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South African SMEs embrace digitalisation: 47% say that digital engagement with customers has improved

Published on 2021/01/18 by Sonia Navarrete

digitalisation of South African businesses

In just a matter of months, the C OVID -19 pandemic struck the world at the speed of light.  Most  b usinesses were n’t  prepared  and  were forced to adapt to extraordinary challenges in order to continue with business operations  – whilst battling to stay afloat.   In South Africa ,  many businesses have opted for mass work-from-home policies for their staff ,  as  businesses  navigate through  new ways of working  as a direct result of  the  pandemic.   

Digital transformation has become the enabler,  propelling businesses  into the future . T echnologies like  collaboration  and  online meeting software  have become a necessity through  the transition to digitally enable remote working .  The  acceleration saw a  broader impact on commercial use of technology, transforming everything from the way businesses interact with prospects and customers, to the internal processes  needed, not only to survive, but thrive as business enterprises.  

  A s we enter  2021 , it is vital  for  organisations  to  shift from using digital for disaster recovery, to a more considered application of technology that will drive business benefits post-pandemic.    

The digitalisation of South African SMEs

To assist businesses with ensuring their technology deployments deliver real commercial value,  GetApp  recently surveyed over   500   SME business leaders about their digitalisation and experiences in  accelerating transformation initiatives. The results suggest ed  a need to focus on planning for the long-term, as well as working with technology partners that can support this forward-thinking approach.   

61% of respondents cited social distancing as a driver for going online.

Despite the government’s decision to ban online shopping for all but essential purchases under Level 5 Lockdown, ecommerce has flourished with large numbers of consumers making online purchases for the first time. This indicates that these consumers were likely to increase their online spend in the future.  

Almost  half of South African businesses (46%) state that  the majority  of  their business has been conducted virtually since the start of the pandemic:   

businesses are conducted virtually since Covid-19

S outh Africa n businesses are seeing over  76 %  increase in  digital  traffic , whilst 18% have seen a decrease and  10 %  have had no change in the digital traffic. In addition to increased digital customer and prospect engagements,  businesses confirm that 38% of new traffic has originated in regions or countries where they had not previously operated in:   

new traffic from new regions

Just 11 days into 2021, South Africa was at its most devastating peak of the pandemic, and the new variant of the coronavirus seems to be  forcing the state back into harder lockdowns. It is becoming more crucial for businesses to adapt to digitisation and accelerate their transformation to maintain business services through the year. 

88% of business leaders surveyed believe that software purchases have enabled their businesses ability to survive

It has taken agility and innovation to  mitigate through this new world order,  create new revenue channels,  upskill  or reskill staff at this accelerated pace. All these, which were lingering issues pre-pandemic, have now been given the spotlight during C OVID -19.  

O ptimising digitisation strategy depends on first understanding over-arching business goals. For most of our respondents, these goals are relatively consistent throughout 2021. Across both the first financial quarter and  2021 as a whole, a  significant proportion identified retaining customers, increasing cash flow, cutting costs, finding new customers and retaining employees as their top five business goals for the year:  

short and long term business goals south african companies 2021

  88 %  of  business leaders  surveyed believe  t hat software purchases have enabled their businesses ability to survive:   

role of software for survival businesses

The survey also looked at the success of businesses in engaging with customers in digital environments, such as social media and the business website.   

The most positive response with   47% shared that a digital engagement with customers has been very much of a success;   whi le  it   has fairly   been  successful for  40%  respondents,  almost three quarters (11%) of respondents said the digital engagement with customers is a minimal success.  However,   customer digital engagements are not at all successful for  2 % of respondents. Any shift that was unplanned always comes with challenges ,  and as such, businesses have experienced  moderately challenging  aspects  in converting their businesses digitally ,  converting the in-person services provided to be online (e.g., teaching classes online)  had the highest respondents   with 43 %  This is followed by 41% of respondents who said shifting from in-person meetings to virtual ones is also moderately challenging.   

In order to drive support in the digital shift , the survey asked the respondents which other emerging technologies could be valuable to their businesses  as well as to drive the success of their business digital transformation;  and  58% believe that Internet of things (IoT) connectivity   could be beneficial to their business, followed by 5 8 % who believed in  Big data analytics to a range of 49% – 4 6 % of respondents who believed that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning as well as Cloud-based data storage would be valuable to their business leaving  10% who  believe that  Blockchain could also be valuable to their businesses.   

The respondents also shared further operational changes they have considered or implemented because of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements as well as the areas of their business where  they plan  to invest the most in digitisation in 2021.   

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Survey methodology 

Data for this study was collected in December 2020 from an online survey of 500 respondents that live in the South Africa. 

To participate on the survey, respondents had to be: 

  • Employed full-time in one of the following roles: 
  • Owner, founder or other head of an organisation 
  • C-Suite executive e.g. CEO, CIO 
  • President of Vice-president  
  • Director 
  • Manager 
  • Working for a company of up to 250 people 
  • Working at the organisation during the COVID-19 pandemic

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Sonia is a Senior Content Analyst, helping SMEs choose the best software. She published in Raconteur, Computer Weekly and IT Pro. Journalist and PR. Nature, bike and dog lover.

Sonia is a Senior Content Analyst, helping SMEs choose the best software. She published in Raconteur, Computer Weekly and IT Pro. Journalist and PR. Nature, bike and dog lover.