One Year Later: The Impact of the Pandemic on Small Business Digital Transformation

February 24, 2021
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The pandemic is very likely the biggest challenge that many small business owners have ever faced, fundamentally changing the way nearly every type of business runs on a day-to-day basis. Now, a year after the onset of the crisis, new business dynamics have come into stark relief – and although plenty of challenges persist, there’s also opportunity for small businesses. Faced with unprecedented adversity, small business owners across the country pivoted fast, shifting digital transformation into high gear and reimagining nearly every type of business process to meet a set of new requirements.

In short, small businesses have been rethinking everything. According to a survey conducted by Comcast Business, 46% said they’ve changed how they do business, 50% have changed how they interact with customers, and 45% have changed how they collaborate and communicate. As a result, an incredible 87% say they feel more prepared than ever for what the future holds in store.

The ways in which small businesses pivoted in the last year can tell us a lot: not only about the progress that’s already been made, but what it means to be digitally enabled going forward.

Security

60%

of small businesses will switch from reactive to proactive cybersecurity policies and approaches by 2024.

Source: IDC

The widespread pivot to remote work opened up new security vulnerabilities, and the addition of new tools across all corners of the business created a host of new security considerations.

Among the highest priorities for IT investment among small businesses during the pandemic, according to Independence Research’s Small Business Internet Survey Analysis, were security tools, with 48% of small businesses with 25 or more employees investing in new security solutions. Among businesses with 25 or fewer employees, that rate of investment dropped to 20%, showing that security gaps still exist for many of the smallest businesses, even a year later.

IDC reported that Internet security was the strategic investment that most small business owners listed as their highest priority. 38% of small business owners said they plan to invest further in security tools and solutions in the next year.

Remote work

30%

Amount of workforce small business owners expect to remain remote after the pandemic ends.

Source: IDC

While small businesses reported that 22% of their workforce was remote before the pandemic, the rate of remote work more than doubled once the pandemic hit, according to Independence Research. Small businesses now report that 59% of their workforce is remote. After the pandemic, we’ll see a return to in-person work, but things aren’t expected to snap back to pre-pandemic levels.

According to Independence Research, videoconferencing and collaboration tools were the IT purchases that most small businesses reported making as a result of the pandemic. In fact, 60% of small businesses with 25 or more employees said they made or are planning to make new investments there as a result of the pandemic. Videoconferencing has also ushered in another new need: symmetric bandwidth. 52% of all small businesses said they were interested in broadband speed that uploads as fast as it downloads.

Ecommerce

Before the pandemic, many small businesses were already engaged in hybrid sales models. Even those who had begun as strictly brick-and-mortar operations were standing up ecommerce capabilities to compete with traditional online retailers, as well as to improve the experience for customers, who’ve grown accustomed to the ease of buying online. The pandemic sent that trend into hyperdrive, making ecommerce a make-or-break proposition for many retailers, restaurants, and other businesses.

Small businesses that stood up ecommerce capabilities since the beginning of the pandemic likely did so as a stopgap measure, hastily implementing quick-fix solutions. We’ll continue to see maturation in the space, as small businesses find solutions that can scale with them and integrate smoothly with other tools.

The trend isn’t one that will abate once the pandemic is over. According to IDC, 70% of all small businesses will have digitized all the essential components of the customer buying journey by 2022, not even a year away.

Customer experience

Customer engagement has been redefined. Convenience and satisfaction have been joined by a new pillar of customer experience – contact-free, socially distanced transactions.

70%

of shopperss prefer contactless payments.

New customer journey pathways, often all happening in the digital realm, offer new opportunities for friction, and small businesses have had to take stock of interactions across the customer journey and optimize in ways they previously didn’t need to worry about.

Aside from strictly digital channels, reachability, especially in times of uncertainty, is paramount.

40% of small businesses with 25 employees or more reported updating VoIP features like auto attendants, call control, voicemail to email, and more, according to Independence Research. 15% of businesses smaller than 25 employees reported making similar upgrades.

Agility

The new ways of doing business demand more agility and flexibility from a network foundation. More than half of small businesses with 25 or more employees said they needed to upgrade Internet speed and bandwidth, according to Independence Research, although the smallest businesses, those with 25 or fewer employees, didn’t have needs quite as urgent – 17% reported Internet upgrades.

In a distributed environment, small businesses also reported a greater need for back-up and redundancy. 32% of small businesses invested in Internet back-up solutions during the pandemic, according to Independence Research. Despite recognizing the need, many smaller businesses (42% of SMBs with 25 or fewer employees) still don’t have the back-up they need.

The role of the publicly available cloud providers will continue to grow for SMBs in the years to come, as anywhere-access to data and applications becomes essential. Even before the pandemic, 45% of small businesses were using public cloud providers, according to IDC. Additionally, 35% have plans to increase their adoption of public cloud providers in the next 12-24 months.

Comcast Business has the technology solutions you need to help you continue your small business digital transformation this year and beyond. Learn how we can help with the latest voice, communications, security, cloud, and Internet tools. See more at business.comcast.com.

The pandemic has redefined what it means to be digitally enabled as a small business.

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