New normal reflecting on digital trends among SMEs in Asia Pacific

19 February 2021 3 min. read

New Cisco research shows an intent to go digital among small and medium enterprises in Asia Pacific (APAC). The findings are based on a survey across Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. 

The survey, conducted by Analysys Mason, spanned 1,600 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – businesses with a headcount between 50 and 150 people. Th researchers used the data to hone in on key digital trends unfolding in the segment, against the backdrop of a year-old global pandemic.

“Our study shows that SMEs across all countries, sizes and verticals are focused on remote work support, online platforms and upgrading their existing IT solutions in the year ahead,” noted Bidhan Roy, managing director & head of commercial & small business at Cisco. Most of these trends reflect pillars of the new normal.

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Remote working support

Remote work, for instance, began as a necessity for the world of business during lockdown, but soon became an attractive means to cut costs and improve flexibility. The only challenge is to sustain and improve productivity in the virtual sphere – cited as a barrier by nearly 45% of SMEs.

The response is to invest in better digital support for remote and hybrid working – the key to success for over 40% of respondents. Roughly the same number believe better employee engagement is a centrepiece of digital investment.

Online and omnichannel

Next is a focus on online platforms – a critical means to customer engagement. Indeed, during lockdown and amid subsequent infection risks, online was the only way to access consumers – with 50% of all APAC SMEs grappling with the closure of physical outlets. As a result, more than 75% of APAC SMEs plan to invest in an ecommerce platform over the next year.

Business survival aside, a sophisticated online offering will also boost competitiveness in the new normal – as a newly tech savvy consumer base chooses between multiple new, creative and omnichannel offerings. With this in mind, nearly 60% of SMEs put customer experience as a top priority in their future digital offering – seeking that extra edge over competitors. 

A winning proposition will include a smooth, contactless customer journey, which blends physical interaction with a strong online commerce infrastructure. Trust, efficiency, speed and quality will all be central considerations here.

Digital maturity

Digital transformation

Last on the list is an upgrade of IT solutions. For nearly 20%, a tech upgrade is crucial to cutting costs over the next year or so. Incidentally, this is more of a priority in developed APAC markets such as Australia, Singapore, Japan and South Korea than it is in developing markets such as India, China, Indonesia and Thailand.

Nonetheless, a transformation is very much on the cards across the board – with Industry 4.0 applications such as cloud, artificial intelligence and automation coming into focus for their ability to keep businesses agile, efficient and flexible. Until recently, SMEs in APAC have been reluctant to advance their digital transformations, although the change in circumstances combined with increased affordability of new tech is boosting the appeal of digital investments.

“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,” concluded Roy.