Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) often rely on retail outlets for their day-to-day technology needs, whether for computers, software, telephony or mobile capabilities.
The technology needs of this sector, which according to Incredible Connections CEO, Dave Miller, are growing considerably in South Africa, are however as critical as those of their larger counterparts.
Incredible Connections CEO, Dave Miller
"While smaller businesses have different needs in terms of networking, servers or Microsoft licensing, for example, the size of the business does not influence the vital role technology plays in meeting operational needs. In fact, the smaller the business, the less likely it is to have adequate redundancy built into the infrastructure or hardware itself," he says.
For many small businesses, speed of delivery can make a difference in a competitive market, where large and small businesses often compete for the same contracts. Many smaller organisations are finding they have to change the way they do business by being able to generate quotations at a client site or provide information on the fly.
This has resulted in the increased uptake of broadband wireless technologies such as 3G and HSDPA for mobile Internet access and e-mail. Notebook sales also attest to this reality, as they currently outstrip desktop sales worldwide.
As technology requirements grow, and SMEs discover the importance of being able to work on the move, they also have to be on par with larger organisations in terms of IT support and maintenance.
"SMEs have certainly fallen short in terms of their options for after-sales service and support. While retailers might offer a national footprint, limited after-sales service and warrantees, it is simply no longer feasible to expect users to bring equipment in, without any clear indication of when they might get it back," says Miller.
This is no longer realistic for smaller businesses whose environments are becoming increasingly mission-critical. Incredible Connection, for example, has recently undertaken contractual agreements with its vendors to guarantee customers a turn-around of 10 days on equipment repairs. "We have more in the pipeline to ensure SME customers can buy technology from our outlets with increased confidence that their best interests are heeded," Miller says.
While ongoing support is typically provided to SMEs by third parties, often high costs can be incurred, and the user might still need to return faulty equipment to the retailer they bought it from.
SMEs that make their IT purchases from retailers have traditionally been constrained by these dilemmas. "Retailers can offer assistance in terms of IT knowledge and advice to ensure small businesses make the best purchasing decision. The ability to service the need for specialised software support and on-site repair services, however, is the next logical step to ensure SMEs are not without their technology for any period of time," Miller concludes.