cloud computing, while 34% said the same of 5G technology.

Despite 30% of SMEs saying that it will significantly change their business in the next five years, 45% of SMEs also had no understanding or a limited understanding of big data.

Commentary from the MYOB team

MYOB senior sales manager SME Krissy Sadler-Bridge says, “The adoption of new technology happened relatively quickly for a majority of SMEs, so it's encouraging that engagement and exploration of new solutions continues.

“We've seen a significant take up in new technology across the SME sector, as businesses have responded to changing work patterns, shifting consumer demand and the need to find ways to operate as efficiently as possible across alert levels.

"In particular, the growing work from home trend has been a major driver of change and to see SMEs sustained appetite to explore what other technologies may enhance their business is hugely exciting.”

She says, “These trends have now cemented a lot of the adaptations local businesses made in response to the initial period of the pandemic and we anticipate more SMEs will jump on board when it comes to making these types of changes.”

MYOB head of technology, Grant McIvor, explains that business decision makers may be finding it harder to maintain pace with technology trends, especially with so much change coming so rapidly and no shortage of demands on their time.

He says, “During the last few years, technology has become more-and-more the focus of business owners, and the latest crisis has brought about an incredibly quick and potentially overwhelming introduction to many different types of software and tools.”

McIvor says, “Most business owners are extremely busy people, and it's important that they are able to take time to fully evaluate and understand how different technologies can assist their business especially when you consider they will also be weighing up the investment of both time and money that can be needed to implement new technological solutions.

“To start, I'd recommend prioritising immediate business needs. It's worth considering if the solution a business is looking into will save them time, if it's cost-efficient, and whether it can be used by staff remotely like cloud solutions.

"There's also a great range of free and accessible information and support, like the Government's Digital Boost programme, which can help time-poor SME operators understand and evaluate technology at their own pace.”