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Technology could solve SME productivity problem

As technological developments progress, automation and AI are frequently seen as threats to workers' jobs.

However, according to research, the majority of UK SMEs are optimistic about the impact of technology on their business, and for many this is down to its ability to enhance, not replace, the human side of their workforce.

A report by Close Brothers surveyed more than 1,400 small businesses across the UK, France and Germany, and found 46% thought new technology would improve productivity.

UK companies in particular were positive about its ability to improve staff efficiency (50%) and help upskill staff (43%), while 55% said they had already invested in new technology and software.

The potential for technology to improve employee development suggests it could play an important part in tackling the UK's skills gap.

64% of UK SMEs reported facing a skills shortage and 44% said they were already upskilling employees through training, education and workshops.

Adrian Sainsbury, managing director at Close Brothers banking division, said:

"The labour market is already changing, and will almost certainly change further after Brexit.

"A reduced supply of labour is likely to support demand for automation and investment in technology, as companies seek to compensate.

"However, automation is not the only solution. Many business, especially in the service sector, need to retain the human touch, and upskilling current workers will become even more prominent in business planning, a move which will boost productivity."

Can digital transformation work for your business?

The benefits of technology for small businesses are clear, from streamlining processes to building a web presence to attract new customers.

A study published by SAP of 3,904 SMEs worldwide showed that over 70% found their expectations regarding technology investments met or exceeded.

For SMEs in the study, the top 5 uses of digital capabilities were:

  • collaboration software for employees to share documents and calendars (60%)
  • customer relationship management software (54%)
  • commerce or ecommerce, including online order taking and billing (51%)
  • HR/talent management software (48%)
  • business analytics or business intelligence software for data analysis (47%).

Of course, these solutions are not one-size-fits all. The decision to utilise software for 48% of companies was based on where their need was greatest.

What will work best for your business could be different, depending on your specific needs and priorities.

To make the best possible use of digital tools, it's important to identify the areas of improvement your business would most benefit from, as well as keeping an eye on the competition.

Talk to us about improving productivity.