THERE is an unmistakable call for SMEs to embrace digital technology.

In fact, industry observers say “it is no longer about why we should go digital but about how we use this tool”.

There are endless opportunities for businesses to tap into by going digital and entrepreneurs are advised to exploit these benefits.

“Gong digital allows the business owner to focus more on what they are passionate about in the business and technology gives them the platform to share that passion with their customers,” said Digi’s business division chief business officer Eugene Teh Yee at SOBA Lab last Wednesday.

When businesses are able to engage customers at such a level, it is easier for them to upsell customers their products and services.

In this way, companies will be able to increase their sales.

Teh was one of the speakers in the panel discussion on “Technology – The Engine of Change”. The other panellists were PKT Logistics Group Sdn Bhd chief marketing officer Kuan Eu Jin and RHB Bank Bhd group transaction banking head Chung Chee Kai.

The panel was moderated by Malaysia Retail Chain Association council member Raymond Woo.

PKT has also found social media platforms, Facebook in particular, to be an effective tool in engaging the public.

“We are a business-to-business (B2B) company. But we’ve gone past B2B engagement. With Facebook, we are doing business-to-consumer (B2c) engagement.

“And that has helped us as we move into e-commerce, which is a B2C segment. Now, we are able to sell a unique service to our customers. Our clients put their products in our warehouses and we are able to put those products up online to help them with sales because we’ve gotten the consumers’ attention,” said Kuan.

The logistics company is known for its use of social media as a communication tool with its employees. Kuan added that this helps the company engage and retain its talents.

“By using social media, we’ve also cut down on costs. We have zero hiring cost because our recruitment is done via Facebook and there is no need for us to invest in intranet,” he said.

However, Kuan noted that the initial process of implementing social media as a communication tool is not necessarily easy.

Some resistance and hiccups are bound to happen.

That shouldn’t stop businesses from going digital.

“Because of connectivity, we are part of the ecosystem. We can’t be left behind,” emphasised Chung.

Chung said businesses stand to benefit from digital developments such as mobile payment as Malaysia advances into a cashless society.

“We need to look at ways to educate SMEs on cost effectiveness by transacting the cashless way. It is also a more convenient transaction for them in terms of speed and efficiency,” he said.

While there are concerns among business owners over the cost of technology adoption, Chung countered that the cost for companies to go digital, to set up e-commerce, for example, is a lot lower than the cost of handling cash.

“Retailers are not aware of the cost of leakages from cash-heavy businesses,” added Teh.

SMEs can also leverage digital technology to grow their business abroad.

Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) deputy chief executive officer Sharimahton Mat Saleh said only 10% of Malaysian SMEs have adopted e-commerce.

“But e-commerce is a way to future-proof your business. Brick-and-mortar will still be relevant but you need a digital front,” she said.

Note that even Credit Guarantee Corp Malaysia Bhd (CGC) is reaching out to companies digitally, offering SMEs advisory and assistance through its portal.

On hand at the workshop to address a major challenge – funding – faced by SMEs was CGC vice-president of SME advisory and marketing Jenny Hoh.

According to Hoh, small businesses often lack collaterals, track record and access to good financing options. Hoh said CGC can help them by providing guarantees and support to get funding.

Participants at the workshop were also able to draw from the experiences of successful entrepreneurs such as Vitality Boost Sdn Bhd managing director and founder Dr Soraya Ismail, Sirius International (M) Sdn Bhd chief executive officer and founder Anne Tham and Hernan Corp group chief executive officer Anna Teo.

Soraya advises business owners to build strong foundations.

“This was a brand that I am personally passionate about. And that was key,” she said.

Soraya, who holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from Imperial College, London, is the master franchisor of Boost Juice Bars in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

She noted that some of the factors that helped Boost Juice grow to over 80 stores in Malaysia were her efforts to localise the business, continued improvements of its processes, people and systems, resilience and her understanding of the market.

Tham concurred that it is important to “know and understand your target audience”.

Tham has been in the education industry for many years now, moving from a teacher who taught in private colleges to running her own school.

Sirius International owns and manages Dwi Emas and its sister school, Sri Emas International School.

Meanwhile, Teo shared her experiences on how she became an entrepreneur and stumbled upon the opportunity to run something of her own when she could not find any Malaysian products while shopping in Chinatowns overseas.

Her journey led an opportune call for a container load of Malaysian durians.

“I am very lucky that the government is supporting me to make our Malaysian product more globalised. There are many products that can be produced using durian. It is not just a fruit,” she said.

She noted that the cost of one-acre of durian farming land has increased to RM600,000 from RM60,000 four years ago.

The SOBA Lab workshops were organised in conjunction with The Star Outstanding Business Awards (SOBA) 2018.

SOBA 2018 is organised by Star Media Group with Digi, PKT Logistics Group Sdn Bhd and RHB Bank Bhd as main sponsors, Credit Guarantee Corporation as co-sponsor, Matrade as official trade promotion partner and New World Petaling Jaya Hotel as official venue.

SOBA 2018 is endorsed by the International Trade and Industry Ministry, supported by Bursa Malaysia, and audited by BDO, with 988, SuriaFM and dimsum as official media partners.