Cisco Australia recently announced it intends to expand its foothold in the small-to-medium business (SMBs) market with the launch of a new dedicated strategy to support owners and operators as they grow. The technology firm aims to address the challenges the SMB sector face when it comes to digitalisation and security, with a portfolio of products it claims offers simple, secure and reliable enterprise-class end-to-end solutions.

According to a recent IDC survey commissioned by Cisco, SMBs are the fastest growing segment globally, and the Australian SMB market is currently growing at 7.4 per cent.

The company said it currently supports approximately 50,000 SMBs across Australia and is investing in different routes to market to reach over 2 million SMBs. These routes to market include traditional channels like value-added resellers, service providers and managed service providers to alternate channels like retail and also a digital commerce marketplace.

Ken Boal, vice president of Cisco Australia and New Zealand said the firm has traditionally focussed on large and medium enterprises, but they are now shifting their investment and commitment to small businesses.

Boal added small businesses are seeking competitive advantage through digitisation, which is why Cisco has worked with their partners to build a portfolio of products and an e-commerce platform that provides SMBs with easier accessibility to IT solutions that support them on their digital transformation journey.

Cisco said its suite of products, Cisco START, includes Cisco Meraki, Cisco Umbrella, and Cisco WebEx; have been designed to give SMBs high levels of protection, automation and efficacy, which are fundamental to survival, growth and expansion.

Speaking to Which-50 about the primary drivers and challenges behind SMB digital engagement, Boal said SMBs want to enjoy the same levels of productivity as larger enterprises that will enable them to scale their business.

“They’re looking for that fast track to scale, and that’s what digital does. It brings big numbers in quickly, to the extent that they’ve never experienced or enjoyed before. Both local, but especially global. I think that’s one of the main drivers behind digital engagement,” Boal said.

As for the challenges SMBs face, Boal said it’s an awareness of what is possible with digitalisation, and also concerns about security.

“For some small business, it’s more awareness than security. For others, the more they know, it becomes security. So it will depend on where the small business is at in its lifecycle.

“And I think this is why, when small businesses in the awareness raising stage around digital engagement, security needs to be addressed head on. It needs to be part of that early conversation, as opposed to sort of thought about after the fact. I think as an industry, we need to do a better job of incorporating secure digital engagement as part of the mantra, not as an afterthought,” Boal said.

Get the right advice

The Cisco chief admits new technology implementation and adoption can be tricky, but it is all about timing and getting access to good advice.

“Big business is probably better at ideation and identifying what to do. But maybe not quite so good at actually putting it into practice. With a small business, I think once the ideas and the concepts are evolved, putting them into practice is a little bit easier with the right support. And as long as the technology itself is demystified and simplified,” Boal said.

“I think the best way to roll out technology now, is to do it, step by step. Too much change too quickly is probably too risky. Make smaller steps every one to two to three months, as opposed to massive steps every one or two or three years.”

Boal said when it comes to rolling out digital technology it is vital for technology partners to provide more advice on the correct order of doing things.

“Historically, we’ve been guilty of highlighting all the significant benefits at the end of the rainbow, without enjoying some of the benefits along the way. Sometimes you scare customers, that scale of implementation’s too big, so it never really gets going. Whereas there are low-hanging fruit opportunities available.”

“I think the first step is simplicity,” Boal said.

“Take away the pain of building a secure network and digital infrastructure, to help the business get on with what it needs to do. But frankly, with the security issues that we’ve just touched on — that’s an absolute imperative for small business.

“We can help provide that security context — that security layout in the network, for small business, and ensure that the best thing that can be done is being done. From a small business perspective, they don’t have an army of IT professionals at their disposal, so we need to be smart in the underlying technology to enable the small business owners, and their employees to get on with their line of work. I think that’s the first big thing.

“The second area, then, is to help small business grow their business. That is by arming SMBs with tools that better connect them with their customers, connect themselves, connect their employee base — and also connect them with their partners and suppliers. The most precious commodity is the people, and how effective and productive those people are. How connected they are to each other. And how aligned they are with what’s going on with the business. With collaboration tools and the analytics out of the business systems — that’s where Cisco is really helping small business owners,” Boal said.

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