Now in its fourth year, cloud-based accounting software company Xero, has released its latest report looking at the trends for South African SMEs.

Conducted in partnership with World Wide Worx (WWW), the report surveyed 400 small business owners and 200 accountants locally, focusing primarily on what they need from a support perspective, as well as what their progress in digital adoption is.

Some of the findings in the report make for interesting reading, especially so given what South African SMEs have had to contend with during the pandemic, lockdown and struggling economy.

The most attention-grabbing statistic from the report, is that 67 percent of small business struggle to find the right talent when it comes to new technologies. Curiously, despite the failure to find the best possible people for a role, only 14 percent signalled an intent to upskill their workforce.

“It’s great to see small businesses embracing digital tools, but investing in technology is only the first step.  Many small businesses don’t yet have the skills to match. We need a greater focus from government and technology firms on closing this gap, and helping small businesses develop the right skills to build back faster and stronger from this crisis,” notes Colin Timmis, country manager for Xero SA.

Added to this, and perhaps unsurprisingly, 61 percent have adopted cloud-based accounting this year, up from only 13 percent back in 2017. As such, it is great news for Xero, given that’s the space it plays in.

“If you are struggling to hire external talent, focus on upskilling tech champions in your current teams. Even if your budget is modest, look at what skills you currently have in your organisation that can be built on, make use of free online training and ask for help. For example, your accountant will be able to advise on digitising finances and talk to other business owners who’ve implemented new tech recently,” he advises.

When digging deeper into the skills gaps that many SMEs cited in their teams, the following were outlined by those surveyed:

  • Cloud Computing – 39 percent.
  • Programming and app development – 33 percent.
  • Digital product management -12 percent.
  • Digital project management -10 percent.
  • Digital design – 9 percent.

As far as trying to address and close the aforementioned skills gaps, 55 percent of respondents said that they had invested in improving cloud and tech skills over the last year.

With the impact of the pandemic yet to be fully tallied, Xero’s report for 2021, should also make for interesting reading.

“The research shows quite clearly that all businesses are becoming, to a greater or lesser extent, technology-driven. The cloud is now at the heart of almost every business, which explains why cloud computing skills represent the single biggest skills gap across all SMEs,” adds Arthur Goldstuck, technology analyst and founder of WWW.

“We’ve already seen more than half of SMEs investing in cloud and tech skills. With the digital revolution that occurred as a result of Covid-19 and remote working, this trend will only accelerate,” he concludes.

[Image – Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash]