Em­pow­er­ing busi­ness builders through tech­nol­ogy

New Straits Times - - Business - Pi­eter Bos­man is ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of Sage Asia Pa­cific

AS the back­bone of many Asian economies, small and medium busi­nesses have been the fo­cus of gov­ern­ment pol­icy across the re­gion.

How­ever, in the re­cent chal­leng­ing eco­nomic cli­mate, the need to pro­vide lo­cal busi­nesses with fresh im­pe­tus has be­come ap­par­ent and many coun­tries have been tak­ing af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion to pro­mote lo­cal start-ups while lo­cal gov­ern­ments have pro­vided sup­port to small busi­ness own­ers and busi­ness builders to en­sure their sur­vival and fuel their ex­pan­sion.

In Malaysia, en­trepreneurs con­trib­ute over a third of the na­tion’s do­mes­tic out­put, play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in pow­er­ing the na­tion’s growth.

Recog­nis­ing this, the gov­ern­ment de­clared this year as StartUp and SME Pro­mo­tion Year, and al­lo­cated RM75 mil­lion to pro­grammes un­der the SME Mas­ter Plan and RM15 bil­lion to schemes un­der the Syarikat Jam­i­nan Pem­bi­ayaan Per­ni­a­gaan (SJPP).

It is vi­tal for SMEs to stay ahead of the tech­nol­ogy adop­tion curve to seize growth op­por­tu­ni­ties, main­tain their com­pet­i­tive edge and weather tough eco­nomic times. While gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance can help in eas­ing the costs around tech­nol­ogy adop­tion, busi­ness builders need to be proac­tive and stay abreast of the lat­est trends.

Al­low me to share three ma­jor trends that will make a big dif­fer­ence in the way en­trepreneurs and busi­ness builders grow their com­pa­nies in 2017 and beyond.

Trend 1: Ar­ti­fi­cial, col­lec­tive in­tel­li­gence and data an­a­lyt­ics

Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) and col­lec­tive in­tel­li­gence tech­nolo­gies are in­creas­ingly be­ing de­vel­oped to help busi­nesses bet­ter op­ti­mise back of­fice as well as cus­tomer fac­ing pro­cesses.

Th­ese days, an in­cred­i­ble amount of data is be­ing gen­er­ated by all sorts of sen­sors and de­vices. At the same time, com­put­ing power and data anal­y­sis soft­ware is be­com­ing more af­ford­able and pow­er­ful. Smaller busi­nesses need to take ad­van­tage of this trend to ac­cess and make good use of their data.

A sin­gle cus­tomer can have many in­ter­ac­tions with a busi­ness, across mul­ti­ple touch­points, cre­at­ing a vast pool of po­ten­tial in­for­ma­tion, in the form of raw data. How­ever, to con­vert this data into ac­tion­able in­sight, busi­nesses need to be able to col­lect, fil­ter and process it ef­fec­tively.

En­ter AI.

AI can lend a help­ing hand in the form of a bot while col­lec­tive in­tel­li­gence takes this a step fur­ther by seam­lessly in­te­grat­ing ma­chine and hu­man in­tel­li­gence at a large scale.

This ef­fec­tively pro­vides the work­force an op­por­tu­nity to com­ple­ment AI and its busi­ness ben­e­fit, rather than com­pete with it.

Malaysia is ea­ger to cap­i­talise on this trend with the na­tional ICT agency Mul­ti­me­dia Dig­i­tal Econ­omy Cor­po­ra­tion (MDEC) fo­cus­ing on in­creas­ing big data an­a­lyt­ics adop­tion among Malaysian busi­nesses, in­clud­ing smaller com­pa­nies and start-ups and aim­ing to be­come a re­gional hub, with the launch of Asean Data An­a­lyt­ics Ex­change (Adax).

Trend 2: Plat­form-based in­fra­struc­ture

SMEs will in­creas­ingly re­place their stand­alone, on-site soft­ware sys­tems with in­te­grated, cloud-based soft­ware so­lu­tions. MDEC has also launched the SME Cloud Com­put­ing Adop­tion Pro­gram, a gov­ern­ment-led na­tion­wide pro­gramme that aims to ac­cel­er­ate cloud adop­tion among lo­cal SMEs and in­crease their com­pet­i­tive­ness and op­er­at­ing ef­fi­ciency.

The ben­e­fit of adopt­ing cloud­based plat­forms is that they give SMEs ac­cess to in­no­va­tive busi­ness soft­ware so­lu­tions and ser­vices at a rel­a­tively low cost.

Th­ese so­lu­tions can span ar­eas from ac­count­ing, cus­tomer re­la­tion­ship man­age­ment, en­ter­prise re­source plan­ning, fi­nance, and cloud-based mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions, all of which are core func­tions of any busi­ness. This will en­able SMEs to com­pete with large en­ter­prises and achieve economies of scale.

Trend 3: Chat­bots and other au­ton­o­mous in­ter­faces

Chat­bots or soft­ware de­signed to con­vinc­ingly sim­u­late how a hu­man would be­have as a conversational part­ner are be­com­ing more com­mon. They will be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar on the de­vices and ap­pli­ca­tions that en­trepreneurs use to man­age and con­trol their busi­nesses.

Chat­bots will add con­ve­nience and sim­plic­ity to the user ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing tasks like pro­cess­ing an in­voice or pay­ment as fast as send­ing a text mes­sage, over a com­mon mes­sag­ing plat­form like Slack or Face­book Messenger. Th­ese ad­min heavy tasks tra­di­tion­ally re­quire con­stant mon­i­tor­ing and be­ing ex­pen­sive to out­source, tend to bog down start-up founders and SMEs.

When busi­nesses are equipped with con­ve­nient and time-sav­ing au­to­mated so­lu­tions to help take care of the back-end ac­tiv­i­ties, they can then fo­cus their en­ergy and time on sales and strat­egy.

MDEC chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Datuk Yas­min Mah­mood recog­nised that “tech­nol­ogy is busi­ness”, a pol­icy all busi­nesses needs to start adopt­ing, and recog­nise it­self as a tech­nol­ogy busi­ness sooner rather than later.

Busi­nesses can reap the ben­e­fits of tech­nol­ogy adop­tion al­most in­stantly with time-con­sum­ing busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion be­com­ing nearly in­vis­i­ble or even com­pletely au­to­mated.

Gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance or not, this will em­power en­trepreneurs to stay fo­cused on build­ing their busi­nesses, driv­ing growth in the econ­omy and con­tribut­ing to their com­mu­ni­ties. In the longterm, this will pro­mote pro­duc­tiv­ity and en­hance in­no­va­tion as small busi­nesses take on their larger coun­ter­parts on a re­gional, if not, global scale.

It is vi­tal for SMEs to stay ahead of the tech­nol­ogy adop­tion curve to seize growth op­por­tu­ni­ties, main­tain their com­pet­i­tive edge and weather tough eco­nomic times.

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