How SMEs can benefit from the digital wave

How can SMEs harness the digital wave to their advantage?

Issues discussed at the SME Centre Conference 2017 centred around how SMEs can utilize digital to transform the business and improve people and resource management.

Jointly organized by the SME Centres and supported by SPRING Singapore, the conference focused on how SMEs can transform their businesses to embrace today’s fast changing business climate,

Benefitting from the digital wave

Technology has many apparent benefits, from better organization and archiving of information and data, to automating and streamlining procedures and processes, which are highly beneficial with the looming labour shortage in Asia.

 “Transformation isn’t easy. It is complicated and expensive,” said Arrif Zaiaudeen, CEO of The Chope Group Pte Ltd. “Many factors need to happen together for transformation to happen, and all of them won’t happen at the same time.”

When asked about the top two pieces of advice he can give, Zaiaudeen brought up perseverance and timing. ”Time it right so that all the right trends are coming in at the same time. Timing is everything.” he said.

Making the best of human resource management

With companies competing for the same talent pool, it appears that MNCs have an edge over SMEs with respect to brand awareness and job security. However, SMEs are able to individualize the career paths of their employees, providing more varied opportunities. This is possible through their smaller corporate structures, which provides them with the flexibility to do so.

With the influx of millennials into the workforce, SMEs can also appeal to their idealistic nature by highlighting that the more hands-on approach when working in an SME also provides many opportunities for learning. Compared to previous generations, millennials are more trusting in SMEs’ ability to grow, and hence are more likely to seek employment in such establishments.

Aside from attracting talent to the company, SMEs also need to look at themselves internally, and identify the talents that they already have. They need to be able to single out employees that have the potential to become super contributors. Retaining talents is crucial for SMEs, and according to Pearl Yu, Director – HR and Marketing of Keystone Cable Singapore, one key reason why employees leave their positions is due to the perceived lack of career growth. SMEs should tackle this by reviewing their promotional guidelines and considering lateral career growth.

Yu highlighted the importance of finding the right people for the right jobs. Traditionally, a good performer gets promoted to a managerial position, but this might not necessarily be what he or she excels in. Instead of following conventional methods, SMEs might want to push these candidates to specialize so that they can become super contributors, instead of being promoted to management roles, Yu continued.

Staff can also be retrained to take on new roles. This not only familiarizes them with the company laterally, but also gives rise to the opportunity to transfer knowledge between young and old staff, facilitating reverse mentorship and inter-generation learning.

Overseas expansion and internationalization

When then, should companies consider internationalization and expansion overseas? What are the potential red flags and considerations?

According to Arrif, even though the middle class is large, Singapore is a small market. It is too small to grow as a single market, and hence the overall goal is to regionalize. Companies need to ensure that they have enough resources to put people overseas, and balance how much focus there should be on the core, against how much one would need to invest into a new market.

“It is common to use our own mentality and perception to look at things.” says Yu, as she points out not knowing the local culture and market as potential considerations. Businesses need to look for partners and take time to evaluate local options.

 “You need to know your strengths and weaknesses, know your business, and consider your landscape,” said Winnie Chan and James Quan, CEO and Chairman of Bynd Artisan Pte Ltd. “Find out what makes you different from your competitors, and how to adapt that to your landscape to benefit yourself.”
 

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