THE cloud is a technology that many are interested in says Steve Nelson, operations director of Newcastle IT firm Calibre Secured Networks, but its growing adoption will be just one of several challenges facing SMEs in 2017.

Over the coming 12 months it’s vital that owner/managers have the necessary knowledge to be empowered and more efficient in their business to deliver customer satisfaction, improve employee engagement and facilitate access to new markets.

And of course, it will be technology that will be at the heart of much of the transformation now happening; compelling regional businesses to become more efficient and driving the changes and new processes that will help to deliver long term advantage, as well as the cost and time saving benefits SMEs yearn to have at their fingertips.

However, it’s not simply a case of buying technology, sitting back and waiting for the efficiency miracle to happen. Businesses will need to understand foremost what is required of their organisation in order to improve and should be asking themselves some deep- reaching, searching questions: what are the biggest risks, what processes need to be implemented, and what technology leadership is required?

Increasing convergence – the tendency for data and voice networks to be able to travel along one single network – will also be a key area of interest for SMEs as they push forward.

A growing number of new voice-over- IP (VoIP), Wi-Fi and compression technologies are becoming increasingly affordable and attractive – in many ways their flexibility and scalability will make them extremely suitable for regional enterprise as it forges ahead.

However, in the headlong rush to a utopian future, firms will need to challenge themselves to take a more considered look at the equipment they really need. They will have to be selective and carefully research the options, looking to invest in technologies that will deliver ROI and have has a positive and direct impact.

But to do this will require many to develop an effective IT strategy. So as with any area of procurement, it will be about working out the fundamentals first, possibly in tandem with an external partner who can offer best practice, expertise and a degree of objectivity.

SMEs are the engines of regional economic growth and technology will continue to be the fuel that powers their success; but a sudden, unexpected IT failure can be catastrophic.

From employee productivity to customer service, it will remain an essential requirement to maintain the smooth and efficient running of all aspects of the business all of the time.

A simple IT problem can wreak havoc if left unchecked. Unreliable networks, inaccessible data, inadequate anti-virus software can all bring a business to its knees in a matter of minutes, so a proactive approach to preventing IT problems happening in the first place has to be the best way to ensure there’s no loss of momentum.

Another issue that will continue to be challenging as the year unfolds and where there are undoubted requirements for SMEs to act before its too late, covers security – an organisation’s IT security is only as strong as its weakest link. As more firms migrate to the cloud and embrace the new technologies coming onto the market at a seemingly relentless rate, keeping up with an ever changing IT landscape and the threat it presents, will undoubtedly prove challenging.

Maintaining across-the- board protection for your systems will see more and more of us staying one step ahead of the on-going flow of new, and ever more complex security threats. This will require an unrelenting, determined response and specialist expertise, but with shrewd investment in the right technology and IT support today, North East SMEs will be well placed to become the large, industry defining global corporates of tomorrow. More at www.calibre-secured.net