Sherifa Hady, EMEA Senior Channel Sales Director at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company disucsses how Technology can help cope with Covid-19 challenges.
How can technology help businesses entice customers back in the wake of COVID-19?
SMBs have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few months, with many businesses having to close. But as many shops and cafes begin to open again and consumers attempt to return to a state of normality, small business owners should look at this moment as an opportunity to reach new customers who might be looking more locally for goods and products, so they don’t have to travel as far.
Consumers will be acutely aware that many local businesses which they had previously taken for granted pre-COVID have either been forced to close or potentially are on the brink of closing, so will be actively looking to support businesses in any way they can now. To capitalise on this consumer goodwill, SMBs need to provide the best possible environment for consumers in order to increase the chances of repeat visits. Providing strong and consistent Wi-Fi for visitors is a major part of creating that positive experience. The best Wi-Fi experiences are the hassle-free ones. Those where you connect instantly and stay connected with no problems.
The general consumer would say that Wi-Fi connections are now an absolute necessity rather than an optional extra. This evolved demand is something that should be front of mind for any business no matter the size, as a poor wireless service can be detrimental for an organisation’s bottom line. Without a fast and stable connection, businesses are not only at risk of losing sales, but are also unable to grow and expand.
What type of Wi-Fi networks should small businesses be looking to implement
One of the biggest issues small business owners face when upgrading their technology is that they just don’t have the time or staff to constantly monitor and troubleshoot any issues that might arise. Unlike large enterprises, there isn’t an IT team on hand to fix or upgrade solutions while the rest of the staff run the business. With this in mind, the best type of network solution should be about simplicity – is it easy to set up? Is it reliable and enough to work without business owners having to constantly monitor it?
But being simple should not mean that you should sacrifice security. You should never have to substitute one for the other when searching for the right network infrastructure as that could lead to even bigger issues down the line, which SMBs can’t afford. Small businesses are seen as an easy target for cyber criminals due to their lack of network security. Research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in the UK showed that small businesses are collectively attacked 10,000 times a day. If you want to be able to grow your business, then you need to make sure your network infrastructure has built-in security features which are capable of protecting you against cyber-attacks.
Most SMB networks are traditional home network setups, which means that the best security owners can have is to make guests sign into the network using a password so they can monitor who is using it. However, business-grade networks can keep guest and business traffic separate, as well as making sure the right applications are prioritised. For instance, one portion of the network could be confined to administrative work with a higher priority, while another could be used for guest access with fare usage limits for everyone. All this will be monitored by the solution itself, which means that SMB owners can focus on what matters most to them – the consumers or clients. For many small business owners, the phrase ‘business-grade’ will suggest exorbitant costs. With business owners financially constrained in these current times, any type of financial investment must be weighed against the benefits they will provide the business. The price of business-grade Wi-Fi is continuing to decrease as greater innovations are made in the space, so make sure to shop around to find one that balances affordability with the quality needed to keep you protected. Getting this correct will be crucial to the success and growth of your business.
Can technology support small businesses as they attempt to maintain social distancing measures?
In order for your customers and employees to effectively social distance while still enjoying all the amenities on offer, you will need to ensure your network consistently covers all areas of your business. For employees, Wi-Fi is critical, as technology is woven into the everyday operations of most businesses. Fast, reliable connectivity is necessary to serve customers, whether it’s ringing up sales, answering questions or booking appointments. Meanwhile, despite customers needing to maintain a distance, they still will expect Wi-Fi access while they shop, eat or wait. But depending on the size of the building, you may have areas with limited or non-existent Wi-Fi coverage called “dead zones.” Anyone attempting to log on to the network in these zones will either not be able to or will experience connectivity issues. If customers are expected to social distance in a dead zone, there is a high likelihood they will either try to move and risk breaking social distancing or more likely leave the establishment.
In order to prevent these dead zones, you need to expand your network. Flexibility is key for SMBs to have the option of adding access points either using cable or mesh – with good practice being a balance between cable and mesh to ensure optimum performance and coverage. Mesh is the connection of two access points over Wi-Fi when it’s a nightmare to connect using a cable and this can help SMBs to connect outdoor areas that can be repurposed to increase customer capacity. This will be key for businesses which only have a small footprint, allowing them to expand out into the garden, pavement or street to increase capacity, and therefore revenue, without having to sacrifice the consumers’ ability to enjoy access to the internet. Another advantage is that you can simply add more Access Points as your business grows and manage them all using a smartphone or browser.
Another element for small business owners to think about is managing their technology across multiple locations, such as a small chain of cafes, with social distancing regulations in place. If you have multiple different networks running across each location, if an issue with the network occurs in one place then someone needs to visit that location to fix it. This not only puts yourself at greater risk of catching the virus, but you also risk spreading it across each location you visit. However, if you have invested in a network infrastructure that works across multiple estates then you may be able to monitor and troubleshoot network issues from one location using a management app.
If you are investing in a business-grade network, you should always check to see if you have the capability to manage all your access points and switches from anywhere via one application – this could be an app on your phone or via a browser. By managing all network devices via an app, small business owners can monitor the network set-up and traffic and adjust the configuration if needed, even if it is in a different location, whilst avoiding travel during the pandemic. Also, in the case of an access point experiencing an issue, look for a solution that allows other access points to take up the slack to enable the Wi-Fi to continue running efficiently, while alerting you on an app, so that customers and staff are not disrupted. This improves operational efficiencies for small business owners – being able to manage your network via your phone means you can focus on customer or employee experience and ensuring repeat visits.