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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Technology Levelling the Playing Field for Small and Medium Businesses

By Yaj Malik, EVP and Managing Director, Sage Asia

When the 2016 Budget was tabled late last year, small and medium enterprises were among those to benefit from the budget with an allocation of more than RM1.3 billion to advance these businesses. Within this fund, the government allocated RM107 million to the SME Blueprint to provide funds for small and medium enterprise entities at various stages of business development and RM200 million for the SME Technology Transformation Fund.

Dato’ Yasmin Mahmood, CEO of MDEC also shared this sentiment when she announced that Digital Malaysia is a national agenda that aims to turn Malaysia into a developed digital economy that connects and empowers the government, citizens and businesses.

In this, small and medium enterprises are a very important economic figure in the country and they particularly stand to gain from the advancement of technology. All these focus on small and medium businesses and the use of technology come as no surprise as entrepreneurs face a competitive business environment and tight labour constraints. This is especially challenging in the current slow global economy.

Yaj Malik, VP-GM, Sage Asia

At Sage, we often see small and medium businesses that are lean on manpower. Many are run by a team of core staff who stretch across multiple work roles. Many of them are also rather conservative in operational culture, with a management that is resistance to change.

Many small and medium businesses also lag behind in innovation and technology adoption, and fail to harness technology to drive efficiency and productivity. In the long run, this can have a detrimental impact on overall business performance and competitiveness, and of course, their bottom line.

How then can small and medium businesses stay current on technology trends and better leverage innovation to drive growth? Here, Yaj Malik, VP-General Manager, Sage Asia, discusses what technology trends such businesses should focus on as well as how and why some of these can impact businesses.



1.) Integrating Business Solutions

Accounting, payroll and human resource (HR) are at the heart of any business. By tapping on technology to integrate the ‘golden triangle’ of business processes (accounting, payroll and HR) and systems, organisations can reduce manual administration and free up time for more value-adding activities. Entrepreneurs and their businesses can achieve higher levels of automation, efficiency and productivity, as well as gain better visibility into business performance by automating these key functions.

Another area that today’s small and medium businesses need to focus on is mobility. According to a recent Small and Medium Businesses (SMB) Group survey, 60 percent of small and medium businesses view mobile technology as crucial to their business, with 70 percent expecting mobile applications to replace a portion of their current business applications. This is expected as most of such businesses need to operate with much agility and flexibility. Mobility solutions allow the modern day worker to stay connected and remain productive no matter whether he is in the office, on the road or at a customer’s site. Still, today, we continue to see many small and medium businesses not having a solid mobility strategy that can maximise return on investment in place.

2.) Consumerization of IT

Malaysia is now transforming into a digitized society. With the proliferation of connected devices, businesses both big and small have to adapt to the change. Digital technology is now everywhere, disrupting business models and radically changing the workplace and the way work is done. According to a recent Deloitte release, whether companies prosper in Southeast Asia over the coming decade will depend on their willingness to embrace digital.

In line with that, businesses need to plan for the consumerization of IT to keep pace with the changing business environment. They can no longer assume that consumers will adhere to pre-conformed methods of how services are traditionally sought, requested and used. One obvious example is how traditional brick-and-mortar retail businesses are increasingly being replaced by online shops.

Similarly, small and medium businesses owners and business leaders need to be aware of how consumers and their own employees are now increasingly expecting a seamless experience between work and home. These days, many people use the same or similar tools for work and leisure. Businesses need to adapt to trends like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) where employees are increasingly bringing their own connected devices to the work place.

Additionally, the lines for social media usage is blurring too with platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. For instance, many consumers stay connected with their families and friends on Facebook, while they also use the same Facebook account to interact with businesses. They may be doing online shopping or accessing corporate Facebook pages to search for information.

3.) Adopting Cloud Solutions

Cloud computing may sound like just new IT buzzwords to some entrepreneurs. The fact is that small and medium businesses need to seriously consider cloud-based technologies for several reasons. Cloud means that be it software, service or even infrastructure, it is available online. This translates to accessibility anywhere and anytime for such businesses. Moreover, with cloud computing, the responsibility for IT maintenance, software upgrades and any system issues lies with the service provider.

Furthermore, Cloud-based products or solutions can be accessed on a pay-as-you-go or subscription model, so small and medium businesses do not need to worry about overinvesting. They can also be scaled up or down depending on requirements – such as scaling up when the business grows. All these features, make cloud technology an ideal choice, especially for smaller firms with tight financial considerations.

4.) Increasing Data Analytics Capabilities

Finally, organizations of any size can benefit from data analytics. Data and analytics allows businesses to gain insights into customer behaviour, market trends, internal operation or processes, etc. Data takes the guess work out of decision making. These days, more advanced computing and more powerful software allows even one man operations to work with a large amount of data – in other words Big Data. According to a recent Gartner survey, more than three-quarters of companies are investing or planning to invest in Big Data in the next two years, a three percent increase over 2014.

The key for small and medium businesses that are analysing data is in what they do with the information and insights gained. Successful businesses anticipate the needs of their customers and prospects and proactively cater to their requirements and data analytics allow you to do that effectively. With data analytics, businesses can connect intimately with their customers, provide them with relevant information at the opportune time in their buying journey. In today’s competitive, knowledge-based economy, the ability for small and medium businesses to access such information is invaluable to its growth and competitive advantage.

5.) Building Competitive Businesses 

SME Corp chief executive director Datuk Dr.Hafsah Hashim said small and medium enterprises are important economic agents for Malaysia based on its GDP contribution of 35.9 per cent last year, which was above the standard benchmark for a developing nation status for small and medium enterprises. Such businesses are often referred to as the backbone of the economy, and it is crucial that we have a thriving small and medium businesses community that can keep pace with local and global competition, especially in the current challenging business environment.

Technology allows businesses to be run more efficiently and productively. They can also gain better insights into opportunities as well as threats, and in turn continuously pivot to tap into new trends while improving customer engagements and experiences. By tapping on technology to streamline business processes and cost control, modern day progressive small and medium businesses can stay ahead of competition and reshape the markets they engage in.

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