SME Tech Requirements: Balancing Cost and ROI

12 Min Read

Small to medium enterprise (SME) companies face separate and distinctly different challenges with tech requirements. For starters, SME companies don’t typically have an annual technology budget like larger corporations. Often, an SME starts with limited capital and a commitment to bootstrapping for as long as it takes until reaching profitability.

In situations such as this, keeping SME tech requirements up to date is more than a bit difficult. It’s also a challenge to make sure that your SME doesn’t stall out due to poor planning, lack of funds, or lousy execution of technology. Failure to make provision for SME tech requirements is a serious matter, but you can stay ahead of the curve by paying attention to the basics.

SME Tech Requirements Tied Tightly to Funding Model

Many SMEs are bootstrapped by their founder(s) and survive as long as they can. These SMEs hope to hit paydirt with a first-time product taking off. The plan is to have a successful initial launch and release a series of follow-up products after that.

Others seek venture capital funding. These SMEs may obtain a fixed amount of capital to spend per funding round. After that, they quickly need to give away more share capital to secure the necessary funds to expand their tech capabilities.

As such, not all SME companies are created equal. Different solutions are often required depending on a number of factors. These include the size and scope of the business, how many employees are on staff, where they’re located, and the exact nature of the work needed to produce a product. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, which doesn’t make budgeting for SME tech requirements easier.

Desktop or Cloud Solutions?

Many software providers have switched their development priority from software installations to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform.

Desktop Software

While some software developers distribute installable software, many have switched to digital downloads or a subscription model. This applies most to specialist software from long-standing developers.

If enough of the established user base prefers installed software and dislikes a cloud-based SaaS option, that company may continue to offer both options. Most software providers, however, are picking one option to reduce the cost of maintaining two versions of the same software.

Cloud-Based SaaS

The move to SaaS is something that many SMEs are embracing for their tech requirements. In some respects, SaaS is easier to manage than a series of licenses that need to grow whenever a new employee is added.

However, web-based cloud services are not perfect. This becomes obvious when there are software outages and major sites go offline for several hours. Thankfully, these interruptions to service are few and far between.

Theoretically, a company could continue to use installed desktop software even if a major SaaS provider went down. In reality, companies with a widespread network outage issue that takes their site offline would likely be using cloud storage within their desktop app. In that case, the software would also become unusable.

Nowadays, desktop software doesn’t typically provide the offline-only service that it did a few years ago. CEOs responsible for meeting SME tech requirements should reconsider the use of  installed desktop software.

Are Subscription-Based Models Better?

Subscription models for software have largely become the norm. Microsoft, for example, switched from selling desktop versions of Office to the Office 365 online suite of apps sold via subscription. This felt quite new at the time, even revolutionary, but has since become a common delivery model.

Now nearly every software provider offers a subscription model. For SME companies trying to meet their tech requirements with limited capital, it can all seem like a bit much.

The tiered nature of priced packages is also a factor to consider. Many of the most useful features are reserved for the higher-priced plans. For SME businesses, this all too often means moving up several tiers just to get the features they need.

The Case for SME Use of Specialist Software

While software packages such as Microsoft Office 365 serve a general need, there’s a respectable case to be made for choosing specialist software designed for specific use cases, industries, or something similar.

Specialist Over Generalist Software

The argument for specialist software to meet SME tech requirements is that developers usually know the targeted industry intimately. They have regular contact with software users and leverage that experience when updating packages with new features. Because they use rapid software development techniques, they’re able to release new updates on an accelerated schedule. This offers a huge benefit to SMEs wanting to do more with their software.

As a result, developed technology solutions, especially on the software side, are less required now. Specialist software is usually sufficient.

Using Digital Marketing as an Example

Someone who works in the digital marketing space doesn’t necessarily have a job at a digital/SEO agency. They might work in data analysis, social media, brand management, or advertising. A digital marketer such as this has probably studied for a master’s in marketing online with no GMAT or GRE requirement. A degree such as this would provide the broad knowledge necessary to perform such a wide range of work for a business or agency.

Within the masters in marketing online curriculum, they’d have learned how to use specialist software to perform various tasks. Some of these might include Ahrefs (an SEO SaaS to monitor backlinks pointing at the company’s website and provide information on competitors), HootSuite (a social media account manager), SERPRobot (a Google search ranking checker to verify what search terms the company is ranking for in Google), and Google Analytics (to obtain information on recent site visitors).

While there may be a single solution to provide all these software services, it’s unlikely that it would provide a best-in-class solution. In each case, there are affordable subscription plans to access these solutions for a digital marketer. 

SME Tech Requirements for Multi-Tasking Remote Workers

When it comes to multi-tasking, employees who are not always stuck in the office using the corporate network have more flexibility with how they work. For example, if an SME has remote employees, then using cloud-based software tools in combination with the pre-installed software on the laptop might make sense. With so many services in the technology space now run using a web browser to access the SaaS, it doesn’t necessarily make good fiscal sense to outfit your team with powerful hardware.

Workstation or Laptop?

If you think of a workstation as the least powerful laptop available, these are suitable as a portable hardware solution when everything is cloud-based. SME tech requirements can be met with low-end equipment.

However, care should be taken when planning the technology requirements of the SME in this regard. If an employee will need to work confidentially, then more powerful hardware is usually required.

Windows or Mac?

In most industries, there’s still a preference for Windows-based systems. This is partly due to better mass marketing. The combination of Intel and Microsoft influencing the hardware and software choices of businesses worldwide continues to exert its influence.

Mac is a valid choice, but their hardware has never been considered “inexpensive.” Running Mac servers is a specialty item, too. This can be done in-house or via a hosting provider but, again, it’s considerably more expensive than other options.

While some industries, such as digital marketing, place a strong emphasis on Mac hardware and software solutions, even these typically have either Windows-based installable software packages and/or a SaaS solution that anyone can access.

Making the Hardware Choice

Sometimes, the choice of a hardware platform to meet SME tech requirements is dictated by the software necessary to run that business. However, this is rarely the case now.

Normally, a Windows PC with sufficient power is best. An i3 or i5 machine is enough for most employees to get their work completed. Only in the most demanding cases — such as video editing — is something more powerful needed.

SME Tech Requirements: Some Closing Thoughts

Technology too often confounds a non-technical CEO. When meeting the tech requirements for an SME company, it can get very confusing in no time. There’s not always someone available to explain the choices in layman’s terms. The bottom line for technology requirements is to use what’s required to get the job done.

Computers last a similar amount of time when purchasing major brands at the middle price point. Cheaper components are used for the budget models.

For software, everyone seems to be selling subscription-based models and pushing companies to move up the tier. Look carefully for the features staff need and will use, rather than getting an expensive plan just so you can have it all. It’s simple enough to move up a subscription tier later (or down again) without wasting money.

Lastly, sometimes it’s useful to hire an experienced technology advisor to provide a report on what’s actually needed for your SME business. They should have a clear sense of the minimum needed to operate the business without overloading it with a complicated excess of technology that doesn’t offer a solid ROI.

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Becca Williams is a writer, editor, and small business owner. She writes a column for and many more major media outlets.