Disruption is happening everywhere you look. It is boosted by changing customer expectations and also influenced by the introduction of new digital technologies like artificial intelligence and cloud. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) know that they need a digital strategy to thrive; however, progress varies across the region in Asia Pacific, Japan & China.

According to the Cisco APAC SMB Digital Maturity Index, SMBs in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam are at Stage 1 of the four-stage Index, or “Digital Indifferent”. At this stage, the business:

  • Has yet to begin targeted digital efforts. Digital technologies are not used, nor cloud resources
  • Has no automated processes
  • Is reactive to market changes

Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Greater China, South Korea and India are further along, in the “Digital Observer” stage (Stage 2). In this stage, digital efforts have begun, but they are uncoordinated, bite-sized and tactical. Technology investments are siloed, with some cloud resources being used.

Based on the study, SMBs in Asia Pacific have yet to reach Stage 3, “Digital Challenger”. In this stage, SMBs are beginning to formulate a strategy to use digital technologies. They have:

  • A roadmap for supporting digitalization and the hybrid cloud
  • They aim to become more adaptable and agile
  • Core processes have been automated, so they can move from reactive to becoming more proactive in their market responsiveness
  • Talent management is becoming a focus

The ultimate goal is Stage 4, “Digital Native”, where the impact of digital transformation can be maximized. Digital Natives:

  • Have an integrated digitalization strategy. The company is cloud-first and has digital technologies embedded in the business
  • Are focused on driving continuous innovation
  • Back a proactive, data-driven go-to-market strategy with full process automation and analytics
  • Digital technologies are used to amplify its size, presence and competitiveness in the market

Despite the rewards, SMBs can find digital journeys challenging. SMB leaders have told me that resources are often limited, financing can be elusive, and that they lack critical skillsets needed for effective digital transformation.

It may be difficult, but not impossible.

Many of our SMB customers have found success by going slow, starting simple and investing wisely. While the stages of the Digital Maturity Index are an excellent guide to what SMB leaders can aim for, SMBs can benefit by thinking about:

  • Building a vision for company-wide transformation that’s aligned with enterprise goals
  • Factoring in customer and employee satisfaction
  • Identifying next steps that your workforce will wholeheartedly support
  • Going beyond plugging gaps to starting projects that contribute significantly to your digital vision

SMBs with passion, vision and innovation are close to my heart. There are many of you in Asia Pacific. The Cisco SMB Inspire Series was created specially to provide ideas to jumpstart SMB growth. Please do dip into the wealth of content already available, and remember, the sky is the limit for your digital journey.

I’m really confident that SMBs in Asia Pacific will make their mark as they transform into Digital Natives. And I would love to hear how you’ve advanced along the spectrum of digital maturity in the months to come.

Browse the Cisco APAC SMB Digital Maturity Index