Powered by the rapid rise of growing economies like China, India and Southeast Asia, the world is increasingly shifting its economic weight to the Asia Pacific region. This part of the world now stands as a beacon of growth and opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Accompanying this growth is the emergence of new technologies, such as AI and Machine Learning, both of which promise to bring about even greater development. However, while these new technologies might be dominating headlines, the foundation of a secure IT infrastructure and technology to enhance productivity and overall business growth must not be overlooked.

With all the promise that technology holds, one might be led to believe that businesses, particularly small enterprises hungry to grow their market share, would hop on the bandwagon to leverage its potential.

Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are doing so but there’s also the gap in some SMBs which are not digitalizing fast enough. According to the Cisco APAC SMB Digital Maturity Index (Index), 43 per cent of SMBs in the Asia Pacific region recognize that competition is transforming and they must keep pace.

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However, the reality is that digitalisation remains a challenge for most. According to the Index, over a third (39 per cent) of SMBs across the Asia Pacific region are stuck in a state of digital indifference – the lowest form of digital maturity, with little understanding of and no digital strategy in place.

Meanwhile, half were deemed digital observers, putting them in the earliest stages of transformation. This leaves only a handful of expert digital challenges and digital native SMBs that have mastered the art of technology integration. While there are varying levels of digital maturity, here’s how SMBs can level the playing field with competitive advantages:

Talent is a covetable asset

It’s a competitive hiring market. With everyone vying for the same digital skills, all of which are notoriously short in supply, SMBs shouldn’t underestimate the importance of company culture and employer brand, as well as, the advantage of flexible work practices in attracting talent.

Cultivating a culture that attracts and promotes diversity and inclusion will open up hiring opportunities and attract talents that support the company’s growth priorities.

The power of data and analytics

Cloud and analytics solutions must be integrated into the company’s digital strategy. Ensure there’s visibility into customer and operational data to strategise, inform and influence business decisions. Agility, simplicity and insights are competitive advantages in this complex world.

Invest strategically

Customer experience is everything. A digital and seamless customer journey should be guiding principle of a business’ digital strategy. SMBs need to have a well-defined digital transformation strategy and roadmap. They need to use this as a guide to make strategic technology investments, ones that help them address their key challenges and leverage specific growth opportunities.

The Index also revealed that 61 per cent of SMBs have started their digitalisation journey and transitioned to the cloud. With the transition to the cloud and challenges, SMBs face challenges such as a lack of IT resources, which also makes cybersecurity more important than ever. They are also at risk of cyber attacks and the threat shouldn’t be underestimated just because of their size.

We have worked with SMBs across various industries, including a technology start-up which develops and manufactures purpose-built Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV or simply put, drones) for the defence and commercial industry. Security is a big deal for this company since they supply drones that store classified information. Secure connectivity will help to fuel its future growth and achieve its ultimate goal: To become the frontier for manned and unmanned space exploration from Australia.

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Another example is the food manufacturer of the Camel brand of nuts, which is an example of a traditional SMB that saw the added value that technology could bring to the business. Seamless wi-fi connectivity supported a more efficient inventory management process for the company.

Another technology they looked at was virtual meeting solutions to facilitate communication with their overseas facility, eventually reducing travel costs without compromising on the experience of a face-to-face meeting, albeit achieved virtually. A focus on these two areas of the business helped to boost productivity and cost efficiency, also solved resource challenges, especially given the organisation’s geographic span across markets around the world.

Business strategy, governance, talent and technology adoption are parameters of digitalisation that business leaders must review and keep up with, in the face of an ever-changing market. Digitalisation is no longer a forward-looking strategy, it is a reality for businesses to evolve their business and operational models as the world’s economic centre of gravity shifts towards Asia Pacific.

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