Are Entrepreneurs Underutilizing Technology?
Let’s face it, everything is going “tech”. I remember writing a piece 11 years ago about my vision of the year 2055 and for some reason I thought flying cars and remote-controlled toothbrushes would be the next big things. Oh well, if you’re reading this, here’s your chance at stealing an innovative idea. Thank me later. Recent times have shown that technology can achieve so much more than we ever imagined. Especially in business. In essence, technology has become an essential part of daily business operations for both small and large corporations. Businesses looking to maintain longevity have no choice but to transition to tech solutions for their business. That however, is usually the pain point. The transition. Still, over 80% of entrepreneurs admit that technology provides financial benefits for their business.
Here we will look at technology penetration in business and whether entrepreneurs are really keeping up with the times or are only under the illusion that they are.
How about a short walk down memory lane? A typical business owner in the 70s would be more concerned with how many hours employees spent at the workplace than with actual productivity alongside some other concerns we wrote about a while back.
Let’s look at 5 ways entrepreneurs operated in the age of old without technology.
- If you don’t show up in person, you were never there
The option to work from anywhere in the world simply did not exist. While many entrepreneurs still require employees to show up 9-5 (okay, more like 8am to as late as possible), more businesses are opening up to remote workers.
- Paperwork was literally paperwork
Files upon files upon files. Storage was a problem. Finding one particular file was a hassle. Going through hundreds of papers was definitely no fun.
- You actually had to use your hands to draw presentation slides
- Quick communication was a dream
I mean, sending letters through the postman wasn’t exactly ideal.
Fast forward to present day, business owners have become significantly dependent on technology. Digital marketing, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, all the cool words entrepreneurs would like associated with their business. For any entrepreneur focused on efficiency, incorporating technology into daily business operations and strategy plans is a must. While larger businesses almost cannot do without technology, MSMEs are becoming more invested in technology too. Similarly, a study conducted by Deloitte in 2019 revealed that 90% of small businesses use digital technology for communication and more than 40% use them for sales management.
In Africa, the tech trend is glaringly rampant, with tech startups rising from all over the continent. Majority of these businesses are in the Fintech and Agritech space. However, the use of technology especially in small businesses is still hampered by the lack of an enabling environment, electricity issues and financing. Inefficient use of technology invariably reduces a business’ ability to compete in the global marketplace.
In addition, there is the temptation to hop onto every new tech trend seen in the business world. And the truth is, not all are relevant to every type of business. The key to deliberate business growth and success lies in identifying the right tech solutions to use in your business and investing in applying them.
Now, let’s look at some existing tech trends entrepreneurs may be missing out on:
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Automation
If the only thing that comes to mind at the mention of AI is robots…well, we might be missing the point. Artificial intelligence is vast and poses several benefits for businesses. While large companies like Amazon are implementing AI in drones used for deliveries (that might take a while to be accepted in Africa), the best use of AI in business is for all things automation. From Robotics process automation (RPA), to data analytics and automated business processes with blockchain technology, AI can transform the way a business operates by 360°. For instance, RPA uses software robots to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks so that employees can focus on more productive tasks.
- Cyber security
Security is an even bigger issue due to technological advancements (yes, problems seem to have no end). Research by IT and Consulting firm, Serianu, showed that African businesses lost $3.5 billion due to cyberattacks in 2019. This was up from $2 billion in the previous year. Yet, over 90% of public and private companies in Africa allocated less than $1,500 to cybersecurity. Need I say more? Perhaps I shall.
A report by Deloitte on Nigeria’s cybersecurity asserted that SMEs are the most targeted by cyberattackers due to their unpreparedness. In addition, a recent survey revealed that Nigerian companies had the second highest cyberattacks globally in 2020. It is clear that more businesses in Africa need to employ cybersecurity meav sures such as facial recognition, training employees to spot malware and phishing, or hiring an IT expert. Simply put, the cost of cyberattacks far outweighs the cost of prevention.
- Financial software
It’s 2021 (let’s not talk about Covid and going cashless), more entrepreneurs should be implementing accounting software to manage business finances. Similarly, online invoicing isn’t a bad thing to master. Employing such software will not only automate and streamline financial tasks for entrepreneurs, but it is also an effective way to keep financial records safe and even backed up to the cloud if desired. Plus, financial statements and reports are more accurate and reliable if they’re done by software rather than manually.
- Tech-driven Customer Service
According to data from Harvard Business Review, the best time to respond to an enquiry is in less than 5 minutes. One very rich guy (you know, Warren Buffet) once said that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and just 5 minutes to destroy it. And so it is with business. Entrepreneurs may be undermining the cost of poor customer service for their business. In Nigeria, for instance, bad customer service is so common in certain industries (I won’t mention names but perhaps the banking industry came to mind?). With more businesses in Africa moving online, the need for quick but personalized customer care cannot be overemphasized. Long wait times, dissatisfaction and failed expectations are some of the biggest issues facing customers. Thus, chatbots handling certain customer service tasks may need to be taken more seriously by entrepreneurs. However, personalized customer experience should not be undermined, hence virtual assistants are an extremely important option to incorporate as well. For one, they can be available at all hours of the day since they work remotely from various locations (of course, this implies hiring more than one if need be).
The virtual assistant industry is not widely adopted in Africa as it is globally, however, hiring one can save entrepreneurs bad publicity as virtual assistants are often well-trained on customer service, paid by the hour, (and less likely to disgrace your business).
What Is To Come?
From the points above, there is no doubt that entrepreneurs across the African continent are attempting to keep up with the latest tech trends. With the rising use of social media, digital software and marketing, as well as communication technology, entrepreneurs do not want to be left behind in the global digital transformation. So yes, businesses have come a long way from how they used to operate, but in this fast-paced world, there is always (fat) room for improvement. Significant gaps still exist between African businesses and the optimization of technology, but there is hope for entrepreneurs willing to explore existing tech advancements that are too easily overlooked.
[Edited and reviewed by Damilola Bode-Harrison]