By 21 December 2018 | Categories: interviews


For small and medium enterprises (SMEs), it’s fair to say that the current economic situation does not make for smooth sailing. So the question arises: how do SME thrive in an increasingly fast paced, competitive world in 2019?

That was the topic of a recent interview with Maureen Mansour Khoury, the senior product marketing manager for Dynamics 365 at Microsoft Middle East & Africa.

She began by pointing out that SMEs encompass 91% of formal businesses and 60% of the labour force in South Africa according to the Banking Association, which means they play an “enormous” role in the growth of the economy.

As significant as these businesses are, so too are the internal and external challenges they have to contend with. More particularly, she elaborated, these include internal issues around increasing their cash flow, enhancing customer service and improving sales. Externally, they also have to contend with greater competition.

Rising to the challenge

The good news though, is that for SME’s in particular, it’s entirely possible to rise to the challenge, increase their efficiencies, and even provide the VIP experience that consumers today demand even without having the same access to capital that a large enterprise organisation enjoys.

Khoury continued that the cloud based Dynamics 365 Business Central offering is able to enable better efficiencies across a business’s processes by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to greatly reduce the time needed to execute on sales quotes and purchase orders, from days or hours down to minutes.

“For example, if a customer sends in a request for a sales quote from Outlook, normally a salesperson would have to go back to their PC in the office, check the inventory, potentially manually create and sales quote and send it off to the customer. That could take hours or even days. With Business Central, it allows that salesperson to create that same sales quote in three or four clicks,” she elaborated.

“Because all functions and features are available through mobile phones, they don’t have to go back to the office to create the sales quote but rather can simply look at the email in Outlook. The AI in Business Central will read the language used, use intelligence to determine what is required and autopopulate the sales quote from within the Outlook screen. This means that the salesperson can send the quote in a matter of a minute without leaving their mobile phone,” she enthused.

Putting AI to work

However, Business Central’s capability - and thus its value to an SME - does not end there. Khoury explained that AI is pervasive throughout the entire solution, to the extent that it can forecast inventory, determine when a particular item is going to run out, and with permission, auto populate a purchase order and send it to the requisite supplier ahead of time.

“That will prevent stock shock and bad customer experiences, where a business isn’t able to fulfill an order on time,” she noted. What all this means for an SME in real world terms is that small businesses could position themselves to provide better services and be more agile than some large enterprises out there.

Furthermore, because there are no minimum number of users to deploy Business Central, the solution can be scaled as the business grows as well.

No rip and replace required

So does availing oneself of Business Central mean that a company needs to abandon its familiar tools? Not at all, explains Khoury.

“I recognise that 27% of local SMEs are still using spreadsheets, for financial data and fiscal reporting, and that is completely understandable. However, our solution doesn't require you to abandon familiar solutions like Excel. Not only can you export information from this tool to Excel, you can make changes in Excel and import those changes back into the Business Central,” she clarified.

One argument could be that when times are difficult, organisations should reduce their spending as fast and possible and cut down on new software tools for the foreseeable future.

However, according to Khoury, the current economic pressures that SMEs face make it even more essential now to increase their efficiencies and ensure that they are able to provide a top-notch customer service at all times, and thus use the right tools to that end.

Invest, don’t spend  

She stressed though, that businesses need to view solutions like Business Central as an investment, rather than a cost. “That means that any money that is spent on a business application should save the company money over time, otherwise it is not a good investment.

In times of economic pressure the last thing you want to do is jump between multiple systems and enter duplicate pieces of data and have manual errors.

You simply cannot afford these kinds of inefficiencies in your business in the face of competition, and frankly, the pressures of going out of business. And that is the one thing on the mind of every small business owner - am I going to be around in the next two to three years?”  she added.

Parting thoughts

Admittedly, SMEs dont just have a number of challenges to face, they also find themselves having to stay on top of the technology that could mean the difference between making their business work, versus being outdone. Offering a parting thought of what she believed businesses most needed to hear, Khoury offered the following.

“What business owners need to understand that the worlds of ERP and CRM have evolved and MS is leading the way for that innovation in the market of business applications today. That means we don’t only look at the back office requirements, we look at what the entire business needs to succeed. In order to succeed they need one application that spans everything from the customer facing processes - sales and customer service all the way to the back office - finance and procurement for example,” she noted.

“Gone are the days when SMEs have to integrate multiple solutions. They can rapidly implement a solution that is flexible, meets their specific business processes, has agile workflows, extends the solution and merges the old world of ERP and CRM.

“For many SMEs today, Dynamics 365 Business Central will be the only business solution they will need to run their entire business,” she asserted.   


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