SMEs: Harnessing Digital Innovation for Service Delivery
By Inyene Ibanga
The reality of today confirms that most, if not all, human endeavours would never return to the usual normal after the disruption unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic across the entire globe. All aspects of human activities are reeling from the the blow dealt them by the crisis.
In fact, many economies are struggling to survive as a result of the devastation that the new second wave of COVID-19 is inflicting on a daily basis. This makes it a further imperative for businesses to adjust their operations along the line of the new normal by embracing emerging technologies.
Sectors that have been worse hit are health, education, transportation, tourism and, of course, international trade, with resultant massive job cuts to enable operators remain afloat.
Currently, most developing countries are deploying technology to enable them maintain essential services and keep companies in business. Artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies are boosting income and employment opportunities, both in advanced and developing economies.
To thrive within the frame of the current global adversity, many countries are rapidly deploying innovative technologies to keep their economies running now and this would only deepen when the COVID-19 crisis eventually blows over.
Nigeria, blessed with abundant human and material resources, cannot afford to do otherwise. It is important for businesses, especially small ones, to adapt to the prevailing reality in which digitisation and innovation are key to survival in the new normal.
As such, Nigeria has to formulate creative approaches to empower and encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to leverage emerging technologies tailored to their specific areas of operation.
Therefore, every economy, no matter its level of development, is left with no other option than the effective utilisation of digital technology to move forward.
SMEs are small and medium companies that employ between 11 and 250 people and have assets in the range of N5 million and N500 million.
Nigeria’s economic space is dominated by SMEs, which outnumber large companies and employ many more people, as they account for about 84 of every 100 jobs in the country. It is believed that over 80 per cent of all the companies in the country are businesses with less than 50 employees.
As engine room for the country’s economic development, SMEs traverse various sectors/industries such as agriculture and food; manufacturing; services; fashion; media and entertainment; beauty and wellness, among others.
Although SMEs are small companies, they are playing a significant role in economic activities in Nigeria. They contribute large outputs of goods and services, create jobs, generate income and expand the pool of entrepreneurial and management talent in the country.
Invariably, these contributions translate into more employment and, by extension, boost the social and economic prosperity of the people.
Small enterprises are dynamic and open to new ideas, innovations, and efficiency, while enabling competition, which impacts on the people within their immediate environments or locations, and provide opportunities for adapting appropriate emerging technologies.
For SMEs to sustainably leverage technology and grow, stakeholders must play their roles in nurturing the entrepreneurship ecosystem spanning the rural and urban areas.
Policymakers, after consultation with the private sector, are expected to formulate growth-enhancing policies to improve the digital infrastructure; agriculture; health and education services; corporate governance practices for growth of the SMEs to mitigate the effect of the pandemic and promote innovation.
Government should provide grants, loans, subsidies and other direct financial support to small businesses exclusively for the adoption of innovative technologies to facilitate remote work, online sales or cashless payment and other online business processes.
Relevant agencies of government can help SMEs transit to emerging or new technologies when they collaborate with private companies to provide free online training courses and materials. Such platforms would enable SMEs to stay productive, expand sales channels, and ensure safer working conditions for employees.
Thus, the continuous education of entrepreneurs should be one of the top priorities of government, to enhance further digitisation of small business operations.
The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) needs to strategise with the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), and the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), and guide SMEs to adopt only relevant technologies.
It is important for NITDA to provide regular cybersecurity training to help small and medium enterprises tackle rising cyber risks. Employees would be educated on common threats to their organisation’s cybersecurity and best practices, as they do remote work in the midst of the pandemic.
As usual, NITDA must demonstrate its resolute commitment to drive the digital economy by facilitating knowledge acquisition opportunities for SME operators to access IT training on the basis of global standards.
Lest I forget, what efforts are the authorities making to reduce the high cost of internet services in Nigeria?
I am confident that a reduction in the high cost of internet services would be a huge incentive for more small business ventures to harness the benefits of adopting relevant, customer-friendly, innovative technologies.
Inyene Ibanga writes from Wuye District, Abuja.