SMEs – ready for the digital norm

We started engaging digitally, attended virtual courses, studied online and worked on strategies at home. Since the pandemic, the digital possibilities have increased exponentially. But that’s not all: we’re also going more digital ourselves, and – let’s be honest – we’ve also grown quite used to it. Roger Keller, Head of SMEs at Swisscom, is convinced that this new normality brings opportunities for SMEs in particular – but it also needs the right IT security.

Portrait Roger Keller

Roger Keller, as Head of SMEs, you deal with the challenges and requirements of small and medium-sized companies in Switzerland on a daily basis. For many companies, the last few months have been incredibly difficult. With the abolition of the certificate requirement and the work-from-home recommendation, many sectors breathed a sigh of relief. So what is happening now? Is everything getting back to normal or has the pandemic permanently changed the SME market?

Keller: As the SME market is extremely heterogeneous, there is no universal answer. However, we do know that many SMEs are more digital today than ever before. The pandemic has triggered a real push towards digitisation. Since the first lockdown, for example, we have equipped thousands of SMEs with webshops, fitted out thousands of SME employees to work from home and digitally upgraded many SMEs. We would hope that these digital achievements continue as far as possible because they are even more essential for SMEs to remain competitive.

What do you mean?

Demands have changed a lot in the last few months. After two years of pandemic, customers have become used to doing lots of things easily online. If you can’t be found on the net, you don’t exist. And if your website does not live up to expectations, it's just one click to the next. Society has matured digitally across all age groups: even grandma and grandpa can now use WhatsApp. And employers who insist on sending staff back to the office permanently will find it increasingly difficult to position themselves attractively on the market.

“Employers who insist on sending staff back to the office permanently will find it increasingly difficult to position themselves attractively on the market.”

So, has digitisation become even more important in the SME environment?

Keller: Digitisation has been an important topic in the SME market for a long time. The pandemic has only accelerated the process and increased the pressure. Digitisation is opening up great opportunities for SMEs in particular, as many businesses are still in their infancy. A lot can be achieved, even with small steps – such as the automation of reservation processes or digital goods management.

Hacker attacks on SMEs have increased, especially since the pandemic. Is this due to the digitisation push?

Keller: An infected e-mail attachment can be all it takes to become a victim of a ransomware attack. Several such cases have become public in recent months. The attackers encrypt the data and demand a ransom to release the data again. We all know that e-mail has been around for a long time. The increase in attacks is therefore more due to the professionalism of the hackers. However, as more and more data and processes are handled digitally, even in SMEs, the potential impact is greater. On the whole, SMEs are lucrative targets. Unfortunately, they are also usually easy to attack. Whether it’s a bakery, a trust office or a start-up – every company, no matter how small, can fall victim to a cyber attack, and it’s important to be aware of this.

“On the whole, SMEs are lucrative targets. Unfortunately, they are also usually easy to attack.”

Is there still a lack of awareness around this?

Keller: There is certainly still room for improvement. However, I would argue that a lot has happened in the last few months, partly due to the increased focus on the issue in the media. IT security was therefore at the top of the agenda for the majority of SMEs in 2021*1. I was also encouraged by the findings of a recent customer survey. Alongside mobile working and the cloud, IT security is one of the top issues that our SME customers will be specifically dealing with this year*2.

“IT security is one of the top issues that SMEs will be specifically dealing with in 2022.*2

However, recent studies show that IT security and compliance in particular are actually among the most difficult tasks for IT departments in SMEs*3 How can SMEs take advantage of the opportunities offered by digitisation without being targeted by hackers?

Keller: Digitisation and protection go hand in hand. Cyber security is more important than ever in digitised SMEs. Although there is no such thing as 100% security, every SME should deal with the risks of a possible attack – no matter how small – and identify possible security gaps, e.g. as part of an assessment. This also includes regular training of employees and making them aware of the dangers from the Internet – because ransomware attacks on SMEs are particularly popular. SMEs that address their digital security at an early stage are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities of a significantly more digital normality.

*1 MSM, IT Market Briefing, Autumn Update 2021 – Swiss SMEs // IDC Swiss IT Study 2021
*2 Customer Survey Swisscom, 2021
*3 IDC, Swiss IT Study 2021

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