The small business conundrum: growth and innovation in the face of complexity and security risks

The small business conundrum: growth and innovation in the face of complexity and security risks

In the 2019 Global SME Pulse, small and medium businesses around the globe said they anticipated slower revenue and profit growth, but 74 percent were still willing to take big risks to ensure their success.

No surprise there. For small business owners, their work—and their success—is personal, and small business employees are often equally invested. Together they innovate, push boundaries, and take risks; they’re willing to try new ways of getting things done as they grow and protect what they’ve worked so hard to build.

These same qualities apply to how small businesses embrace and use technology. It’s not something they think about constantly, but it is another valuable tool to help drive their business.

And the pioneering spirit pays off.

Make cloud and SaaS your competitive advantage

For small business, cloud has been a game changer. While large enterprises have the funding and manpower to invest in on-premise technologies, for small businesses, this approach can be complicated and costly—a true barrier to entry and growth.

Enter cloud and SaaS (software as a service).

With cloud and SaaS, small businesses can roll out new IT capabilities quickly and economically, standing up new apps and services in minutes rather than days or weeks. This has made their IT—and all operations—nimbler and more efficient. In fact, for many small businesses, the cost per user is at a new low. This agility can be a real advantage over larger organizations that must deal with procurement and approval processes, implementation timelines, and more.

Buck tradition with a 21st century workforce

Small businesses are taking advantage of a fundamental shift in the workforce away from traditional employment models. The composition of the workforce has changed, and small businesses understand that flexibility is key to attracting and retaining employees. In fact, small business owners have a lot in common with today’s employees, who are concerned with how work gets done rather than when or where tasks are completed. Employees are a powerful voice in demands for greater workplace flexibility and new employment options.

Similarly, today’s workers, particularly hires who are early in career, expect an organizational structure that is less rigid—perfect for the small business environment. This isn’t to say that a traditional structure has gone the way of the dinosaur, but that organizational structures have become more fluid. Employees expect to move throughout an organization as work requirements change, joining teams to collaborate for the duration of a project and then transitioning to other work groups.

At the same time, small businesses understand the value of gig workers, consultants, and freelancers, who can now offer much more than staff augmentation. In the U.S. alone, 40 percent of the workforce is contingent, and the number is expected to rise to 50 percent in the next decade.

Go mobile

Not surprisingly, this evolving workforce with expectations of flexibility to work anytime, anywhere, is reliant on mobile devices. In fact, each worker probably has multiple devices in hand, even as many as three to five devices per person. A study from the SMB Group reported that in the U.S., more than half of small and medium business employees use a mobile device for business purposes, and 47 percent of respondents said that using mobile devices has decreased their use of traditional PCs and laptops.

These sound like advantages. What’s the problem?

True. It’s a real benefit that small businesses have embraced cloud, adapted to a changing workforce, and welcomed the rise of mobile technology. Small businesses can react and scale quickly, positioning them to innovate and grow. They’re keeping pace with evolving employee expectations so they can attract new talent and keep their current hires satisfied. This translates into a superior experience for their customers, too.

At what price—the small business conundrum

And herein lies the conundrum. The very advantages that are helping small businesses realize success have also made them more vulnerable. The typical small business owner used to know how everything worked and where everything was—each employee, every device and application, and most significantly, all data. Today, the technology that has helped small businesses “punch above their weight” could mean that they have data in multiple public and private clouds, as well as users accessing the network from inside and outside company firewalls (and on multiple devices). The threat area is increased, and the technology landscape is more complicated, and that combination poses a real threat for small business.

The challenge is compounded by the fact that small businesses typically don’t have deep, specialized IT skills and therefore have become a tempting target for cybercriminals. And for a small business, a major security breach can be fatal. Digital incidents cost businesses of all sizes $200,000 on average, and sixty percent go out of business within six months of being victimized.

Challenge as opportunity

Small businesses shouldn’t have to slow the pace of innovation and adoption because of potential risk. In fact, it’s possible to surmount any obstacle once it’s clear, and that’s how small businesses respond—and how most have reached this point in their evolution. Frustrated by the complexity of technology or how to operate and manage the infrastructure a business needs to thrive? Consider technology that is designed to be simple to use, specifically for small businesses. Worried about cybersecurity, protecting valuable data, and minimizing the risks associated with a team that’s mobile? Look for an easy-to-use unified security system that combines firewalls, endpoint, and cloud security. It’s all part of a simple, secure, smart—and now, expanded—portfolio from Cisco especially for small business.

And to help bring it all together, find a trusted partner who’s committed to delivering the right technology for small business. I’m excited to help small businesses grow and thrive! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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