More than one year into the global pandemic, as the economy around the world and in the region gradually recovers, small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore are expecting a brighter outlook for the future.
In the latest SBF-Experian SME Index released by the Singapore Business Federation, business sentiments for the six-month period from April to September 2021 are at their highest ever since the start of the pandemic in the first quarter of 2020.
SMEs are looking at business expansion opportunities and are expecting to step up on hiring. With many businesses becoming digital-first today, the questions here are, how and where should SMEs focus their resources and efforts at this juncture?
The scramble we all experienced 15 months ago as we migrated to more agile, flexible work methodologies underlines just how important technology has become.
And it will only become more central to the way businesses are run as both big and small organisations put in place hybrid working solutions.
Our 2020 Asia Pacific SMB Digital Maturity Study reveals that 69 per cent of small to medium businesses (SMB) in Asia Pacific are accelerating their digitalisation rates to address COVID-19 challenges.
However, while we all intuitively know the importance of IT, managing it is a very different proposition, particularly if you are a small business with dozens of issues competing for your time and attention.
Most micro-businesses operate with either one or two people helping to keep things running and operating an ad-hoc help desk. According to the same study, lack of digital skills and talent is the top challenge for SMBs undergoing digital transformation.
With IT so central to the success of businesses, and with the accelerated evolution of the IT function, what role should an IT team or department play in SMEs?
Working with SMEs across the Asia Pacific region, there are three critical questions SME owners need to ask themselves when they consider their investments in the IT function:
Would a failure in your IT systems stop your business from operating?
Some businesses can manage pretty well if their IT systems face a temporary outage, or even for an extended period of time. While it might be inconvenient, and an increasing struggle with employees working remotely, a small bookkeeping firm, for example, could likely survive for a few days if there was an IT failure.
But imagine the impact for an online retailer? Without their website and the backend systems, the business would grind to a halt almost instantly and with it, revenues. And an extended stoppage would have long-term consequences as customers choose other retailers.
Is cybersecurity risk to your short-term operating viability, and your long-term success?
For companies that depend on the Internet, a cybersecurity incident could be catastrophic. Let’s take the example of our online retailer again. A Denial-of-Service attack – where a website is targeted with so much traffic it stops working – would bring revenue streams grinding to a halt within minutes.
But consider the impact of a data breach; customer trust could be seriously affected if credit card data was stolen. That is the kind of threat that can close businesses within just a few weeks.
Could technology help accelerate your business?
Technologies such as big data and AI are revolutionising the way businesses are able to identify business opportunities. While often the preserve of larger firms, the rapidly decreasing costs of both of these technologies and the rise of many tech-first emerging businesses are bringing them into the sphere of even the smallest of firms.
With the benefit of agility, smaller businesses can then take advantage of changing trends and get ahead of larger organisations.
If you answered “yes” to these questions, IT should be a central part of your business strategy which supports the resilience and drives growth. It also means that you require dedicated expertise in each of these areas, rather than a “jack of all trades” kind of IT personnel.
The evolution of IT: From technical support to driver of growth and innovation
As we have seen, IT teams are – or should be – more than just IT support functions helping people deal with laptop issues. At their best, IT teams should be a central part of driving a business towards its objectives.
Our 2020 Asia Pacific SMB Digital Maturity Study classifies SMBs across four stages of digital maturity, starting with the earliest stage of Digital Indifferent to the more advanced group of Digital Challenger and finally, Digital Native.
In terms of people and skills, Digital Indifferent SMBs are characterised by a lack of digital skills, while Digital Challengers make strategic investments in talent and Digital Natives see talent as a top priority and competitive differentiator.
The study found that Digital Challengers generate 50 per cent higher sales and productivity growth, while Digital Natives are able to grow their revenue twice as fast as SMBs in the early stages of digital maturity.
Other than making sure that all aspects of the IT infrastructure function smoothly, the IT function should ensure that the team stays on top of developments in technology including cybersecurity and data privacy regulations so they can recommend smooth, long-term upgrade paths that contribute to revenue and productivity growth.
The IT team – or its most senior member – should be a core part of the management team. They can bring their expertise to bear on all aspects of an organisation that might require technology to work or excel.
Whether that is putting in place HR management software or customer relationship tools, the IT team can help smooth the way from identifying possible vendors to the roll-out.
Given all of this, it goes without saying that IT teams must have excellent technical skills. But one aspect that is often overlooked is “soft” skills.
With the role that technology plays across a business, everyone in the IT team needs to come armed with more than just programming and technology skills: they need the ability to get on with colleagues, create alliances, and drive consensus.
Editor’s note: e27 aims to foster thought leadership by publishing contributions from the community. This season we are seeking op-eds, analysis and articles on food tech and sustainability. Share your opinion and earn a byline by submitting a post.
The post What does the evolution of IT in SMEs look like post-pandemic? appeared first on e27.