COVID-19 has disrupted businesses, forcing them to embrace new possibilities. For the first time, businesses were conducted mostly virtually, many retailers rushed to shift their ordering capabilities and marketing efforts online and some even switched to live streaming services to promote their products online. Businesses had to adapt quickly to the new reality and to ensure that they could still reach their customers, suppliers and employees despite the restrictions on activities when movement control orders (MCO) were imposed.

A key lesson that many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have taken away is the critical need to digitalise their services and to leverage technology to increase their productivity and ensure business continuity. A June 2020 survey of 670 businesses conducted by EY revealed that 85 per cent of SMEs in Malaysia experienced difficulties in their online connectivity and communication with suppliers after the MCO was enforced.

Increasing digital adoption, automating processes and transitioning to cloud platforms will help SMEs continue their operations in spite of movement restrictions. Even after movement restrictions lift, SMEs will need to continue offering digital services as consumer behaviour have shifted over the past 2 years, as ecommerce has become the norm.

UOB’s innovation accelerator, The FinLab, has been assisting businesses in their digitalisation journey since it started its digitalisation programmes in 2018. The programme is especially timely, given the now-urgent need for SMEs to move their businesses online and optimise their processes for cost-efficiency.


Helping SMEs compete in the digital economy

Launched to drive digitalisation among SMEs in Malaysia, the Jom Transform Programme is the first business transformation programme in Malaysia to help local businesses digitalise their operations to drive productivity and revenue growth. The programme helps SMEs drive their digital transformation journey with The FinLab’s proprietary business tool—such as a Digital Needs Assessment (DNA) test to identify and prioritise their areas of digitalisation. The programme also enables SMEs to pilot solutions in digital marketing, back-end operations and e-commerce.

The SMEs will then embark on three phases for transformation. In the first phase, learning and knowledge sharing, The FinLab organises workshops for businesses owners to discover different areas of digitalisation. For example, SMEs piloting solutions for back-end operations (eg. Sales fulfilment, invoicing, monthly reporting) can join the webinar on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to understand how they can automate repetitive tasks.

The second phase is the matching stage. Since the SMEs that attend the programme have varying levels of digital adoption and unique goals or pain points, such as difficulty scaling or operational inefficiencies, The FinLab will match these SMEs with appropriate technology solutions based on their business needs.

The last phase is implementation. In this phase, the SMEs will implement the relevant technologies and incorporate it into their business to make real improvements.


Regional digital platform to drive digitalisation amidst COVID-19

To support more SMEs during these trying times, The FinLab has been running the Jom Transform Programme completely online since August 2020.

SMEs access the programme through The FinLab Online. On the platform, they can tap the expertise of industry mentors from UOB and its regional ecosystem partners, as well as attend online workshops, video tutorials and webinars to deepen the SMEs’ understanding of the different areas of digitalisation.

In this year’s programme, SMEs were given access to a host of digital solutions through the JomX Campaign to accelerate their digitalisation efforts amid COVID-19 challenges. Under the Campaign, the Bank is offering the first 200 SME customers and Jom Transform participants complimentary digital solution subscription packages of up to 13 months.

The complimentary digital solutions are offered in partnership with Autocount, Dattel, Designs.AI, Dropee, Exabytes, OrangeFIN Asia and Otomate Me. These seven providers specialise in digital solutions ranging from business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) e-commerce platforms, cloud accounting systems, to artificial intelligence and data analytics, RPA and marketing technology solutions.

All digital solutions offered through JomX were selected based on the top digital pain points and priorities highlighted by SMEs from the first cohort of the Jom Transform Programme 2021. These are also the key digital solutions needed to adapt to the shift in consumer behaviours and navigate the operational challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Finding unique digitalisation solutions

The founders of both the Makeover Guys and Elegant Management were participants of the programme. Home renovation company The Makeover Guys wanted to scale the business to three times the revenue amount it drew in 2019, while business consulting firm Elegant Management was looking to jumpstart the company’s digitalisation journey.

The Makeover Guys is a 130 strong company with a unique business model - it executes home renovations for its clients and then assists them to secure tenants for their rental properties. Naturally, the company is constantly engaged in renovations in multiple locations, made all the more challenging by the fact that its headquarters are in Kuala Lumpur (KL) but projects can be ongoing anywhere from KL to Johor Bahru, Kuching and even Kota Kinabalu.

Mr Gavin Liew, Managing Partner and Founder of the Makeover Guys said, “The MCO affected us tremendously. During the first three months of MCO, our business was reduced by 70 per cent. Our goal for participating in the Jom Transform Programme was really to complete our digitalisation plans. We are still a renovation company—a traditional business—but we want to make the whole process faster and more enjoyable for both customers and the team leveraging on tech.”

Project Managers (PMs) spend a lot of time coordinating with contractors on the progress on their job sites, churning out paperwork to document the project milestones. PMs have to be skilled in planning and scheduling, sequencing the work that each contractor needs to carry out and working within the staff resource constraints. The Makeover Guys thus needed a central platform that functions as a single source of truth, that would keep all deployed on the project in sync.

The FinLab provided guidance and assisted them on multiple fronts, from understanding their needs to recommending a mentor and digital project management solutions. The mentorship session aided the company in structuring clear next steps to streamline their operations via a digital platform and increase their efficiency, so they are able to serve a larger number of customers.

Ms Daphne Tan, Executive Director of Elegant Management, says “We have always felt something was missing within our business, but we were unsure of what it was. We greatly appreciate the help of The FinLab with the one-on-one sessions that helped us identify business pain points and prioritise areas of digitalisation. It gave us a better understanding and insights on the how, what, and when of digitalising our business.”

Through The FinLab’s Jom Transform programme, Elegant Management was able to gain an understanding of the different areas for digitalisation (eg. operations, accounting, marketing) and watch the corresponding tech companies pitch their solutions. The company has since adopted a cloud secretary solution and automated their accounting system.

Helping more SMEs

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying period for Malaysian businesses. What started out as a health crisis quickly evolved to an economic crisis, with the country experiencing a record-breaking plunge in GDP in Q2 of 2020. While the Malaysian economy has been recovering, the recent Enhanced MCO in Q3 2021 has had a negative impact on the GDP, and the recovery trajectory is expected to be a gradual one.

Digitalisation may be one of the best options for SMEs to tide through these challenging times and to secure their future. The Jom Transform Programme enables SMEs to have access to some of the best mentors and technology service providers in the industry, in which SMEs can be guided throughout the digital transformation process.

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This article is jointly written by The FinLab and UOB. This article shall not be copied or relied upon by any person for whatever purpose. This article is given on a general basis without obligation and is strictly for information only. The information contained in this article is based on certain assumptions, information and conditions available as at the date of the article and may be subject to change at any time without notice. You should consult your own professional advisers about the issues discussed in this article. Nothing in this article constitutes accounting, legal, regulatory, tax or other advice. This article is not intended as an offer, recommendation, solicitation, or advice to purchase or sell any investment product, securities or instruments. Although reasonable care has been taken to ensure the accuracy and objectivity of the information contained in this article, UOB and The FinLab and their employees make no representation or warranty, whether express or implied, as to its accuracy, completeness and objectivity and accept no responsibility or liability for any error, inaccuracy, omission or any consequence or any loss or damage howsoever suffered by any person arising from any reliance on the views expressed and the information in this article.