Sights like this might be more common as NZ SMEs consider closing more physical locations to pivot to online operations

Sights like this might be more common as NZ SMEs consider closing more physical locations to pivot to online operations. Source: AFP

Lockdown lessons – how NZ SMEs were transformed by tech in 2020

  • NZ SMEs can expect more remote working, increased virtual meetings, and reduced physical premises following its lockdown
  • Productivity and efficiency were bigger drivers of digital change than customer communications
  • Cloud computing, connectivity, and big data top the tech trends that SMEs expect to change their industry

New Zealand underwent a seven-week lockdown to successfully contain the coronavirus within its borders between March and May of this year. This brief period has radically changed the way small-medium enterprises (SMEs) in New Zealand do business, according to a new report from MYOB, as well as the behavior towards adopting tech-driven solutions to improve operational performance,

In fact, the implications of going digital were so profound that three in five Kiwi businesses (61%) say they will look for new opportunities to harness technology, directly as a result of their company’s experience with tech during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The MYOB Tech Report pointed out some of the major operational changes that SMEs are now considering to handle future uncertainties, supported by enterprise-grade tech: More than half of company decision makers said they will initiate flexible working hours for employees (56%), develop continuity planning measures (also 56%), study other tech that might contribute to business efficiency (55%), and purchase from local suppliers as opposed to international vendors (55%).

Digital innovations for the workplace is proving to be the catalyst prompting change in business operations post-lockdown, with 49% of local businesses saying employees will be able to work from home for at least part of the week moving forward, 43% planning to ramp up staff training on remote working technology, and 40% will continue using contact tracing technology to track customers and clients accessing their business premises.

Other tangible digital transformation decisions that emerged following the lockdown include 30% of SMEs now considering to reduce or shutter physical premises entirely in order to focus more on online sales (while 52% think that an e-commerce model does not apply to their industry, such as agriculture or construction). And a quarter of those surveyed (25%) intend to introduce more automated solutions to counter the dependence on a human workforce.

“As a result of the changes they’ve made to the way they work, SMEs are enjoying increased efficiency and productivity,” Ingrid Cronin-Knight, MYOB’s New Zealand country manager, was quoted as saying in the report. “That has led to a greater acceptance of what technology can do for their business, with over half of the respondents to our national survey saying they will look into new opportunities to use technology to help their business.”

Cronin-Knight highlighted how the swift onset of the pandemic meant that SMEs had limited time and limited options to work out their business operational response to the crisis, including critical decisions. In the end, nearly two thirds (62%) of Kiwi businesses opted for remote working arrangements, compared with 19% which did not operate during the lockdown window.

Despite the rapid shift towards work from home setups, 40% of SMEs reported they didn’t have tech-related issues whatsoever, but nearly a third (29%) claimed communicating adequately with customers was their biggest technological hurdle during lockdown. Slower internet connections at home was the second-biggest technical issue, with 22% saying accessing or using work tech was hampered while working remotely.

It appears NZ businesses were better suited to rapidly adopt tech-driven remote working strategies than many other APAC economies, easing the transition to a distributed workforce. Far and away, the most adopted digital tool was video calls, which really took off among SMEs with 78% admitting to using videoconferencing tools to communicate with remote staff. Larger enterprises especially, as 94% of organizations with 50 plus staff saying video calling was used for meetings.

Without a lockdown accelerating the technology take up, most SMEs surveyed are estimating they would spend around four to six months evaluating new technology before integrating it into their business, so the lockdown has really turned companies’ attentions towards the productivity and efficiency boosts that digital solutions can offer to both small and large businesses.

New Zealand companies will be looking to implement more digital solutions after this, with cloud computing (38%), better connectivity (34%), big data (21%), automation and robotics (17%), 3D printing (17%), and artificial intelligence (16%) expected to be the most likely technologies to bring significant change to their industries.