Getting back to business and returning to a new normal

By Claus Andresen, SVP & Head of General Business (SME) and Emerging Markets Growth, SAP, Asia Pacific & Japan

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every industry and every business on an international scale. Even as lockdown restrictions begin to ease and people head back to the office, it is no longer business as usual. Without the war chest and resources of multi-national corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been bearing the brunt of the impact brought forth by COVID-19. As the backbone of ASEAN economies, it’s crucial we look at how to help them recover in the new normal.

Take a Quantum Leap Now

In my conversations with customers across the Asia Pacific region, some of the key challenges highlighted include cash flow, ensuring business continuity with a remote workforce, and a fractured supply chain. All of which impact their bottom line. The pandemic has transformed the business environment fundamentally and SMEs must start rebuilding the new foundations for their businesses now to emerge stronger and more resilient.

COVID-19 has erased any doubt that technology is the way forward. While SMEs have already started to evolve to digital companies, those that have moved very gradually to accommodate this have found themselves to be disproportionately affected by the current situation. Today, conversations no longer centre on if I should adopt a digital strategy but how can I pivot to technology and re-orient my business to become an intelligent one. How can I run faster, better and more intelligently? ​

Preparing for the Future of Work

As SMEs prepare for the future of work, they must not only digitalise existing business processes and take their services online; but redesign the way they operate and put data at the heart of what they do. Being able to turn insights into action and respond quickly and effectively to an ever-changing environment is crucial. SMEs must gain the ability to harness internal and external data in real time, so they can be empowered to create the ultimate game plan for them to succeed and even predict outcomes.

An IDC study that was commissioned by SAP found that only 5.5 per cent of SMEs in APJ have taken the steps to leverage on data insights. This was rather surprising because SMEs should take the advantage of being smaller which allows them to be more agile and make changes much faster than a large organisation. In this new and rapidly changing business environment, data-driven automation and decision-making will safeguard business continuity, regardless of external circumstances. SMEs must use data to build the foundations for their next growth journey.

Exceeding Customer Experience

The acceleration of the digital economy has opened SMEs up to more varied and intense competition. In a market full of choices, customers are firmly in the driver’s seat. On top of the products they offer, SMEs must also be mindful of the selling experience they are providing. This shift in focus from product to experience is why the ability to provide customised experience at speed and scale is more important than ever for SMEs.

Customisation is even more important now - SMEs that want to thrive need to keep customer experience front and centre. From personalized offers to relationship-based engagement, there are multiple ways to blaze the path with customer experience in today’s new normal.

Recalibrating Supply Chains

From the planning of goods to inventory management, the supply chain is an integral part of SMEs and is essential to a company’s success. The pandemic has disrupted supply chains around the world, leaving buyers and sellers scrambling to keep their businesses operational. Further to this, SMEs are embarking on cost-cutting exercises. Supply chains long viewed as cost centres have fallen squarely in their targets.

Instead of looking to reduce cost in supply chains, SMEs should focus on the value an optimised supply chain can bring in the long term. By transforming traditional supply chains into digital supply chains, SMEs will be able to create a digital mirror of their supply chain that is powered by intelligence. This will provide SMEs with an end to end view of their supply chain and enable them to reduce cost and predict service requirements to lower risks by optimising operating performance conditions.

This is an opportune time to embark on this as production and sourcing moving closer to end users, thanks to Asia’s growing middle class creating its own demand for production. Regardless, a digital supply chain will provide the necessary resilience and efficiency SMEs required to survive this new normal in the event of a second wave of infections.

Prioritise to be Ready for Recovery​

There will always be reasons to postpone a digital transformation, but it is crucial SMEs must seize the initiative by starting small and simple. Now is the time to make a fundamental decision – am I here for survival?

Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” This certainly applies here. Technology is proving its worth as an effective hedge against the pandemic and in time to come, accelerate the recovery process once the storm has passed. Now is the time to make the transition into an intelligent business.