Technology holds success key for SMEs

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Technology holds success key for SMEs

Only tech-savvy firms will stand the test of time

By Haider Salloum

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Published: Tue 28 Jul 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 29 Jul 2015, 3:28 AM

Today, small and medium enterprises, or SMEs, are at the cornerstone of every government's measures aimed at growing, innovating and sustaining their economies. The growing importance of SMEs as drivers for economic growth and employment is undisputed.
With SMEs constituting 94 per cent of all companies in the UAE, they are an economic growth engine to reckon with and need access to the same technologies as the big players to level the playing field, and be flexible, responsive and meet and anticipate customer needs.
While adoption of new technologies is arguably crucial in stirring innovation in SMEs and helping them scale their business, a recent survey by Dubai SME paints a grim picture on the integration of ICT solutions into business, with only 21 per cent of SMEs surveyed having deployed advanced IT systems - such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management - to manage their business operations.
An independent study commissioned two years ago by Microsoft on 4,000 SMEs in five of the world's largest and most diverse economie - the United States, Germany, China, India and Brazil - concluded that tech-savvy SMEs outperformed their counterparts using little technology in innovation, job growth and increased revenues. The same study concluded that if 15 per cent of those SMEs that use little technology and 30 per cent of SMEs who use moderate amounts of technology adopted the latest IT tools, they could boost their combined revenues by $770 billion and create more than six million new jobs in just those five markets combined. Who can afford to leave $770 billion on the table?
It is for these reasons that Microsoft has, over the years, created a culture of working with SMEs by developing IT products and services that are both cost-effective and help them meet their business goals. In addition to providing business-enabling technology such as Dynamics CRM, Azure, Office 365 and Windows mobile devices, Microsoft works closely with SMEs to help them fill the skills gap that can exist as the rate of technological innovation accelerates. We offer on premise workshops and free online classes on basic business skills, as well as online tutorials on Microsoft products and hands-on training on Microsoft technologies from local partner networks. All of these assets can help SMEs become technology leaders.
Microsoft also provides free software to start-ups through the BizSpark programme, which is designed to accelerate the success of any company building a software-based product or service that is in its early stages and has been in business less than three years with less than $1 million in revenue. More than 100,000 start-ups have benefitted from BizSpark in more than 100 countries around the world and 400 in the GCC since it began in 2008.
The global Microsoft BizSpark Network Partner programme is composed of over 2,400 partners ranging from incubators, investors, universities to banks and entrepreneurship groups who are all helping to drive BizSpark within their startup ecosystems. Recently, the Hamdan bin Mohammed Smart University also joined the Microsoft BizSpark Network Partners programme to enable IT-oriented members within their ecosystems to benefit from free software and services available through BizSpark.
At Microsoft, we also understand that if we want to have a meaningful impact on local economies, we need to support the technology value chain in its entirety and address opportunities and challenges from the very start; indeed, growth will also depend on our economies' ability to nurture talent by equipping this and future generations with the right IT and entrepreneurial skills. So, as part of our YouthSpark programme, Microsoft stirs innovation that helps to shape students and impart entrepreneurial skills to them, through initiatives such as the Imagine Cup, which empowers students to use their creativity to solve the world's toughest problems through technology.
We have also created over 3,000 jobs through our community of Microsoft-related IT professionals through training and mentoring. IT Pro outreach programmes such as Microsoft Virtual Academy has over 5,000 participants from the Gulf, offering free, certified training that helps these professionals improve their skill set.
Through our partnerships with various government entities such as the Department of Economic Development and Dubai SME, we support entrepreneurs at critical stages of their development, helping grow Web presence, ecommerce, and cloud computing - all elements of the SME Toolkit launched by Microsoft in the UAE. Some of our key partners in the Middle East and North Africa region are Dubai SME, the DED, In5, Wamda, Arabnet, Oasis 500, Flat6Labs and Dubai Silicon Oasis.
Given the economic importance of the SME sector - there are more than 148 million SMEs worldwide - the economic opportunity is colossal, but countries who fail to leverage technology to encourage SME growth today could face stagnant economies tomorrow. SMEs need help to minimise barriers and consider incentives to supercharge these potential sources of growth. It is our hope that Microsoft's approach to fostering SMEs and entrepreneurship will help stimulate thought among all stakeholders, from government leaders and public policy makers to SMEs themselves and larger industry players, to reflect on how we can all enrich the environment in which the knowledge economy can flourish.
The writer is the SMB channel sales manager at Microsoft Gulf. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.

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