Cisco Managing Director Commercial & Small Business APJC Bidhan Roy says it is critical for SMEs to take a longer term view of their overall IT strategy instead of incremental, knee-jerk changes in order to reap the full benefits of digitalization.
By Bidhan Roy
The challenges of 2020 have dramatically transformed our lives as we know it – businesses across the globe have had to race to adapt to new challenges and uncertainties amid the transition to a hybrid future of work.
As we embark on the new year, this is a timely opportunity to reflect on key digitalization observations and shifting IT priorities among SMEs to prepare for a digital-first environment in the year ahead.
At the peak of it all, businesses large and small alike were forced to make the sudden shift to remote working in order to keep their employees safe. While larger enterprises may have more resources at their disposal to be technologically prepared for such a transition, what we’ve seen is that smaller organizations can be very nimble when adapting to new ways of working with 55% of small businesses and 54% of medium businesses across APAC having more than half of their workforce working remotely at the height of the pandemic, a jump from just 18% and 20% respectively during pre-pandemic times.
These figures come from Cisco’s global survey titled Future of Secure Remote Work, of which 1,900 respondents are from across 13 markets in Asia Pacific, Japan and China, and included over 800 respondents from either small (1-249 employees) or medium enterprises (250-999 employees).
We asked the respondents how prepared they were to support the transition to remote work, and 57% of small businesses and 54% of medium enterprises were only somewhat prepared at the outset of the pandemic, while 8% of small businesses and 6% of medium enterprises indicated that they were not prepared.
These findings were consistent with those from the large enterprises, which shows that SMEs were not necessarily left behind in this transition to a hybrid future of work, and it highlighted just how far organizations of all sizes still needed to go in their journeys.
With the abrupt shift to remote working, it is no surprise that businesses of all sizes saw an increase in cyber risks as malicious actors attempted to exploit potential vulnerabilities in IT infrastructures as more users accessed corporate resources remotely.
Across the globe, the APAC region had the largest proportion of organizations that experienced a jump of 25% or more in cyber threats or alerts (69%), as compared to the global average (61%).
SMEs were not spared; 62% of small businesses and 75% of medium enterprises reported an increase of 25% or more in cyber threats or alerts since the start of the pandemic. The top cybersecurity challenge faced by SMEs was secure access (64% small businesses, 64% medium enterprises). Other concerns included data privacy (57% small businesses, 59% medium enterprises), and protection against malware (51% small businesses, 54% medium enterprises).
Faced with a surge in cyber risks, businesses globally are increasingly viewing cybersecurity as a top priority in their business planning and strategy.
That said, while most SMEs in APAC are planning to invest more heavily in a robust cybersecurity infrastructure post-COVID (64% small businesses, 72% medium enterprises), our findings suggest that out of all organization sizes, small businesses were the least likely to increase future cybersecurity investments (23%), as compared to medium (13%) and large enterprises (15%).
In addition, the cybersecurity policy changes to support a distributed workforce during the pandemic are not necessarily perceived as permanent changes among the region’s SMEs. Only 35% of small businesses and 39% of medium enterprises reported that they would keep more than 30% of these protocol changes in the long-term, as compared to 51% of large organizations.
Similar to large organizations, the barrier that many SMEs face in building a strong cybersecurity culture likely arises from the lack of awareness and understanding.
More than half of the SMEs we surveyed cited lack of employee awareness and having too many tools to manage as challenges they faced in reinforcing cybersecurity protocols. Evidently, more needs to be done to educate and inform at both the individual and organization-wide levels, and this is a goal that companies of all sizes should work towards as they develop their long-term cybersecurity strategy.
As APAC companies continue to transform and reinvent their businesses, it is an opportune time for SMEs to re-evaluate their business goals and technological capabilities in order to stay relevant and resilient today and in the future.
With 32% of small businesses and 36% of medium businesses in APAC expecting this hybrid working arrangement to continue post-COVID, digitalization efforts will be the key to SMEs’ success in the long-term.
Contrary to popular opinion, SMEs are not far behind the larger enterprises when it comes to adapting to new challenges and risks due to the pandemic. However, it is critical for SMEs to take a long-term view of their overall security and IT strategy instead of incremental, knee-jerk changes to reap the full benefits of digitalization, build business resilience, and scale. With their agility and tack for innovation, SMEs are well-poised to thrive in the new hybrid future of work.
(Ed. Featured image courtesy of Snapwire.)