Sound advice on digital transformation

Kang: Digital transformation is a must for business survival and sustainability.

PETALING JAYA: While small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are aware that digital transformation is a must, there are still areas that they can look into to reap the full benefits of technology, conclude panellists at the recent virtual SOBA LAB.

SME Association of Malaysia (SMEAM) president Datuk Michael Kang, in his opening keynote for the Chinese language workshop, briefly covered the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the movement control order (MCO) in March on smaller businesses, noting that the recent conditional MCO in the Klang Valley and East Malaysia has exacerbated matters in business recovery.

While SMEs are facing new challenges in terms of uncertainties over another lockdown, such as whether they would be able to fulfil received orders, he pointed out that technology can be an enabler.

He stressed, “SMEs must be careful during this time. They must forgo traditional ways of doing business and use innovative means to help transform their companies by leveraging technology, as the old practices will not work anymore.

“Those that have adopted technology and transformed their companies are navigating the pandemic and are surviving; conversely, it’s tough for those that have yet to embrace technology.”

When it comes to digital transformation, Digi SME direct sales head Thew Soon Kheng said there are many benefits, during the panel discussion titled Road to Recovery in Restoring Business Sustainability.

Moderated by SMEAM national council member and SMEs committee chairman Koong Lin Loong, the topics of discussion included optimising digital platforms to improve existing operating processes and business models, understanding the shift in customer preferences, ensuring a proper support system to cater to a virtual workforce, as well as leveraging business growth avenues to support cash flow management.

Online presence on e-commerce platforms, for instance, not only gives SMEs access to different customer groups but also defray business acquisition costs, in addition to enabling scalability on demand.

That said, Thew noted that companies must know how to leverage technology such as big data to better understand customer needs and behaviour, as customers are already going mobile-first.

In doing so, they would be able to better cater new products, services or packages to suit market demands.

“To start digital transformation, companies must identify and understand business pain points that are the most challenging for them.

“Then, they can look for trusted technology partners, ” he said.

He added that short-term cost savings should not be the goal of technology adoption, as there are long term benefits of such digital systems.

He also distilled three important pointers for those companies embarking on their digital transformation journeys.

For one, employees must be upskilled technologically, as companies cannot maximise its benefits without being able to properly utilise it.

Secondly, SMEs must ensure that they subscribe to an end-to-end digital ecosystem, instead of creating a ‘digital island’.

Lastly, the entire company must be aligned to its technological goals, as such objectives cannot be achieved otherwise.

The session also featured RHB Bank Bhd SME banking head Yip How Nang, who said, “There is no one-size-fit-all solution for businesses.

“There are some businesses that are unable to fit into digitalisation, such as fine dining restaurants or property developers.”

He pointed to the importance of focusing on specific and steady communication with customers, especially with ever-changing customer preferences in the time of the pandemic.

Moreover, he advised SMEs to look into all options for third-party services and consider the pros and cons carefully, in order to select suitable partners to help accelerate their digital transformation journey.

“Customer behaviour has changed completely with Covid-19 and SME business owners must follow suit.

“Online penetration rate has increased significantly over the past few months.

“That means they need to take faster action to spur digital adoption, so that they can better face the impact of Covid-19 and not only weather the storm, but also grow their business at the same time, ” he said.

The workshop also featured past SOBA winners, namely Empire Sushi Group Sdn Bhd chief executive officer (CEO) Nicole Lim and Inhome Engineering Works Sdn Bhd founder and CEO Terry Chong.

Organised in conjunction with SOBA 2020 as part of the education element of the awards programme, SOBA LAB – themed recovery, reinvention and restoration – was designed to arm business leaders and entrepreneurs with the necessary knowhow to take their businesses to the next level.

SOBA 2020 is organised by SMG with Digi, PKT Logistics Group and RHB Bank as main sponsors, Credit Guarantee Corp Malaysia Bhd as co-sponsor and the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation as official trade promotion partner.

It is endorsed by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, supported by Bursa Malaysia and audited by BDO with dimsum, 988 and Suria as official media partners.

Submissions for SOBA are now open.

Locally incorporated enterprises not part of a multinational or listed group with foreign equity not exceeding 50% can participate by completing the application form online via or submitting the hard copy to the organiser at Menara Star, Petaling Jaya. The deadline for entries is Dec 4,2020.

For more information on SOBA 2020, call The Star Events Business Unit at +603 7967 1388 ext 1871 (Lily)/ 1104 (Shamenei) or visit

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