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How SMEs can use technology in an innovative way to improve productivity and maximize their success

By Songezo Masiso: Acting General Manager: SME at MTN Business

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are generally touted as the panacea that can alleviate South Africa's stubbornly high unemployment rate and give the sluggish economy a much-needed boost. However, the sad reality is this sector has not yet reached its full potential, and is estimated by The Small Business Institute, to only be delivering 28% of jobs.

The same report paints a grim picture of the prospects for SMEs in South Africa and has found that 70% of SME's in South Africa fail within their first two years of operation. So how can we mitigate against the high failure rate of start-ups?

MTN Business believes that technology has the inherent ability to level the playing field for businesses, allowing SMEs to compete against conglomerates by taking advantage of the right technology at the right time. The digital era truly offers SMEs tools at their fingertips to improve their performance and remain competitive in a fast-moving, more digitalised and global economy where customers are always connected.

Technology can help small business owners leverage limited capital in smarter, more effective ways.

Consider that in the past, cutting-edge solutions such as PBX were the sole preserve of bigger conglomerates with massive IT budgets. Not anymore. Mobile PBX enables the mobile entrepreneur to receive calls on designated mobile phones when their customers are calling the office landline, and conversely, calls from a linked mobile phone will be processed as an outgoing business call from the office telephone and are billed to that business account and not the mobile account.

Mobile PBX includes traditional PABX features, like auto attendant and receptionist functionalities - all available on a mobile phone.

Some SMEs have field employees who are working off-site away from the office. Keeping tabs of productivity off-site and maximising collaboration among employees can come at a huge cost for many hard-pressed SMEs. However, digital solutions such as Push to Talk are ideal for teams that are located in various locations. It enables them to communicate securely and cost effectively in a secure platform. This platform is suitable for use by a variety of industries, including logistics, manufacturing and construction sectors. It allows multiple people to communicate quickly on either a one-to-one or one-to-many basis, more costs effectively.

Companies that wish to improve productivity can even integrate time tracking software in their operations to map out where time is spent and by whom. Data generated from such an analysis is great for accountability, process improvement and productivity.

Another game-changer for SMEs is fixed LTE through its ability to solve the connectivity challenges of businesses that do not have fibre coverage. Fixed LTE gives businesses reliable and high-speed internet connection similar to fibre, but at a fraction of the cost. A solution such as MTN Business Broadband LTE provides businesses with an internet connection that is customised to their budget and usage. It's a plug-and-play alternative that does not require any dedicated IT support. It can connect up to 32 devices via a single router, and the added bonus is that it doesn't require any trenching, nor is there any waiting period or installation fees.

Harnessing tech to cut costs


Keeping tabs of payments can be a time-consuming exercise for many SMEs. By using an online invoicing service, however, SMEs can reduce the costs of collecting payment from customers. In addition, they can also opt for filing their taxes and other regulatory documents online instead of having to stand in long queues.


While above the line advertising is still out of reach for many SMEs, this need not   preclude emerging enterprises from putting their businesses on the map. SMEs can collect email addresses through an opt-in form and start utilising the power of email marketing, or use social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to promote their businesses.

A recent study by Deloitte titled: The performance of Small and Medium Sized Businesses in a digital world: A report for the Connected Commerce Council 2019, found a correlation between business performance and the level of digitalisation. The study found that businesses with advanced use of digital tools are five times more likely to reach new international customers than their less digitally advanced counterparts.

With such findings in mind, it is therefore important for SMEs to understand that technology is no longer optional. It's something they are compelled to have as it is a critical success factor for their businesses. The risk of failure as a result of not using technology is high.

A fruit vendor for example, can leverage technology to increase their market share and ramp up their scale. Selling fruit might not be a technology-based business in its make up, but for the business to be successful in a fiercely competitive market the vendor has to be tech-orientated. The vendor could automate and ensure that all the processes and systems are mapped out using technology. This will give the start-up efficiency, speed to market, cost savings and other capabilities  they need to be sustainably success as a business.

Emerging entrepreneurs can take a leaf out of e-commerce retailers such as Amazon and Alibaba. They are technology firms that retail, not retailers that are technology firms. Their processes are premised on technology, from warehousing to distribution.

SMEs should take note that technology connects everything – it links customers to the manufacturer, connects the manufacturer to the customer and the entire value chain. Their value proposition as a business can sit comfortably on top of technology and allows for efficiency and scale.

Technology connects every available supplier, every potential customer in the world, scales up the business and changes the mindset of the consumer. It improves efficiencies and saves costs as the entrepreneur does not have to pay for overheads associated with a brick and mortar establishment such as rent and paying for utilities. This can significantly slash operating costs..

The extent to which businesses can succeed will be determined by the degree to which they embrace and integrate technology into their business enabled by strong infrastructure of connectivity.

MTN Business is working to close the digital divide by giving SME clients the edge. We are committed to harnessing the power of digital solutions to bring down costs for our customers, while improving access broadly.

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