SMALL businesses were forced to go online when Malaysia imposed the movement control order back in March. But even as physical business starts picking up again, SMEs should continue their digitalisation efforts to be better positioned for future growth.
Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC) director of business in the Digital Adoption Division, Muhundhan Kamarapullai, (pic below) says industries in Malaysia must continue to transform themselves by adopting best practices and emerging technologies to sustain and be able to compete in a highly connected and competitive world.
“SMEs should adopt useful lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic and embrace digital to thrive and sustain their business.
“Digital solutions have also become cheaper and easier to adopt whereby having a simple digital presence could help their business engage the right customers.
“Business digitalisation is not a single project but a journey. The right mindset and approach are crucial to fully benefit from it, ” he says.
Muhundhan notes that there are three key considerations that SMEs should take into account when looking into their digitalisation strategy – think big, start small and scale fast.
Digital opportunities are vast as new technologies continue to evolve rapidly.
This trend may be overwhelming for small businesses that are trying to find their footing in the digital space, but Muhundhan advises SMEs to keep an open mind to see the big picture.
Rather than focus on the complexity of the technology, firms should look at how they can benefit from the technology adoption from a business point of view.
“As a start, digital doesn’t have to be expensive. Always start with an outcome in mind such as productivity improvement, labour reduction, customer engagement, creation of new sources of growth and so on. Pilot must drive those outcomes in the end, ” he adds.
Once the outcomes from the pilot trials are satisfactory, they should quickly scale up adoption of the new technology into their operations to amplify the impact.
A pilot should not be longer than 3 to 6 months, including tracking and monitoring of results post-implementation.
Muhundhan believes Malaysia remains competitive in terms of digital adoption, highlighting the country’s performance as the second most digitally competitive country in the region after Singapore.
According to the Digital Adoption Index (DAI), Malaysia ranks 41 out of 180 countries in terms of the country’s digital transformation. More recently, in the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Rankings 2019, Malaysia’s overall performance in digital trends ranked 26 out of 63 other economies.
“It is encouraging to note this and as evident from the Department of Statistics Malaysia figures, in 2018,18.5% of the nation’s economy was obtained through digital economy and 8% was made via e-commerce.
“Adopting future technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of things have allowed enterprises across Malaysia to achieve better outcomes in enhancing customer experience, increasing workforce efficiency, maximising revenue streams and optimising business models, ” he says.
However, there are notable challenges that SMEs face in trying to get on the digital bandwagon. And these challenges have become more acute with the pandemic.
During MDEC’s recent SME Digital Summit, the top three hindrances to digital adoption cited by SMEs are a lack of knowledge and skills (32%), investment required for digitalisation (30%) and cash flow required for SMEs to sustain their transformation (17%).
In this respect, the agency has recently introduced the Digital Xccelerator (DX) platform to encourage SMEs to accelerate and scale up their digital transformation journey. The virtual platform is designed to help SMEs gain access to available programmes, incentives and technology solutions that best match their digitalisation needs.
MDEC has also introduced other initiatives to support SMEs including the SME Digital Acceleration Program, SMART Automation Grant for Services, eUsahawan and 100 Go Digital.
“The enablement of digitally powered business is one of MDEC’s main focus and these initiatives will help to ensure SMEs are empowered with the right digital skills and knowledge to help them make the digital leap.
“We are also actively collaborating with government agencies, corporates, associations and technology providers to continue pushing the digital transformation agenda forward via public-private partnership (PPP). These partnerships are necessary to accelerate SME digitalisation that will help fast-track the digital economic growth as Malaysia continues to adapt to the new normal, ” he says.
MDEC is also fronting several initiatives and incentives under PENJANA in the areas of talent reskilling and upskilling programmes, gig economy, e-commerce campaigns, buying local products, automation grants for the services sector, SME digitalisation and the arts, culture and entertainment sector.