Now that we are looking ahead to what the future of work may hold, it is crucial for small businesses to learn from the past and prepare for what lies ahead on the horizon. For many, fuelling growth will require thoughtful investments in IT. As resilient, industrious and adaptable people, what strategies do small business owners need to implement to be ready for whatever happens next?
Understanding the small business experience during Covid-19
Recently, CDW conducted a survey in partnership with Angus Reid to explore Canadian small business owners’ experiences through the pandemic and evaluate their priorities moving forward. The survey found that over a third of Canadian small businesses (35 percent) were forced to pause or shut down operations during the pandemic, while two thirds of small businesses fared more positively. Fortunately, of those impacted businesses, 77 percent had already resumed operations, and 23 percent planned to do so immediately.
Regardless of operational status, over half (52 percent) of small businesses said they endured IT challenges during the pandemic – a frustrating experience for many at a time already steeped in uncertainty. Maintaining collaboration with a fully remote workforce and strong security posture amid expanded threat landscapes was difficult for many small businesses. According to the CDW survey, almost one quarter (24 percent) of respondents admitted they struggled with implementing the right collaboration platforms, and 18 percent had difficulty providing appropriate endpoint solutions, while a further 14 percent were challenged with securing new, remote environments.
As challenging as it may have been to spend money during uncertain times, small business owners’ investments were unsurprisingly focused on employees. Of the 68 percent of respondents who invested in IT over the course of the pandemic:
- 39 percent invested in collaboration platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams;
- 33 percent invested in endpoint solutions, such as laptops and webcams; and
- 25 percent invested in employee-focused software, such as Office 365, compared to 17 percent who said the same in October 2020.
“Small businesses are among the most committed organizations when it comes to investing in the employee experience. This dedication to optimizing teams’ abilities to collaborate, be productive and maintain meaningful workplace relationships contributed positively to business continuity and will remain an important facet of small business planning in the future,” said Kale Johnson, Senior Sales Manager at CDW Canada.
Using IT to plan for a year of growth
Following a difficult chapter and in testament to their resilience, small business owners are optimistic and have forecast a positive year ahead, with over half (58 percent) anticipating growth within the next 12 months. However, despite most experiencing IT challenges, three in five (61 percent) small businesses did not make changes to their IT infrastructure and a further two in five (37 percent) did not plan on investing in IT moving forward.
Many challenges faced by small business owners through the pandemic could have been mitigated by looking ahead, especially as workplaces pivoted to remote and/or hybrid work environments; according to the CDW survey findings, only 12 percent of respondents have, or will eventually return to the office full-time.
“When running a small business, making the most of time and resources while also maximizing employee productivity and collaboration is essential to power the next chapter of growth,” added Johnson. “Small business owners need to understand that IT is a dynamic rather than static exercise. Therefore, despite many having made investments, it will be crucial to continually evaluate whether their collaboration tools, endpoint solutions, cybersecurity and cloud-based solutions are working to achieve business outcomes efficiently.”
Small businesses want to optimize existing solutions
According to the CDW survey, small business owners were more amenable to optimizing existing solutions rather than exploring net-new options. Of those business owners who will invest in IT moving forward, almost one in five (19 percent) said they would continue to optimize cloud/hybrid cloud solutions, with a further one in five (17 percent) saying the same of cybersecurity solutions.
While this appetite for IT solutions investment is a promising development, there is still room for improvement regarding cybersecurity and cloud. Of those small businesses that changed their IT infrastructure as a result of the pandemic (39 percent of respondents), only 22 percent increased their cloud software and 18 percent increased their cybersecurity solutions. Further, only 18 percent indicated they now take cybersecurity more seriously.
“Knowing that a small percentage of respondents gained appreciation for the gravity of cybersecurity is concerning. It is clear that cyberincidents came and went without internal knowledge, especially considering the expanded threat landscape and new network devices that came with the pivot to remote. Our data shows that remote/hybrid work models will be the norm moving forward, so small business owners should make cybersecurity optimization a top priority”, explained Johnson.
Demystifying the world of IT
The hesitancy around IT investment for small business owners is understandable. Still, it can be navigated with the right partner who can help simplify the experience and identify cost-effective solutions. For most small businesses, where margins are slim and investments are not made lightly, cash and cost flow concerns were the primary barrier to IT investment both during (39 percent) and beyond (38 percent) COVID-19.
Interestingly, the next most common barriers to investing in IT during COVID-19 revolved around knowledge:
- 17 percent cited lacking knowledge of what they needed;
- 13 percent cited not knowing where to start; and
- 11 percent cited fear/complexity.
The situation remains largely unchanged when looking to the future; the CDW survey showed 16 percent of respondents felt they lacked knowledge, nine percent did not know where to start and nine percent cited fear/complexity. “Investing in IT does not need to be a financially prohibitive decision, and the journey to finding the right solutions at the right price point is easy: start with a simple conversation with an IT partner who understands what small businesses need to fuel growth,” continued Johnson.
Enter the next chapter with an IT expert
Looking ahead, only six percent of respondents who planned on investing in IT indicated they would seek an IT provider to work with them – likely resulting from simply not understanding what an IT partner can bring to the table. Small business owners need trusted partners in their corner as they enter this next phase of rapid growth.
“CDW understands that every small business is unique. We also know that they are deserving of bespoke IT solutions to power their growth. Whether it is a full-scope IT plan, solutions to kick off the future of hybrid work or protection against cyberthreats, leveraging an IT provider quickly deepens a small business owner’s bench strength and can help meet business outcomes more efficiently,” concluded Johnson.
CDW Canada’s experts have resources dedicated entirely to meeting the needs of small businesses. This group has been at the forefront of implementing innovative and scalable IT solutions and services for a variety of budgets for decades, partnering with leading technology companies, such as Apple, Cisco and Microsoft, to find the right solution for each customer.