Small and medium businesses (SMBs) form a major part of Asia’s economy – more than 90 percent of businesses here are from this sector, and they account for over half of the workforce, contributing significantly to both GDP and exports, according to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
They are also one of the sectors hardest hit by the current situation. Already faced with skills shortages and difficulties in accessing capital funding, many do not have the technology in place to help them cut costs, automate processes and successfully adapt to supporting both employees and customers from a distance.
Fortunately, many have already started on a digital transformation journey. At the end of 2019, International Data Corporation (IDC) found that two-fifths of Asia’s smaller businesses were already executing strategic plans of action in this area, with a similar number planning to start. To help with this, many governments worldwide are pushing policies aimed to help SMBs weather the current business climate.
While we do not know how the situation will evolve, IDC advises ‘Future SMBs’ to be data-driven, customer-centric, highly automated and take the initiative to continually experiment, learn and iterate.
What can SMBs do to stay afloat in the future?
Data is king
With digital taking precedence over physical footprints as friendly, face-to-face interactions are kept to a minimum, data insight becomes the main way businesses can build customer trust, brand loyalty and maintain business. Every text, email, transaction or contact has the potential to speak volumes, especially if it can be real-time.
Providing SMBs an entry into this area are cloud technologies that are making previously enterprise-only capabilities accessible to the masses by their nature of being quickly and easily available and being highly affordable.
For instance, access to reliable, elastic and secure cloud infrastructure has allowed Vitarich, a feed mill company in Philippines, to modernise its business operations and gain real-time and secure access to its data. As well as being a cost-effective technology, Vitarich is able to cut reliance on third-party consultants and reskill its in-house developers. They now can produce insightful reports quickly to give management data-driven insight into feed and livestock operations, competitors’ activity and fluctuating poultry prices. The platform also provides a base for Vitarich to be able to continue business as usual with employees conveniently working from home on Oracle Cloud.
Innovate (on the cloud) to live another day
While survival, rather than growth, is the priority for businesses in 2020, according to research from Gartner, innovation should stay in mind. In fact, periods of disruption are often the times to embrace opportunity as well as tackle challenges.
SMBs should make use of their well-known agility, steadfastness and innovative heart to harness new tools for their business, where possible. Cloud can provide a viable test bed for businesses to develop, test and deploy new initiatives, such as an online ordering site. Through the right cloud infrastructure, organizations can speed up their dev/test and deploy cycles.
In times when businesses may be struggling with changing regulations, Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered digital assistants is a way to provide a form of business continuity to customers and responding to questions with the likes of standard operating procedures or frequently asked questions. Human customer service agents can then prioritize answering feedback that the chatbots cannot answer.
Security risks aplenty
Security is another key area and one that challenges even the biggest organizations. No wonder, according to the third annual Oracle and KPMG Cloud Threat Report, 92 percent of IT professionals say that they do not trust their organization’s data centers are well prepared as compared to public cloud services. And with activities that were once fully secured behind corporate firewalls and security monitoring services moving behind consumer routers, the challenges and risks have only grown.
The example of IMEX Pan Pacific Group (IPPG), a retail business in Vietnam, is perhaps one to look to on how cloud can help. Using a complete and unified suite of cloud technologies, the company has gained an integrated suite that allows it to manage huge volumes of data from the inventory and warehousing of its retail business efficiently and securely. This includes financial data across its many IPPG subsidiaries, run on Oracle Fusion Cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), providing the company with a single, accurate and real-time view.
Technology certainly does not solve all problems but can help ‘Future SMBs’ to be more adaptable both now and for our rapidly changing future. Cloud and other emerging technologies help give you ways to automate processes, and allow you to keep your business open, communicate clearly, engagingly and transparently with customers, employees and stakeholders. And as technology is helping you keep the lights on – you may now have more time to innovate (exploring other channels to do business for instance) to ensure that any digital transformation is far from lip service and will be essential to your business continuity.
Maria Dzhanan is the vice-president of Oracle Digital, JAPAC