Walking the road to digitisation
Rushika Bhatia

Walking the road to digitisation

Mike Weston, Vice President, Cisco Middle East, highlights how SMEs can harness the power of IoT to create opportunity in the time of adversity.

Everywhere we look, businesses are becoming more efficient, consumers are making better-informed decisions and whole industries are being transformed as the real impact of technology becomes clear. From healthcare to transport and beyond, the shift to digital ways of thinking is helping to streamline processes, remove inefficiency and create better experiences for patients, passengers and the general population alike.

We are entering the era we like to call the Internet of Things (IoT). However, I believe the term “Internet of Things” is fundamentally misleading. It’s not so much about the Internet, which is just a mechanism for transmitting information, it’s about the changing nature of the “Things” themselves. The true power of smart, connected things and the data and insights they generate will create the next era of business.

Today, around a billion devices are connected worldwide – which is still less than one per cent of the potential total. As all industries and sectors become digital, there are touch points for the Internet in places that would never previously have been imaginable. When we talk about IoT, it is exactly that – connecting everything – not just things and devices which will eventually also be linked to the new digital processes in your supply chain, or connecting your business data that once resided on paper and is now digital so can help provide intelligence back into your organisation.

At Cisco, we believe that the number of connected devices will grow to 50 billion by 2020 owing to IoT’s speed of innovation and 70 per cent of the whole global population will be mobile. From buildings to buses, energy grids to healthcare, everything is being connected. Almost everywhere, opportunity awaits – not just in tech-friendly vertical sectors such as energy and retail, but in arts and entertainment, manufacturing, agriculture waste management, financial services, real estate, and education to name some.

To compete in an ever-changing environment, SMEs must find new relevance for themselves, or risk losing touch with their customers. For start-ups, the advantage is they can build their own skills and capability for digital transformation, sowing the seed of transformation from the ground up. If harnessed properly, digitisation allows SMEs and start-ups to punch above their weight and compete globally, as well as providing the opportunity for them to enrich their customer proposition and cross-sell, niche-market and up-sell like ever before.

I believe that more than 40 per cent of businesses will disappear over the next decade and the ones that will survive will be those that have turned their companies into digital, techie versions of themselves, and many will fail trying. I believe there is no better segment than SMEs to embrace digitisation.

Why SMEs must digitise

Increased accessibility of information: Paper is paper, regardless of the size of your office, and time spent looking for documents, or performing other paper intensive tasks, is time no one can afford to lose. Moving your physical files over to a digitised source allows for instant access across business sectors and employees. Whether you’re looking to transfer information from one location to another within your company or it’s your staff who need access to documents quickly; a digital source means information is acquired whenever it is needed. Less time spent searching means more time working productively. Examples include responding to customer enquiries with immediate answers or searching for information to adhere to industry standards and regulations.

Increased security: Reducing your organisation’s physical information sources reduces the risk of losing that information, and in turn your competitive edge. While physical copies can be manipulated and copied, digitising your business means data is auditable. It can be tracked and monitored so no interference occurs. Any advantage is key when it comes to your business so the secure factor of digitisation is a huge benefit.

Maximise your space: The costs associated with running a successful business can really mount up, which makes any chance to streamline your physical business a powerful asset. If your files are spread throughout your company it isn’t just difficult for your employees to effectively carry out their role, it takes up valuable floor space. Moving your information to a digital stream can free up areas previously used for storage. Either sublet your spare floor space or redirect new business streams to the area. Reducing large volumes of paperwork, whether it be files, invoices or contracts, allows you greater flexibility with your physical location.

Greater efficiency: When it comes to digitising your business, a streamlined process is both a time and costs saver. On top of that, the time and cost saved in converting your files compared to maintaining and storing physical copies can be directed into alternate business goals or revenue streams.

Digitisation is not only prompting changes in the technologies that companies use, but also in the IT organisation itself. We see a restyling of the IT operations’ role to reach out more to the business and to understand the business’ needs and what they require. The IT operations role is now more in partnership with the line of business, bringing their technical perspective, but, at the end of the day, their job is all about helping the business to move faster.

Digitisation isn’t a one-stop journey

In today’s digital economy, SMEs are recognising just how technology is critical to their continued success. However, many of them face similar challenges as they try to take advantage of this vast digital and economic windfall. In the face of trends such as mobility, cloud and security, they face rapidly increasing demands and complex decisions to upgrade their IT infrastructure – so they can embrace the benefits today and seize the opportunities of tomorrow. All of this with limited resources. The possibilities of digitisation are endless, limited only by our imagination. Think about the impact of the internet over the past 25 years, and imagine a supercharged version of that when digitisation is fully embraced.

To achieve the immense business benefits afforded by the IoT, SMEs need a highly robust and secure network infrastructure. They need to converge unrelated networks, scale to meet increasing traffic demands, employ advanced data analytics and inspire a new class of intelligent applications to increase productivity without sacrificing security. For SMEs to develop business agility, they will need to deploy solutions to manage and store data in the cloud and data centre that can improve productivity and operational efficiency today, while laying the foundation for tomorrow’s IoT opportunities. While technology adoption has become a necessity, the affordability constraint remains a roadblock for most SME owners and I believe that companies need to make it easy for SMEs to understand the value of the technology that they purchase with the ecosystem coming together to simplify the way we communicate with SMEs about technology.

The fact that more SMEs are looking at outsourcing to manage security is good news. It says that SMEs are seeking flexible tools for securing networks that do not place a burden on their smaller staffs or more conservative budgets. However, SMEs may mistakenly believe that outsourcing security processes will greatly reduce the likelihood of a network breach. Or they may place the onus for security on a third party. Such a viewpoint would be wishful thinking, since only a truly integrated threat defence system —one that examines and mitigates attacks as well as prevents them — can provide enterprise-level security protection.

Technology should empower, not hinder

IoT is not only a great leveller for businesses – small and large – but for consumers and governments alike. It’s a call to arms to be innovative, collaborative and ambitious. Once companies become digital they can completely reimagine their business models to connect people, process, data and things across industries, cities and countries to realise new economic value. I firmly believe that no one will win in the IoT era alone. It’s through collaborative initiatives that we stand the best chance of unlocking the true potential and driving the digitisation and transformation of the Middle East economy as we know it.