Padraig Sheerin, head of SME at Three Ireland, evaluates the key findings from the company’s 2018 Business Mindset Report.
Three Ireland recently published the 2018 Business Mindset Report, an annual snapshot of how Irish business people feel about business in Ireland based on a comprehensive survey. It provides a unique insight into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and what Irish businesses are doing to maximise the latter.
The report reveals the central role that technology is now playing in Irish businesses, the increased level of investment (most notably in customer experience) and how cloud adoption is almost ubiquitous. Above all, the report highlights that Irish businesses believe the business climate is changing, for the better.
‘A sizeable number of SMEs, having realised the importance of the customer experience, have also realised the importance of investing to improve it’
There has been a 13pc increase since the 2017 survey in the number of respondents feeling ‘optimistic’ or ‘cautiously optimistic’ about Ireland’s business climate. Not only has optimism increased, but the percentage of those surveyed who are ‘concerned’ has also fallen by half from 8pc to 4pc. Given the current uncertainty regarding Brexit, you could conclude that Irish businesses are seeing its potential benefits rather than its potential consequences.
With regard to the role that technology plays in businesses, it is clear that it is now seen as an enabler for success, with the number of respondents seeing technology as ‘just a cost’ dropping to below 3pc. This attitude has certainly changed in the past year, with 70pc now seeing technology as playing a central role in business priorities and growth strategy – a 13pc increase.
Connectivity also remains critical for businesses. Business has always been about connections, be they with customers, colleagues or suppliers. Both this year’s and last year’s survey results show that hasn’t changed.
The fact that today’s SMEs expect seamless connectivity at all times and in all places means that mobile communications are key. The number of respondents who say they are essential or important to their business, its productivity and efficiency has risen from 94pc to 97pc.
Irish businesses are nothing if not competitive, even about their level of investment in technology. 70pc of respondents to this year’s survey consider themselves more proactive than their competitors regarding their technology investments, representing a 6pc increase on last year. They also feel they lead the way in their industry with many of their technology investment decisions.
This proactive, pioneering and forward-looking approach of the majority of Irish SMEs towards investment in technology can only help to drive higher levels of investment, more technology adoption and greater overall competitiveness as a result.
As well as showing that Irish SMEs are proactively investing in technology, this survey also reveals where in their businesses they are making their investments. Their order of priorities hasn’t changed in the last 12 months, with business operations systems and infrastructure improvements still being the top priority.
Although improving customer experience is still at the bottom of the list, it has increased 35pc, indicating that there is a sizeable number of SMEs that, having realised the importance of the customer experience, have also realised the importance of investing to improve it.
As a result, more Irish SMEs than ever before are embracing the possibilities of technology to enhance their customer experience. 86pc of businesses surveyed (a 15pc increase on 2017) now have a website and 9pc more are selling online.
Making use of the cloud
When it comes to the cloud, it is no longer the preserve of early adopters among SMEs. Only 5pc of survey respondents say they are not making any use of cloud services, down from 15pc in 2017, indicating that the cloud is now almost ubiquitous.
It’s also interesting to look at what cloud services SMEs are using. File storage and sharing still lead the way, but there appears to be a willingness to think beyond these most obvious uses, with a significant 50pc increase in the use of cloud-based productivity tools and apps. Those using the cloud to facilitate calls and messaging using applications such as Skype and WhatsApp also saw a 50pc increase from 2017.
Which came first?
Three Ireland’s Business Mindset Report does beg the question: what is encouraging the optimism and driving the success of SMEs in Ireland? Is it optimism that encourages Irish businesses to invest in technology, to adopt greater use of the cloud and to undergo digital transformation? Or is it their technology investments, their cloud adoption and their digital transformation that is making Irish businesses more optimistic? Chicken or egg?
Whichever came first, those Irish SMEs making the best use of technology to increase their efficiency and productivity have got it cracked.
Three’s head of SME, Padraig Sheerin, manages a large team helping Three customers to maximise their opportunities or solve their problems through communications solutions.
To read the complete Three Ireland 2018 Business Mindset Report, visit connected.three.ie.