According to the Quantum Leap Report from Virgin Money, two in five SMEs (39 per cent) plan to utilise data science technologies to bolster business operations, while almost a third (31 per cent) are looking to deploy AI, and over a quarter (26 per cent) anticipate using virtual reality.
While SMEs are aware of the rapid growth required for the future, 39 per cent believe a lack of time has prevented possible exploration of new tech, and 30 per cent attributed a lack of money at the company’s disposal.
“Our research reveals that SMEs are busy and have a lack of time to invest, so they want a partner who can help them access financial information and solutions quickly and efficiently to help their future growth,” said Kash Ahmad, head of business banking at Virgin Money.
Delving deeper into how various technologies are driving value for SMEs, Virgin Money spoke with business owners from across the UK about their experiences.
VR for clothing manufacturing
In the clothing manufacturing space, valuable technologies include virtual reality for design, website capabilities and broadband.
Hawthorn, for example, has adopted 3D clothing design that help manufacturers easier perfect fits and fabrics that will be used, before garments start being physically produced.
“This is very beneficial in terms of virtual prototyping, and allows us and our customers to save time and money by only producing physical samples when we’re confident in the design,” said Rob Williams, director at Hawthorn.
“Streamlining processes like this makes us far more efficient as a business and is proving itself to be an invaluable tool in exceeding the expectations of our customers.
“Virtual reality and digital fashion are things that are going to make a great impact soon, and offer huge benefits to clothing brands, manufacturers and retailers. VR is already starting to come onto the scene in the world of fashion — think of trying sunglasses on before you buy, for example. VR gives the consumer a better service, allowing them to see how an item would look on them before making a purchase.”
Web capabilities and broadband
Meanwhile, The Warm Welly Company has hugely benefitted from strong broadband as a rural based company, and has been setting its website up for online orders, as well as bolstering its accounting.
The company’s founder, Simon Wood, commented: “Technology has allowed us to vastly improve our website since we started the business in 2012. Our website was very basic to begin with and was essentially just an order taking platform. Now the site has better accessibility and is linked to our banking, Quickbooks accounting, Facebook and Google for marketing, and Royal Mail for dispatch.
“As we operate in a rural area, the most important technology for us is quite simple- fast and reliable wireless broadband. We’re too far from our nearest fibre hub to get good cable broadband and without a decent connection we can’t operate.
“In the future, we’re hoping to introduce technology to improve our tracking of customers and visitors to the website, which will help us to understand their journey better and increase sales conversions. If money were no object, we’d also like to implement better barcode technology to improve stock control.”
The hospitality industry, the capacities of which have been especially stretched since the pandemic, has found new technologies to be critical to business.
“We’ve created a pioneering system that supports the brand’s warm and friendly vibe, offering innovative tech without removing the human element. The result is an integrated ecosystem that is guest-focused, easy to train staff on, data-driven and operationally seamless whilst resilient and commercially affordable as Mollie’s scales its business,” said Darren Sweetland, managing director at Mollie’s Motel & Diner.
“As our brand and footprint continues to grow, we will continue to innovate and invest in the optimal technology to create the perfect guest experience. Continuing to give the guest choice, for example, self service, some people love checking in and moving through the whole guest journey without interacting with our team members, whereas others like to stop and chat with our team about the area — choice has been one of the most important guest satisfaction factors in the business growing.”
Virgin Money recently predicted that SMEs will be run by avatars in time for 2050.