Challenges and Benefits of iLab & Ministry of Commerce Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) ICT
Nowadays, the widespread uses of Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs) are changing the way people or companies work. It is a feature of the technological advancements of this period in history where there has been immense innovation in the information and communication sector.
Thus, the pace of technological change and what is available for use by businesses has change how they interact and do business with others. In particular, ICTs have a valuable potential for developing Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) through more effective use and better integration of ICTs in business processes while assisting them to make more efficient decisions relevant to their performance. ICTs have the potential to generate a change among SMEs and make them more competitive, innovative and generate growth.
Challenges faced by SMEs owners in Liberia
The current generation that's old enough to be engaged in entrepreneurial activities are not aware of the benefits of ICTs since they've never been exposed to them
There is a problem in Liberia with the lack of basic computer skills and digital literacy. By our own conservative estimate, more than half the population have never taken a course on any aspect of computer use. The current generation that's old enough to be engaged in entrepreneurial activities are not aware of the benefits of ICTs since they've never been exposed to them.
Most entrepreneurs only have a basic knowledge of ICT and don’t consider it as a strategic tool. They prefer investing in their core business rather than in ICT.
Education, training, and workforce development are key factors to improve the ICT uptake and to make effective use of it in general and for SMEs in particular.
The use of ICTs in Small and Medium Sized businesses is not very prevalent in the Liberia. From interactions with the small businesses owners who have participated in our training so far, we've gathered that their businesses use some form of ICT. The kind of technology in use is mostly telephones and standalone computers / laptops for basic wordprocessing and Internet purposes. They do not have dedicated ICT staff to carry out the ICT-related responsibilities.
They also listed different barriers that prevent them from learning and adopting or implementing ICT, ranging from socio-economic issues to technology-related issues: lack of money, lack of stable electricity, lack of knowledge, technology intimidation and perceived high cost of ICT. The Most of the barriers could be possibly overcome by learning more about ICT and by SMEs employing knowledgeable ICT staff.
Benefits of the training
Owing to these facts, since last year, as part of our regular free ICTs training at iLab, we have partnered with the Ministry of Commerce & Industries' SMEs department to host series of contextually relevant ICTs training for over thirty (30) Small Businesses owner's and employees. These training range from Google Map Maker – which allowed them to add and update their businesses geographical information on Google Maps and Google Earth for millions of users / potential customers to see.
Facebook and Google + – social media tools that allowed them to create pages for their businesses to advertise and market their products and services. GNUCash – a free and easy to use small-business financial-accounting software that will allow them to track bank accounts, income and expenses.
MS Excel - an electronic spreadsheet program that they will use for storing, organising and manipulating their organisational and financial documents.
Recently we had an intern, Shira Khaminsky from the University of Massachusetts who taught the Small businesses owners a course we labelled as intro branding and advertising. Doing her time she taught them to use Scribus, a free & open source design software to create customised business card, logos and brochure for their business. We've also just concluded an Intermediate version of the branding and advertising course for the same group of small business owners.
On the whole, ICT tools can provide several benefits across a wide range business operations and transactions. Certainly, ICT applications can contribute to improving information in a firm, can reduce transaction costs and can increase the speed and reliability of transactions for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions.
In addition, they are effective tools for improving external communications and quality of services for established and new customers. More specifically, SMEs can obtain a wide range of benefits from the use of ICT.
Among these benefits,it is possible to mention:
1. Enhance the productivity and effectiveness of certain activities or functions.
2. Enable the access to new environments as well as the generation of new markets and business models.
3. Improve the qualification and specialisation of human resources, which increases
To conclude, our doors are always opened to partner with the Ministry of Commerce and other ministries to train small business owners with contextually relevant ICT skills that will encourage the use of ICTs and enhance their productivity and effectiveness to deliver the best possible services to their customers. We hope that these training will serve as a stepping stone for Liberian entrepreneurs / small business owners to integrate technologies that will boost productivity, thus, generating growth in their businesses.
Luther D. Jeke