July 28, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe
Following our focus on the challenges small and medium-sized businesses face, this week we look at the opportunities presenting themselves to companies across the region. With so many smaller businesses in the Middle East, their success is important to the region.
Some good news is that SMBS are doing well all across the world. According to Jyoti Lalchandani of IDC, IT spending in the Middle East and Africa is expected rise by grow 26% until 2015, when they will be spending $91 billion annually between them, compared to $71 billion currently. He identified the growth driving four trends in the Middle East as “Cloud computing, mobility, big data and social technologies.”
Last year EMC reported strong double-digit growth in the region, and expect the same again. Much of this is down to a rise in cloud computing. Its flexibility, versatility and lost cost, not to mention space saving, make it attractive to businesses of all sizes. But most importantly it means smaller businesses have less constraints put on them on a more level playing field with bigger enterprises. I’m not going to go into the nitty-gritty details of what the cloud is, there are much cleverer people than me paid lots of money to explain what it at great lengths. But with the cloud comes other opportunities.
The cloud provides an opportunity to hold more data, and more data turns into big data. And with big data comes analytics. The more information you know about your customers, the more you can take advantage to make decisions. From what you advertise to what the next business step is, analytics are being touted as the upshot to the big data problem.
M, E and Social Commerce
While E-commerce is firmly established in many parts of the Western world, it’s only in the last year that the Middle East has started to catch up. While it’s still a relatively niche market, in the last year alone e-commerce has grown by 300% in the region. That’s a staggering rise. While cash-on delivery is still the most common form of payment, using cards and online-payments are on the rise. This boom is being helped by an increase in home-computers and social media, so making sure your business has a website and promotes itself on the web is now a necessity instead of an option. Social commerce is a great way to help in your promoting. Getting user-reviews of your products onto sites such as Amazon, connecting with your customers through mediums such as Twitter, and creating your own content to add value to your site all help drive business.
A natural extension is M-Commerce. Essentially E-Commerce on the go from mobiles and tablets, it encompasses buying through traditional sites, mobile banking and more recently, mobile wallets. Mobile numbers are growing fast and many consumers appear to have jumped straight from cash transactions to mobile payments without ever having used credit or debit cards. Having a mobile site/app may cost in the beginning, but the potential returns can be huge, and getting your business onto various local/hyper-local apps will inevitably drive business your way.
BYOD Split & Security
As a side note to mobility, with the growing trend for smartphones and tablets helping to drive budgets upwards, it’s worth deciding where you stand on BYOD, or bring-your-own-device. Spiceworks found that while 20% fully embrace the trend as the future, 35% concede that it works well for some devices, but not for others, 25% claim it is a headache for their IT department, and the remaining 20% have not yet formed an opinion. Deciding early what your policy is will help in the long run.
Though problems with limited access to finance and prohibitive legislation can’t really be solved, the issues the region faces with security also presents an opportunity for companies to step in and take advantage. Whether this is preventing hackers, blocking spam, or providing security solutions for the fledgling mobile & cloud systems, the opportunity is there for the taking. Meanwhile for businesses dealing with the public, especially in the hospitality sector, providing Wi-Fi is becoming essential, as a recent poll shows nearly half of people citing it a deal-breaker in where to stay.
The opportunities are definitely there for SMBs; the cloud and E/M-commerce especially. While problems with finance and legislation might make adopting them difficult, it is well worth the investment. It’s just up to the businesses to make the first move.