Review Digital Transformation trends for SMEs in a post-pandemic context

Within just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic had been dramatically changing the way companies, from SMEs to conglomerates, leverage technology to do business. Indeed, the crisis has brought about unprecedented challenges, along with new opportunities, most remarkably people's increased comfort and appreciation towards digital experience. These changes are all in all picking up the pace towards more holistic digital transformations by several years. According to a McKinsey survey, nearly 65% of participating companies believe that only digital transformation will help them to be economically viable through 2023.

In this article, we would investigate some of the most prevalent digital transformation trends as per 3 areas: customer experience, employee experience and business operation.


Leveraging data, AI & machine learning to personalize customers' digital experience at every touch point

Pre-pandemic, many companies found that their traditional way of doing business was functioning just well and they even believed “customers favor human interaction over robots”. As such, they had few motivations to pour serious effort and investment into digital transformation initiatives that are associated with such a large uncertainty. Suddenly, the lock-down periods came and forced them to think and do the other way around.

From the customers' perspective, COVID-19 has shifted the business competition from multi-channels to mostly online. A survey of McKinsey confirmed the customer shift toward digital channels, especially in Asia - where respondents said that at least 80 percent of their customer interactions are now digital in nature.

In such circumstance, a seamless digital customer experience has become a make-or-break component to brands' success.

What's more interesting is that, these initiatives turned out to prove the efficiency of this fully digital approach and its potential in the long run rather than just a short-term response to the pandemic. Actually, a well-designed digital experience can offer an equivalent or even higher level of personalization, thus satisfaction, comparing to traditional in-person approaches, especially in terms of emotional engagement with customers.

For example, a clothing brand can leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to suggest an outfit based on personal preferences. SaaS applications, or dynamic customer databases in particular, can allow businesses to store the history of how your business interacts with customers, thereby analyzing customer preferences and crafting personalized experience upon each customer profile.

The use of self-service apps in digital selling

The sanitary crisis with associated safety concerns allows online shopping to come front and center. When in-person direct selling options were suddenly eliminated, firms had to quickly invest to enable a digital infrastructure covering different touch points.

An easy-to-see example is that brick-and-mortar retailers now offer customers curbside pickup and contactless payment via mobile self-service apps. Restaurants are replacing their print menus with digital web-based menus with interactive features. Service companies are using chatbots to support their customers 24/7.

Basically, digital transformation to the customer end is happening more holistically than ever before, aiming at providing a consistent and seamless customer experience before, during and after every single purchase. A study done by MIT found that firms that have adopted digital transformation were 26% more profitable than their peers!


The customer-facing components are not the only ones that have been disrupted by the crisis. The same situation also happened in the area of employee experience, in which a number of digital transformation trends have been emerging.

Remote workforce management systems and collaboration tools

The pandemic with massive lockdown and quarantine has stopped the longstanding viewpoint that working is gathering in the same workspace to get the job done. On the other hand, it has promoted the idea bring work to employees, not employees to work.

Nowadays, post-pandemic, not only big corporates but also SMEs are allowing their employees to work from home and considering to adopt a hybrid working model in the long term. The speed of this transition is remarkable with the facilitation of technologies combining with adequate buy-in from the management. Pre-pandemic, it would take months or even years to build and onboard an IT infrastructure for a teleworking system. During the crisis, it took only 11 days on average to implement an equivalent solution.

In 2020, we recognized the massive everyday adoption of digital collaboration tools like Zoom, Google Hangout, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams. Furthermore, a lot of organizations have started to invest in building their own custom collaboration tools that cater to their unique needs.

digital enterprise solution provider and agile team

Learning management system (LMS)

For years, there has existed a perennial challenge for firms in filling critical talent gaps while continuously providing high-value, personalized yet cost-effective and scalable trainings for their employees.

As people's comfort with digital experience has reached its peak during the social distancing periods, it's time to tap into the aforementioned pain point with digital learning management systems.

Learning management systems (LMS) are digital applications for documentation, tracking, reporting, and delivery of educational courses or training programs for employees. It's ranked as one of the most cost-effective and efficient technologies to improve human resource quality and employee experience as a whole.


More comprehensive implementation of cloud computing

In many cases, the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on organizations' lack of back-end digital infrastructure, particularly the inadequate implementation of cloud computing.

Before any fancy attempts, remember that cloud computing should lie at the heart of your digital transformation strategy, as it provides the launchpad for other initiatives to perform decently. Get the basic right, the rest will follow!

Making use of IoT, AI, machine learning to optimize operational processes and introduce innovations

Covid-19 has placed businesses under greater pressure to strengthen their competitive edge. Technologies are thus leveraged not only in order to resolve the social distancing related issues, but also to achieve better operational efficiency and even to create innovations.

Particularly, fueled by Industry 4.0, machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoTs) help organizations make the most of real-time data to improve operational performance and introduce new services.

For instance, insurance companies can leverage their database to drive and optimize the pricing policy; manufacturers can analyze the real-time data to predict the necessary maintenance services. A hybrid infrastructure connecting IoT devices to cloud-based systems enables a digital solution platform to enhance the communication between legacy systems and management.

Obviously, you do not need to be an Airbnb or an Uber with a breakthrough idea. Any organizations could and should seek out opportunities for data-based applications and digital enhancement. For example, purchasing departments can leverage data to identify which suppliers are most reliable for which types of components or materials, thus market developers can introduce new product-as-a-service offerings, having optimized operations through the use of data. The R&D department can also leverage digital simulations to adjust designs and minimize failed prototypes. Also, AI-powered systems can enable human resource departments to analyze and evaluate candidate applications at larger scale with better efficiency.

Final Thoughts

The sanitary crisis has inevitably sped up the penetration of digital transformations across industries and created winner-takes-all dynamics in more and more industries. It's the right time for organizations to make serious investments in technology and digital capabilities in order to be not left behind.

With first hand experience in tens of digital transformation projects for SMEs in the APAC region, we at Enable Startup have a lot of exciting insights, lessons learned and hopefully, advice for your next digital projects.

Follow our blogs to catch up on the latest digital transformation trends or get in touch at [email protected]!

    Tuan Nguyen

    Managing Director

    Hello, I am Founder & Managing Director at Enable Startup. I’ve been living and breathing Agile, IoT, data, product design and entrepreneurship for over 10 years now. Feel free to connect or drop me a message!

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