South Africa is about to reach a crucial moment in the evolution of the Internet. Not only is Internet access becoming more affordable, it is also becoming more accessible as people from a variety of economic backgrounds are increasingly accessing the Internet using their mobile phones.
“This will have a profound effect on how businesses provide information and services to a growing online savvy user base,” says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx.
Goldstuck, principal analyst for the annual SME Survey in South Africa, points to a coming watershed that will make it all the more crucial for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to have an effective online presence.
“More than ever, the sustainability and competitiveness of SMEs in South Africa has become a critical component in an economy struggling to create jobs,” says Goldstuck. “It is therefore vital to determine those factors that will ensure that SMEs are able to make an effective contribution to job creation, while ensuring their own survival and prosperity.”
“Already, many consumers turn to browsers and search engines for assistance in finding the right product or service. This can be expected to increase exponentially as more people access the Internet on their phones. Therefore, those SMEs that are not online, or that have a limited or ineffective presence, could suffer,” he reiterates.
Goldstuck intends to put this hypothesis to the test in the 2011 SME Survey, which has contributed original groundbreaking research into the forces shaping small, medium and micro enterprises since 2003. This year, he says, the researchers are interviewing some 2,000 such companies about Internet adoption, the role an online presence plays in increasing their competitiveness; and how that in turn contributes to the economic success of South Africa as a whole.
Other research conducted by World Wide Worx has already pointed to 2013 as a crucial year; Goldstuck says he anticipates a massive intensification in the demand for online services and information. It is a turning point which this survey intends to identify and to some extent, quantify.
“This is borne out by statistics that show that an acceleration of Internet growth began in 2008. This resulted in the number of Internet users in South Africa rising by more than two million in the next two years, from 4.6-million to 6.8-million in 2010. Further, this means that by 2013, there will be 4.6 million experienced users on the Internet, and the experienced user base will see the same acceleration that the overall user base began to see five years earlier. This means that there will be a fast-rising expectation for businesses to be ready for online demand for their services,” he says.
Technology and connectivity have always shaped the SME Survey but the 2011 version is to be the most strongly Internet-oriented survey since the first iteration of the research in 2003.
“We are now going back to the core question that we originally asked: What’s the impact of IT on the competitiveness of the SME? Only this time, we are focusing specifically on the growing necessity for an online presence – whether that is having a basic website, using social networks or advertising online.”
Bearing in mind the importance of SMEs to the crucial macro issue of job creation, the results of this survey may be critical pointers as to how SMEs should conduct business in the future. “There is no doubt that successful small businesses are important to the larger national economy, and it would appear that the successful SMEs of the near future will be those that have an online presence,” concludes Goldstuck.