APAC SMBs prioritise remote work support, online sales

Mabel R. Acton

Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in Asia view the need for digitalisation and to support a remote workforce as key IT priorities to achieve their operational and growth objectives this year. They face challenges, though, in having to identify alternative sales and delivery channels amidst the global pandemic. 

Some 41% of SMBs pointed to the need to facilitate remote work as their leading technology strategy in 2021, revealed a study released by Cisco Systems. Conducted by Analysys Mason, the survey polled 1,600 organisations across eight Asia-Pacific markets including China, India, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia, that employed between 50 and 150. 

The move towards a hybrid workplace was projected to drive these businesses’ investment in tools to facilitate their transition, according to the report released Tuesday. 

Analysys Mason’s previous research indicated that Asia-Pacific SMBs’ cumulative ICT spend would surpass $500 billion between 2020 and 2024. China, Japan, and India would account for three quarters of total spend, while the manufacturing sector would contribute half of all spend across verticals. Figures here included organisations that had up to 249 employees. 

The Cisco study found that customer experience was the driving force behind 59% of SMBs’ digitalisation efforts. This underscored the importance of assessing how these businesses integrated digital interactions with physical customer engagements, especially as they moved towards contactless platforms to engage and bring on new customers. 

SMEs would need high-capacity secure cloud platforms to facilitate seamless online shopping experiences as well as robust systems to support the delivery of goods and post-sales services, noted the report. 

More than half, though, cited the need to find alternative sales and delivery channels amidst lockdowns and safety restrictions as a their top challenge. This drove many to move online to sustain their revenue, with more than three quarters pointing to the development of an e-commerce platform as an important component of their IT strategy this year. 

Another 44% faced challenges in boosting employee productivity, while 40% were anxious about driving revenue.

Faced with disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, 18% of SMBs were tapping technology to reduce costs this year. Amongst those in mature markets — namely Singapore, Japan, Australia, and South Korea — 26% highlighted this as their top priority, compared to 17% of their peers in the emerging markets of China, India, Indonesia, and Thailand. 

Another 44% of SMBs in mature markets also see employee engagement as a top priority in their digital transformation, according to the study. Cisco noted that this could drive adoption for automation, which would allow employees to move away from repetitive, mundane tasks to focus on higher value ones. Doing so would help transition their role to one that created value, hence, providing a greater sense of achievement and opportunities for reskilling.  

Cisco’s Asia-Pacific Japan and Greater China managing director and head of commercial and small businesses, Bidhan Roy, said: “SMBs across all countries, sizes, and verticals are focused on remote work support, online platforms, and upgrading their existing IT solutions in the year ahead. This accelerated digital adoption will drive recovery and potentially transform industries, including manufacturing and other traditionally capital-intensive sectors, to a digital-first and cloud-first model.

“In the current climate, where online is a major consumption channel and dispersed workforces are the norm, our research also finds security and privacy among the chief considerations for SMBs when selecting technology solutions,” Roy said. 

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