Starting your own business is probably the most exciting – and frightening – thing you’ll ever do. It takes passion, dedication to a vision, strong commitment to long hours of hard work and persistence to overcome challenges along the way. How, then, can small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) channel and transform their hard work and dedication into business success? And what are some of the challenges faced by SMEs?

An IDC report recently revealed that reducing costs, gaining operational efficiency, and improving productivity are the top business priorities for SMEs across the Asia Pacific region in the coming year It is no surprise that SMEs have limited resources on top of these operational challenges, making it harder for them to stay ahead of external challenges and grow their business.

Increased competition
Besides operational challenges, industry competition is without a doubt, one of the biggest external challenges facing SMBs today. Digital disruption has also forced many SMBs to rethink their business model, be it a brick-and-mortar store that has been outpaced by the rapid evolution of e-commerce or delivery services, or small hospitality businesses struggling to keep up with vacation home rental platforms.

At the very core of this challenge is also the end-customer’s expectations. The consumer of today expect a seamless customer experience that is on demand, and it is getting harder to meet those expectations.

These are all external variables that can easily overwhelm SME owners as they face a myriad of changes and disruption that technology has brought to their world. However, the advantage that SMEs have is that they are agile and able to move with the beat and expectations of the markets that they play in.

The future workforce
SMEs may also face challenges attracting and retaining talent. To sustain a pipeline of talent, business owners need to think about how they design job roles, organize work, and invest in the right training and development.

The annual Deloitte Global Millennial Survey revealed that 76% of millennials they surveyed believe that businesses have the power to make a difference. This is a highly informed generation and want to be involved in making the world a better place. They want to work at organisations that have a clear sense of purpose, invests in skills and career development, and impacts society in a positive manner.

Digital natives and millennials are also looking towards “structured but flexible work” and SMBs that are serious about attracting and retaining talent cannot avoid having a mobile workforce. Harnessing the power of the technology and putting people at the centre of change is an imperative, whether that change may be driven by internal or external factors.

To effect change, technology will be a differentiator in creating a more seamless customer experience – as mentioned before – for SMEs to stay ahead of a savvy and digital consumer, and also compete in the war for talent, that is increasingly more mobile.

Doing more with less
Keeping operational cost down and be able to do more with less, is quite possibly the mantra to succeed, external factors aside. Financing could also be a challenge to some SMEs with limited resources.

With limited human and financial resources, SMEs need their technology infrastructure to be easy to set-up, flexible and scale-able to their business needs. There are also financing options and grants to help SMEs adopt technology, given that many countries in this region are going through national digitization journey.

The right technology should serve as the foundation for the digital business and workforce, with tools to increase innovation, productivity and employee satisfaction – all directly impacting customer satisfaction.

To illustrate with a real-life example: thanks to innovative and secure technology, a young business providing online marketplace for odd-jobs, gained 1 million customers in just five years since it was established.

This startup could run seamlessly, powered by 24/7 secure, software-as-a-service IT and connectivity, easily managed by a point-and-click. Having a smart and secure cloud-based network provided peace of mind while the business owner and employees – who are mobile – can focus on other aspects such as business development and sales.

Besides making sure that the foundation of your network can be managed efficiently, having a secure network means that your organisation is protected by a solution that is able to stop threats, gain insights, detect earlier and act faster.

Cyber criminals do not just target large businesses but also SMEs. SMEs are learning that this is important and based on an IDC Report, 84% of SME respondents of a survey across Asia Pacific say they are focusing on building a secure IT environment.

Ensuring that technology is protected right from the core business to the endpoint safeguards the security of your data and your customers’ data, allowing you to build your digital capabilities with the assurance that your most valuable assets are safe.

Future-proofing your business
SMEs of the future are those that are responsive to external factors such as the evolution of the workforce and changing customer expectations. They are the ones that are taking steps to boost their capabilities in productivity, innovation and efficiency – and be able to deliver the best out of the limited resources they have.

Bringing your vision to life and sustaining a business requires hard work and dedication, and it can be made easier with technology. Taking the first step to using technology to transform your business framework will be the start of a process to future-proof your business.

Bastiaan Toeset, Vice President, Commercial, Asia Pacific & Japan, Cisco



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