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IoT for all: why tech democratisation and digitalisation are key to future-proof SMEs

07 Dec 2020
Erik Brenneis

Erik Brenneis

IoT Director, Vodafone Business

There are 24 million small businesses in Europe. They employ 95 million people, contribute €4 trillion a year to the economy and account for 85% of all new jobs.

These impressive figures prove beyond any doubt they are the backbone of our economy. In my country, Germany, for instance, the Mittelstand (German for SME) is a unique economic engine that includes 99.5 percent of all German companies!

Given all this, and on the back of what the Vodafone Business Future Ready Report showed, I felt understanding what the Vodafone Business IoT Spotlight tell us about SMEs and how they use IoT was crucial in order to address the evolving demands of the sector.

What the Spotlight found is the great majority of SMEs (84%) consider IoT critical for the success of their business and 78% think IoT is essential in getting them through the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, 73% prioritise IoT higher than they did before.

The most interesting figure though, is the one showing 75% of SMEs agree the pandemic will accelerate their adoption of IoT versus 73% of their large counterparts. This demonstrates that small and medium-sized businesses understand the power this technology has in enabling them to punch above their weight in the digital economies of the future.

Resilience is everything

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on companies of all sizes but it’s been particularly challenging for SMEs, forcing them to change their working practices and priorities in a matter of weeks in order to survive.

The change of operating model imposed by the crisis was easier to deal with for those businesses who were already using IoT and had therefore access to a regular pool of data from their operations, giving them the ability to adapt and flex their business model according to the need. You cannot manage what you cannot measure, and that is true no matter the size of your business, that is why access to data and the ability to manage it is so important.

As a result, 85% of SMEs interviewed at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic said they see the integration of IoT devices and data with remote workers as a higher priority than before, with 74% adding the pandemic also pushed them to rethink their approach to IoT.

Then and now

It’s a fact: so far, IoT has predominantly been deployed on a large-scale basis by large and global enterprises, with SMEs being slower to adopt and invest in the technology. But the Vodafone Business IoT Spotlight shows that this is set to change.

Small businesses see IoT as an essential element of being future ready. So much so that 70% of them say that organisations which fail to embrace IoT will fall behind the competition within five years. And importantly, 75% of them believe IoT is enabling positive outcomes that would be otherwise impossible without it and 61% are using it to improve customer experience.

Building the future together

The Spotlight found 93% of SME adopters think IoT is increasing their efficiency and 92% say IoT is improving their ability to be more responsive to customer demands, enhancing competitiveness and customer satisfaction.

So how can we help more SMEs embrace and capture the benefits of IoT technology?

Businesses want solutions. Solutions that help them achieve what they need, solve a problem, do something better. When it comes to smaller businesses, this means going beyond just connecting assets, creating the operational and process system that delivers exactly the outcome they need. It means enabling them to have constant access to their data to make their business more efficient, cost-effective and resilient.  And that’s what IoT does.

Customers first

Talking to customers every day I am conscious that smaller organisations understand this and they’re enthusiastic about IoT, with 78% of them saying they’re using the data IoT gives them to innovate and achieve their business and sustainability goals (82%). However, they often have fewer resources in terms of staff, budget and internal knowledge, and therefore might feel more exposed to risk than their larger counterparts as they implement their digital strategy.

They also know digitalisation is a journey, not a race, and they need the reassurance that the partners they choose will be there for them today and into the future.

That’s why we’re expanding our capabilities, footprint and ecosystem to bring our support to help businesses of all sizes become more flexible and competitive.

Eighty-five percent of SMEs say IoT, as the gateway to data and digitalisation, is already the enabler for their digital transformation strategies. Our job is to show that IoT is truly a technology for all and we’re passionate about businesses of all sizes having access to and benefiting from IoT.

A great example is how we’re creating new solutions like Mobile Private Networks (MPN) for specific customers that require ultra-high connectivity performance for their IoT solutions in areas like precision and specialist manufacturing.

Ultimately, we want businesses to know that as they digitalise and become reliant on IoT and as their data is used for rapid and accurate decision making, we can support them by future-proofing their journey, no matter their size, sector or location.

To me, being a global leader in IoT doesn’t mean having more connections than anyone else. It means listening to businesses large and small and offering them what they need to be efficient, resilient and future-ready.

Learn more about IoT and the benefits it brings for business in our  IoT Spotlight Report.

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