Today’s mandatory remote working situation in response to the COVID-19 situation has changed the way we live, work, play and learn. Businesses, especially small and medium businesses (SMBs) are challenged to minimize disruption to operations while continuing business-critical activities.

The challenges arising from the current global situation has manifested in different ways for various industries. The hospitality sector has been hit the hardest as flights are grounded, hotels emptied, and attractions closed. Food and beverage outlets are not spared either, as restrictions keep communities indoors. Educational institutions also contend with their unique challenges like keeping entire classes engaged through video conference. Coupled with ensuring platforms are safe for students, teaching has become a lot more complex overnight.

Despite the extenuating circumstances, businesses have attained some kind of normalcy, albeit digitally. The success of their digital transition requires careful attention to a host of arrangements – from utilizing the right collaboration tools to maintaining stable networks.

As businesses face these challenges, it is unsurprising that SMBs may find themselves –working towards digital transformation. With less financial resources and maturity along their digitalization journey, SMBs may not be as prepared for the current climate of change. The shift to digital has grown significantly over the past few years and has radically increased since the pandemic. The situation today accelerates their journeys by forcing them to go digital. Even as SMBs have no choice but to move online, there are some key considerations they must address as they undertake this shift. Prioritize security

We’ve said this before, and we’ll continue to repeat – security is key. Regardless of business size, data is any organization’s crown jewel. And as businesses go digital, this reliance on data will only increase, as will dependence on cloud environments for processing and storage. We’ve found that SMBs are as vulnerable as their enterprise counterparts – according to our Big Security in a Small Business World report, they faced as much downtime and public scrutiny from cybersecurity incidents as large businesses.

As the present situation moves teams online, remote working spells exponential growth in the number of devices accessing and connecting to your systems and networks. This presents cybercriminals with new opportunities and entryways, possibly making businesses more susceptible to attacks. Already, the education sector has experienced security issues with videoconferencing platforms and is facing intense pressure to ensure students are safe. SMBs can refer to resources such as Talos to update themselves on the latest threats across the web, cloud environments and email.

Using SaaS offerings for remote work

Making the transition online may sound simple in theory but is actually highly complex in practice. Enabling your employees to effectively work from home entails installing and setting up a whole plethora of platforms and systems. Keeping your teams up to date on multiple workstreams and maintaining productivity are huge challenges, but none that can’t be addressed by technology.

Although steep prices once hindered SMBs from using some of this software, many companies are now offering these on as-a-service model, allowing smaller businesses to enjoy cost-savings by paying only for services they use while enjoying the scalability and flexibility of these offerings. Businesses operating in the F&B and hospitality sector have turned to such platforms to continue functioning – using tools for rostering of staff or inventory management. Even better, these often come with system maintenance and customer service to support and address any technical issues SMBs run into. Doing research will help SMBs pick the right vendor that will take care of the granular tasks like troubleshooting and maintenance, while SMBs focus on maximizing productivity.

Choosing network infrastructure that ensures stable connections

Depending on their priorities and needs, on-premise and cloud-based solutions present different advantages and disadvantages to SMBs when storing their data. For instance, cloud systems are easily scalable and operate as a pay as you go service, allowing smaller businesses to enjoy cost-savings during lull periods. But organizations using on-premise solutions risk incurring unnecessary expenditure from excess IT infrastructure. And while on-premise solutions are thought to be more secure than cloud environments, these usually require heavy upfront investment and a dedicated team with the right expertise, resources that not all SMBs have.

The chosen infrastructure should provide stable and secure internet access to minimize IT issues and technical disruptions that can severely impact productivity for both employees and IT support departments who are now all working remotely.

Cisco’s Meraki devices are designed to provide cloud-based IT management that allow IT managers to maintain visibility and monitor networks for potential interferences. With Meraki tools, IT managers can also maintain service continuity with cellular backup or conveniently perform remote troubleshooting of employee connectivity and applications. We can even pre-configure them before delivery, saving precious time and with minimal training needed, Meraki devices and tools are perfect for lean IT teams.

Ultimately, there is no one-size fits all solution and the decision needs to be made based on business needs. Businesses in healthcare and logistics are at a tipping point now – where shoddy infrastructure and patchy connections could jeopardise lives and disrupt supply chains for essential goods. These sectors need to look long and hard at their existing technology stack to determine what would best suit their needs while optimally serving their stakeholders.

Just keep moving

Cisco stands alongside SMBs during this challenging period. SMBs have many pertinent issues to worry about and the technology they’re depending on for business continuity should not be one of them. Technology firms should ensure that tech meets their needs, is simple to use and deploy and also cost-effective. With one less thing to worry about, SMBs can focus on maintaining operations during this period – something that could very well make the difference between an organization’s survival and demise. While there are many aspects to consider when going digital, security should be a red thread across each aspect given 81% of breaches involve compromised credentials – incidents that can be avoided by installing user authentication software.

We know it may seem complex and overwhelming for an SMB to address the multitude of security concerns. As such, Cisco’s Security Scale Play is designed to help small businesses easily strengthen their defences. In light of the current situation, Cisco is offering extended free trials for some of our security tools, including web-based threat protection platform Umbrella, multi-factor user authentication tool Duo and Advanced Malware Protection. From malware protection to next-generation firewalls, the free trials of these scalable platforms allow SMBs to experience easy, economical and effective protection of their systems and data, making sure their passage from real world to virtual is a safe one and equip them with the information they need to make an informed decision further down the line.