Small business IT priorities 2021

Small businesses are poised to enter a new year that, for the first time, is focusing on creating fewer in-person connections with customers, rather than more. The rapid digitalisation of the past year has created an environment where SMBs must adapt to remain competitive.

The priorities of small businesses are shifting as a result, towards the creation of secure remote work environments and the necessary adoption of cloud technology. As part of this digital transformation, small businesses must consider several more priorities as they move into a new year.

1. Low-cost artificial intelligence (AI) technology

After the sudden technology adjustments forced upon companies in 2020, many small businesses will need to make up for lost productivity. With additional resources unlikely to materialise, low-cost AI will become even more of a requirement.

A solution like Microsoft Azure offers affordable computer vision, face recognition, and conversational AI services – many of which are built-in to the business offerings. As the digital era progresses, SMBs should start to take greater advantage of these AI opportunities in order to remain resilient; subsidising customer support departments with chatbots, for example.

Another business area AI can have the biggest impact on is logistics. Small retailers could utilise the technology to gain AI-driven insights from their data. Warehouses could predict stock shortages and delivery drivers could benefit from AI-driven knowledge regarding delivery routes.

2. Increased use of data virtualisation technology

Businesses will also look to regain efficiency via data-driven insights. Tools like Microsoft Power BI can make data more useful and actionable. Simple dashboards of customer and sales data enable analyses which ultimately help SMBs focus on the aspects that will have the most impact.

3. Mainstream adoption of cloud collaboration and calling solutions

Microsoft Teams usage increased by 70% to 75 million active users in April, mainly due to the mass shift to home working. Even as workers return to the office, however, that usage has remained steady. As of October 2020, its daily active users had reached 115 million.

Much of this continued growth may be attributed to a shift in mindset, predominantly by smaller businesses. As IT managers realise the efficiency of cloud-based communication and collaboration tools, they become open to investing in those solutions long-term. In addition to efficiency, cloud solutions like Microsoft Teams and Teams Calling solutions, offer flexibility in both in costs and global calling requirements – perfect for SMBs who want to start small and scale.

4. Streamlining the remote onboarding process

Even with the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines underway, SMBs will continue to work remotely until government guidance suggests otherwise. Though organisations have been onboarding remotely for many years, the coronavirus pandemic has increased the volume of workers than need to be brought online in a short period.

As a result, it’s now time for SMBs to prioritise the creation of a remote onboarding strategy that’s efficient, engaging and focused around the benefits that cloud technology can offer.

5. Support remote workers with the right cloud IT support

Cloud productivity apps like Office 365 and Teams come with excellent Level 0 IT support. Knowledge banks and chatbots provide self-service cloud IT support so that users can troubleshoot common problems and access ‘how to’ style content.

However, remote workers also need human IT support in the form of a 1st and 2nd line service desk to keep productivity levels high. Responsive cloud IT support can also boost user adoption of new technologies and new ways of working, ensuring you get good ROI from digital transformation.

Remote workers often feel isolated so it’s really important to have open lines of communication between them and your service desk. As well as ensuring they can contact IT support using their preferred channels (email, phone, support portal etc.), consider introducing engagement feedback tools too. Personalised surveys can help you better understand what support users need to improve the remote working experience.

If you would like to discuss any of the subjects or technology covered in this post, please get in touch. Our Digital Productivity team and Microsoft experts are happy to share their knowledge and experience. Likewise, our Operations team are available to share best practice for supporting your remote workers and providing effective cloud IT support.

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