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A digital awakening

The changing face of traditional ICT towards newer technologies and consumption models is quite naturally bound to have a significant impact on SMB companies, and those who adopt digital transformation as a strategy will get ahead

It is well understood that the SMB segment in the region and UAE in particular is quite a significant part of the economy in terms of total workforce employed and in terms of diversity of activities.

While diverse, most companies across sectors, irrespective of their size, have various ICT technologies enabling their day to day operations internally with employees and externally with end users and suppliers. Businesses must therefore constantly consider adoption of new technologies, that would give them an added competitive edge. Whether it is to enable real time gathering of business intelligence to assist decision making or it is to achieve success with an ambitious paperless initiative or achieve any other Business objective, there is no alternative to adopting relevant new technologies that bring in more efficiencies.

Not just to leapfrog competition but even to just stay relevant, digital transformation, is a journey almost all of them need to undertake, sooner than later.
that would be key to the growth of the massive SMB segment in the region.

“The SMB segment is the economic force that employs around 17 million people in the GCC, and contributes around one third (30%) to the GDP of the UAE. In order to amplify this contribution, SMBs have to grow and the most important factor to aid this growth is embracing the digital transformation. Within the coming years, digital transformation will not just be an opportunity, but essential for survival,” says Hany Fahmy Aly, Executive Vice President - Enterprise Business, du.

The common refrain among industry experts is that SMBs stand to gain on immediate and longer term basis by just adopting the right digital technologies that will let them focus on their core business rather than IT itself.

According to Pui Chi Li, Head of Marketing for the Middle East and Africa at Xerox, “The benefits of Digital Transformation are particularly pertinent to small to medium business. The opportunity to automate many of their internal and external processes, save time optimizing day-to-day tasks while delivering operational efficiency and improved customer experience all help business owners to focus on delivering their goods and services to their customers. For example, a simple yet effective technology such as scanning can reduce the cost of printing documents by at least 30 percent and facilitates delivery to multiple recipients in no time.”

Sakkeer Hussain, Sales and Marketing Director at D-Link MEA opines that despite the fat that SMB market is today the largest spending sector for all kinds of technology products, SMBs are still challenged by limited IT budgets, the rapid pace at which technology is changing and the cost of implementing some of the technology solutions available in the market today. They need to be guided towards adopting OPEX consumption models of IT.

He elaborates, “While there is no denying that digital transformation offers opportunities for the SMB segment, the SMB is by far the strongest performing sector for D-Link and for this reason, we are encouraging partners that serve this market segment to help their customers upgrade to new IT infrastructure. Guiding customers to look at the OPEX model rather than CAPEX is one sure way of encouraging SMB customers to spend on the latest technologies and cloud-based investments are a safer bet for SMBs.”

It is encouraging that there are many companies from the region’s SMB fraternity that are indeed making good progress towards the pursuit of digital transformation.

Hemayun Bazaz, Regional Manager - Channel Sales, Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Aruba opines, “SMB customers today are more than interested in upgrading their infrastructure. They are also aware that investment in new solutions has become a necessity as it provides them better speed to market, gain better employee productivity and offer better customer experience.”

While more in the SMB segment are beginning to adopt newer technologies that help streamline their operations, the upswing in adoption is expected to gather major boost across verticals in the region.

Pui Chi opines, “A majority of the SMBs in the Middle East have at least planned out the process of updating their IT infrastructure and technologies if they haven’t already started implementing this digital upgrade. For example, we have witnessed a boost in the adoption of digital printing technologies across production teams as well as back offices. It is expected to continue growing, especially across the retail and online enterprises, banking, financial services and healthcare sectors in the region.”

As the SMB segment is seen as a major engine for economic diversification, they are being encouraged more in the region through government initiatives. They can leverage the conducive Business environment better by adopting new technologies to grow their capabilities and flexibility in addressing growing customer expectations for enhanced quality of services and transactions.

According to Khalid Khan, Director of Cloud & Midmarket Segment at Avaya International, “The small and medium sized businesses (SMB) in the Middle East are a driving force for the region’s economic diversification agenda, comprising the vast majority of regional organisations. As part of the region’s economic diversification strategy, we are seeing increasing support for the SMB sector, leading to considerable improvements in the ‘ease-of-doing-business’ ranking - especially in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The increasing trend towards digital transformation and the rise of so-called disruptive technologies is also allowing digitally smart SMBs to overcome traditional hurdles.”

Fueling ambition with redefined IT

Without adopting new technologies, organizations will find it almost impossible to be among their domain’s best. Conversely, it would be true that in all domains or verticals, companies that hold leaderships positions would have some of the best technologies deployed in enabling their business processes.

Hany opines that unlike larger enterprises, SMB’s need to rely more on adoption of advanced technologies to compete against larger competitors.

He says, “Technology providers like du make it possible for enterprises to not only achieve the positive aspects of technological transformation, but also avoid the negative aspects associated with digital expansion. For SMBs, the primary disadvantage of this process is the financial toll. To compete in a market saturated with similar businesses in size, scale, and even offerings, success for SMBs depends heavily on their adoption of advanced technologies.”

According to him, working with partners such as du that offer business related services and solutions from connectivity and device management to advanced managed services will enable companies to scale, reach more customers, increase efficiency, manage costs and eventually grow without making huge investments in technology.

“Moreover, it empowers them with the peace of mind that their connectivity requirements are taken care of, so that they can concentrate on doing business, catering to customers and improving their bottom line,” he adds.

The fact that the UAE, driven by the vision of its leaders, is championing the use of technologies including cloud, blockchain and AI, is also driving the adoption of these technologies in the mid-market as with the larger enterprise segment.

Khalid adds, “From legacy family businesses to the ambitious smaller organizations, the region’s government-backed SMB segment is poised for monumental growth.

Another critical outlook is the segment’s embrace of emerging technologies. From cloud to AI and Blockchain, we encourage partners to leverage the power of vertical specialization to capture relevance in that way. Take for example cloud-based solutions that are rapidly being adopted by SMB customers who find OpEX models, requiring less upfront investment, more appealing.”

He adds that Avaya has in line with growing demand, continued to focus on the SMB segment’s need for enterprise-level connectivity without an enterprise-level budget.

SMB companies indeed need enterprise level technologies but at a more affordable price point.

“That is why our cloud solutions are built on a fully open architecture that supports true compatibility and limitless interoperability, such as Powered By IP Office, our cloud-based communication and collaboration platform,” he says.

According to Hany, “The rapid development of smart technology, combined with our increased reliance on cloud services and the explosive impact of internet, big data and IoT (internet of things), has redefined the way companies do business. This has compelled telecommunications service providers to adapt to new market realities and companies to seriously consider making the necessary investments in their IT infrastructure.”

Reinventing its approach towards the SMB segment, du offers solutions and plans that cater specifically to them.

Hany elaborates, “For example, we offer Office 365 services on any device with our business plans at an affordable price, together with activation and support services.

That way, business owners need not worry about investing in expensive hardware and physical licenses. SMBs can also take advantage of our web hosting and domain registration services. These cost-effective solutions are available for SMBs to operate with top-notch software and technologies.

Furthermore, SMBs gain the valuable element of proactive, long-term support that can only be ensured by trusting the experts to have your back.

Moving to cloud is cost efficient and does not require an upfront investment, thereby reducing OPEX while enabling a business to embrace the
digital transformation.”

Aruba, an HPE company, is focused on deploying enhanced WiFi networks, that offer additional value propositions such as location based services to improve business.
Hemayun opines, “We are not selling WiFi solutions as WiFi per se but as facilitator of digital transformation for SMB organizations to bring in more Business efficiency and control in operation and gain speed to market. For instance, in retail environments, whether in malls or in standalone retail, today they use wireless solutions with our Meridian beacons to navigate through their retail spaces, creating marketing notifications that can be pushed out, communicate location based promotions to customers etc. In addition, analytics helps identify where footfall is more or less and accordingly make decisions that enhance business.”

Aruba Meridian is a cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that is part of Aruba’s location services portfolio. It includes both mobile engagement and asset tracking capabilities. Customers can start with wayfinding, proximity-based notifications or digital asset tracking and add functionality as needed via simple subscription- based licensing.

According to the spokesperson from Xerox, the paperless strategy is key to their strategy in working with the SMB segment as is offering better security.

Phu Chi adds, “One of our main regional objectives is to work in line with the global paperless initiatives through the development of “eco printers”. In that way, we would be able to help users print data via cloud technologies and access the material required wherever they are in the world. We have already started bringing this goal to life using our ConnectKey product series. Another extremely important technological aspect that comes hand in hand with the use of cloud is ensuring security. Xerox has a key vision to develop these types of solutions to help businesses excel in their digital transformation. Similarly, we had an extremely successful VersaLink product launch last year, which is particularly well positioned for SMB customers.”

D-Link’s Sakeer highlights the fact that, a robust network is key to utilizing cloud based platforms and services which can drive the digital transformation faster.

“As the cloud has taken off with varying degrees of understanding of the what cloud really offers, most SOHO and SMB customers are looking for infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS), managed security services, unified communications as a service (UCaaS). To be able to use any of these services, SMB's customers need to have a robust network that enables their business to access these services.”

He adds, “SMB are looking for technologies that make their employees to no longer be bound to their desks and 11ac networking technology is one such technology. D-Link as a manufacturer of the latest 802.11ac products believes SMB customers are benefiting from the wireless improvements promised by 11ac products.”

Mapping the journey ahead

Solution providers who help deploy the infrastructure and solutions at the customer site and partner with vendors whose solutions they take to market, have a large role to play in the wider spectrum. The onus lies with these companies to provide the confidence to SMB companies looking to embark on the digital transformation journey.

Vendors in turn need to enable these solution providers who are their partners. Khalid says, “Naturally with change challenges remain, yet an open, collaborative approach within clear rules of engagement set by vendors, will allow partners to do what they do best – address customers’ real challenges. A focus of 2018 Avaya Edge program strategy is to enable cloud delivery, integration and management, and we do this by on-boarding partners through comprehensive training and enablement programs. This empowers partners to capatilise on various opportunities, including the growing SMB segment – which is also a market that is driving economic diversification in the region.”

According to Sakkeer, the UAE is at the forefront when it comes to networking technology adoption and wireless enhancements and is opening up opportunities for channel partners to offer the right networking and wireless solutions to SMB customers.

He adds, “Having more people connected to the Internet be it a consumer, SOHO, SMB, big corporate, a college or university benefits everyone as people are now in a better position to access the many services offered online or via a cloud hosted model. What this has done for D-Link and it partner ecosystem is identify verticals and countries where jointly we supply products to suit those environments.”

Khalid also comments that SMB organizations are today quicker to try out new technologies, often ahead of the larger sized companies in the enterprise.

“Interestingly, while adoption of cutting-edge technology used to trickle down from the enterprise to the SMB sector, the trend has reversed: today, SMBs either adopt technology in parallel with enterprises or they lead the way. Our partners have optimised on this by working alongside the SMB sector, understanding their pain points and leveraging Avaya’s flexible platform to build solutions that deliver business success.”

For vendors, especially for those who have a good focus in the mid-market, it has meant not just a repositioning but also an opportunity to revamp their platforms or technologies, to make them more suitable and easier to adopt to the customer needs in their future.