Empowering business builders through technology
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.
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.