The economic impact of COVID-19 in businesses, particularly in SMEs, has been on a global scale. From adopting short-term measures to allow employees to work remotely and increased security like VPN, companies worldwide have had to think about the quickest and most effective way to keep businesses running during the crisis.
However, the question remains if companies will follow that path of transformation or they will stay as before.
We wanted to know more about how the pandemic has affected SMEs, the impact on their software buying decisions and their plans for the future. Therefore we conducted a survey of 2,904 respondents, which included employees and managers in small and medium businesses (SMEs) from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the UK.
For this article, we have used responses from 2,141 respondents that have a manager, senior manager, executive manager or owner positions within these companies. (For a full methodology, scroll down to the bottom of the article).
53% of businesses didn’t have a business continuity plan in place
Business continuity management as defined by Gartner is:
“An approach whereby enterprises plan for recovery of the entire business process. This includes a plan for workspaces, telephones, workstations, servers, applications, network connections and any other resources required in the business process.”
The crisis has taken the world by surprise—and businesses are no exception. When asked about if they had a continuity plan in place before the crisis, 53% of them either didn’t have or weren’t sure if the company had one in place.
Not having a business continuity plan can lead into significant losses and potentially business closure. If you think about the COVID-19 as an unpredictable crisis, having a contingency plan makes more sense than ever.
Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about the ‘Black Swan theory’. This theory explains the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable external events and how businesses can’t be prepared for these.
Therefore, having a plan that allows you to prepare for the unplanned can save time and money—and possibly the company’s future. The benefits of having a plan include:
- Reduce time in response to the event
- Reduce time to recover its critical functions
- Avoid making the wrong decisions in the early stages
- Having a successful communication flow with employees and key people during the crisis
61% of businesses think they won’t last more than 6 months
The lack of preparedness for many businesses has led to them having to make decisions on the spot in the midst of the pandemic and not thinking long term.
In turn, over 61% of businesses surveyed don’t think they will last more than 6 months with the current measures. In the European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the UK) surveyed for this study, as well as Australia, the percentage of businesses that believe they won’t last more than 6 months with the current measures is 62% for both.
Shifting to digital still not a top priority for SMEs
Digital transformation is defined by Gartner as:
“Anything from IT modernisation (for example, moving cloud computing), to digital optimisation, to the invention of new digital business models.”
Despite companies adapting their offering in response to COVID-19, the results of the study showed that shifting to digital is not a top priority for SMEs in the short term.
When asked about the level of importance of a number of aspects such as employee productivity, brand image or retaining customers in the short term, shifting businesses to operate digitally is ranked the last priority by respondents in Australia, Brazil, France and Spain.
For Germany, Italy and the UK, the last priority is securing financial assistance and for the Netherlands is improving brand image.
The study showed that for the majority of countries, maintaining employee productivity and retaining customers are the two main priorities. For Brazil and the UK, the main priority is adhering to social distancing and local guidance regarding quarantine followed by maintaining employee productivity.
Health and safety actions have been the main focus for companies since the beginning of the crisis for 64% of respondents.
Implementing remote work policies (58%) and online teaching have been the other focus for companies. Once companies had the policies up and running, the next step was to implement the software as soon as possible to avoid the maximum disruption and to help with employee retention and engagement.
48% of respondents invested in software since the beginning of the crisis
Almost half of companies surveyed invested in new software since the beginning of the crisis. Brazil (55%), Spain (55%) and Italy (52%) were the three countries with the most SMEs that had to invest in software as a result of the COVID-19.
This is of no surprise, as 35% of companies had to look at implementing new software for teamwork and 70% of companies were able to adapt some or all of their business offerings so they could be delivered virtually now.
Looking at the type of software implemented, remote desktop software, video conferencing software and live chat software were the three types of software that were the most purchased or considered in response to COVID-19.
Software purchase beyond COVID-19: making the right choice
The lack of business continuity plans led the majority of SMEs surveyed to invest in software looking at ensuring employee productivity.
Decision-makers need help with choosing the right software. The study found that a third of decision-makers in SMEs are at the interest stage level— they know the software they need, but they need to research products that fit their business needs.
The study found that almost half of managers based their decisions on price (49%), ease of use (46%) and reviews (37%).
We found significant differences between countries when looking at reviews. For example, for the European countries surveyed in this study (39%) and Brazil (45%), reviews are considered helpful when looking to make a decision on software purchase. However, in Australia, only 18% find reviews helpful when looking at software and the primary factor is the ease of use (22%).
Looking at reviews should be part of any software purchasing process. Third-party reviews provide an insight on the software experience from users.
Make software part of your business strategy for the future
As we’ve covered, the COVID-19 crisis has shaken up businesses and pushed some of them into making emergency software decisions meant to help in the short term. As restrictions ease and workers start to go back to the office, companies need to think about a more longer term strategy.
Gartner sees the response to the COVID-19 crisis in three main steps:
- Respond: Actions are mainly targeted to keep the business running short term as a quick response to a crisis.
- Recover: A more ‘coordinated effort to stabilise operations.’ This can include creating specific plans to restore the business to the level before the crisis and also look at resources available to do this.
- Renew: Gartner stresses the importance of learning from the experience and building resilience for the future.
We have seen how for many businesses the crisis has meant money loss or, even worse, closing down. Learning from previous experience will help companies to assess the mistakes made during a crisis and create a solid contingency plan that will help them in case of a new one.
To collect the data from this report, we conducted an online survey in May 2020 between 2,904 respondents, which included employees and managers in small and medium businesses (SMEs) from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the UK.