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Weathering the storm of uncertainty: Building business resilience

Harness changes in technology for profit instead of letting them shackle you, says PIETER BOSMAN

The pace of change in doing business is affecting many small operations. Most SMEs operate with a lean team and minimal resources, so it is understandable when bosses hold to an if-it-ain't-broken-don't-fix-it mindset about business management technology.

A simple example of harnessing technology for small businesses would be something like tablet ordering (above), digital kiosks, or mobile apps that can reduce manpower needs and manual processes at certain stages of service - such as order taking and payment.

FINANCE Minister Heng Swee Keat spoke of changing tides around the world that have precipitated an uncertain environment when he announced the Singapore Budget 2017.

In his speech, he also highlighted that technology is rapidly advancing, throwing up hurdles while disrupting traditional business models.

The theme is definitely not new, having surfaced in last year's Budget speech and, most recently, in the Committee of Future Economy report. Yet, there remains a sense of unease among small and medium enterprise (SME) owners and managers.

The main concern for smaller businesses is often over whether they are equipped to seize the opportunities that technological disruption brings and if they are able to tackle any unexpected challenges head-on.

Acknowledging that business builders are the "heart of vibrant economies", the finance minister shared three capabilities that firms will need to weather the storm of uncertainty: Being able to use digital technology, embracing innovation and scaling up.

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The benefits of digital technology have long been espoused and recognised for the potential to level the playing field for any enterprise, big or small.

Far too often though, small business owners and business builders may struggle to keep abreast of technological development trends, let alone make sense of the business value of adopting technology.

To this end, the finance minister announced the SMEs Go Digital Programme, which will see SMEs get step-by-step advice on the technologies used at each stage of their growth.

In addition, another S$4.5 billion will be pumped into the Industry Transformation Programme, unveiled last year, to ensure that the help provided is tailored to the needs of different industries.

The respective Industry Transformation Roadmaps (ITMs) are industry-specific blueprints, bringing together trade associations, chambers of commerce and unions to build a collaborative support network for businesses.

Meanwhile, it is important that business builders continue to keep up with technological developments, and understand the business value of adopting technology into their operations and processes. Only then can they be invested in building business resilience through digital transformation.

Revving up for business success

Most SMEs operate with a lean team and minimal resources. It is understandable when business builders and managers hold to an if-it-ain't-broken-don't-fix-it mindset about business management technology.

However, what many do not realise is that, very often, when we do not evolve, we are actually moving backwards and that can be the case for business builders who hold on to old ways and old technology in business management.

Another issue with business management technology is that many business leaders believe that advance technology tools are complex and that they are meant only for large organisations.

This cannot be further from the truth because there is a wide array of tools out there designed for SMEs.

Whatever the size of the operation, the key is to run it efficiently and productively. It is about running at optimal performance with limited resources.

This especially rings true for the food services industry which is traditionally reliant on manpower. Operators in the industry are now finding it increasingly difficult to hire workers.

From the recent budget, the onus is on the industry to seek innovative ways to work around the manpower crunch, especially since the recently announced deferment in foreign worker levies applies only to the marine and process sectors.

Thankfully, there are readily available cost-effective business solutions that businesses can look to help alleviate this manpower crunch.

A simple example of this would be the likes of mobile applications, digital kiosks, tablet ordering that can lower the requirement for manpower and manual processes at certain stages of service - such as order taking and payment.

At Yu Kee Duck and Noodle House, for instance, customers can order from the restaurant's menu from its online platform and pick up the items at its outlets.

Yu Kee also taps on a Global Positioning System (GPS) solution to better plan delivery routes and improve the efficiency of its delivery team. From this, the company has reported a fuel cost saving of 5 to 10 per cent as well as significant time savings.

Most importantly, business builders must take the first step to explore how they can invest in and integrate technology in their business today to ensure that they stay ahead of disruption and not get left behind.

Choosing the tools to enable growth

Digital transformation is more than about setting up a digital business unit and hiring a CIO.

SMEs need to be strategic when adopting new technology. They need to make sure that technology is helping them to address critical business issues and not adding more burden to the operation.

Before embarking on a digital transformation journey, there are some best practices that should be prioritised to ensure a higher success rate.

When selecting a new technology, business owners should consider the following:

  • Does it bring value to my business by increasing sales, differentiating my products from competitors, or by helping save costs in the long term?
  • Would the technology even be compatible with my current setup?
  • Will my employees be able to adapt and use this technology easily?

The last point is especially noteworthy as many business owners fail to consider the impact of the technology on their employees and whether it will make their jobs easier.

For businesses in the food services industry, this can be applied in automating labour-intensive processes in the kitchen. Specifically, entrepreneurs and restauranteurs may want to look for the following when choosing a solution:

  • Automated equipment to eliminate manual food preparation, which can be deployed in a central kitchen;
  • Automated equipment that eliminates manual dishwashing;
  • Fully web-based, mobile responsive and easy-to-use software that can take orders and bill customers; and
  • Reporting and fully integrated business intelligence with graphical business processes and workflow functionality, to better plan manpower requirements

Thorough business and technology planning involving key stakeholders and users must be done before implementing any new technology.

The idea is to have a clear macro goal on what the technology should help the organisation to achieve. At the same time, decision making should also involve drilling down to the granular level on how the technology will impact all aspects of the business in the short and the long run.

Furthermore, today's user-friendly business management solutions are easy to set up. Many have also evolved beyond providing traditional enterprise resource planning capabilities and are now offering businesses greater flexibility and customisation options.

Gearing up for digital transformation

As the business environment evolves, it is crucial for SMEs to be able to embrace change. It is also important that business builders do not see change as a means to an end, but rather a necessity for the business to continue to thrive, even in uncertain times. They need to see that digital transformation can open up new opportunities and possibilities.

Many SMEs are already seeing the value of integrating new technology into their day-to-day business operations. This is especially true now that the workforce is increasingly being filled by tech-savvy millennials.

The overarching theme of this year's Budget focuses on adaptability, rather than achievements; to build resilience, rather than to hit targets.

For SMEs looking to expand, choosing the right type of business management technology will be crucial to support business growth and help them weather rough times.

Just as employees need to be future-ready for challenges and opportunities ahead, SMEs need agile and scale-able solutions that can evolve with the business and resize quickly when there is a need.

  • The writer is Executive Vice President of Sage Asia Pacific.
  • For more SME-related stories, please visit


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