As the curtains draw near on an eventful 2019 marked by trade wars, government shutdowns, elections and more, it looks as though the coming leap year will be no less memorable. But beyond the headlines, furore and excitement, there’s no doubt that the past 12 months have also contained important lessons for the future, and hints at the trends to come.

What does this all mean for business, particularly for smaller organizations facing the potential brunt of market fluctuations? How can they better prepare themselves for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead?

Indulge me in some crystal-ball gazing – here are some of my predictions as we approach the year 2020.


#1 Cybersecurity

The 2012 London Olympics were estimated to have faced 250 million cyberattacks. The 2016 Rio games saw that figure double to 500 million. So, it’s no wonder that in early 2019, Japan surveyed over 200 million devices for potential cybersecurity lapses as the country braces itself for an onslaught of sophisticated cyberattacks during its own upcoming Summer Games. This is just the tip of the iceberg – with a slew of major events in the works for 2020, we can expect national cybersecurity standards across the world to continue to rise.

But when the security bar is raised, cybercriminals too up their game. As such, businesses with weak cyberdefenses in place will only find themselves more vulnerable than ever before. Make no mistake – being small does not mean being removed from the equation altogether. A cybersecurity breach might result in a hefty fine or reputational damage – which a large organization with deep pockets and a public relations team could recover from. But for the 4-man SMB or the 3rd generation family business, it might spell their doom. Not sure where you stand? Use our free SMB security checklist to assess yourself.


#2 Data Privacy

The now defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica gained infamy in 2018 after being found to have collected personal data via Facebook without permission to ‘establish sophisticated models of user’s personalities’, and influence voters ahead of key elections. This included the 2016 US presidential election.

Since then, data privacy has become the topic of the day. Starting with the implementation of the GDPR in Europe, nations throughout Asia Pacific including Japan, China, Singapore, India and Australia have all either updated, or announced their intention to update key privacy legislation. Now with the 2020 presidential campaign looming, it wouldn’t be surprising if consumers started questioning what has truly been learnt over the past two years.

Consider this an opportunity to review your own data collection processes and vendor partners – not just for compliance and reputation, but to ensure that the data your business is storing serves a purpose.


#3 Infrastructure

Many organizations – from SMBs to blue-chip companies and governments – have reaped the benefits of investing in a digital foundation for growth. You can read up on some of Cisco’s SMB case studies here for a few examples.

However, after an initial focus on the “nuts and bolts” that underpin a business’ digital foundation (such as switches, routers, access points, email), we can expect to see companies shift their infrastructure investment priorities from technologies that support business operations to those that enable growth in 2020.

 In other words, Digital Transformation will include an outcomes-focused, customer-oriented transformation – aimed at delivering customers better value and services, instead of simply patching up internal systems. For example, by enabling greater market coverage; encouraging better engagement with customers, employees, and partners; and analyzing business data for insights to improve strategic decisions.

Another element that will come to the fore and hold even higher prominence for SMBs is Automation Technologies. SMBs will continue to invest heavily in automation technologies that will help them simplify their processes, smoothen their workflows and down the line, grow their revenues and improve the efficiency of their workforce. Simple solutions such as automated apps for data entry, accounting, expense management are on the rise and can even be downloaded for relatively low costs from app stores – showing that digital transformation need not necessarily be an expensive or painful process. These technologies will not just help SMBs in simplifying processes but help them take strides towards infusing Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence into their workflows.


#4 Remote Working

Globalization has been the catalyst for the expansion of many organizations, large and small, outside of their home base. Governments are doing their best to attract organizations to set up shop in their cities, dangling attractive carrots in front of them such as generous tax reliefs, grants to purchase equipment and access to a skilled pool of talent. And while SMBs may not have the capacity or resources to set up an entire office or team in another country, the advent of remote working has nonetheless allowed them to ride this wave.

Technologies like video conferencing and workplace messenger interfaces have enabled SMBs to foster seamless interaction and collaboration across borders. No matter what the distance or time zone, as long as there is Wi-Fi access and a mobile device, that’s all that’s needed for them to communicate with their overseas workforce, customers and partners.

There’s also the added benefit of reducing overheads – a single employee, or a small handful of them, can be hired in another market, and work from the comfort of their homes instead of forking out rent, only to divert funds from more critical needs.

I foresee remote working continuing to grow in popularity, and for many of APAC’s SMBs to turn to it to bolster their operations overseas. So why not review our Virtual Office Checklist now and start planning your own expansion?


#5 Social Media

Rarely now do we see organizations handing out flyers or flooding your inbox with generic newsletters. These days, social media has emerged as the preferred modus operandi to interact with customers – adding a personal touch and giving their brand a persona that people can interact with, ask questions, give feedback to and receive updates from.

The added benefit that these platforms give SMBs specifically is the power of data and analytics – on a scale which they may not have previously been able to afford, and that they can then comb through for insights to in turn deliver better products and services, or customization options.

To manage these new avenues, Social Media Marketing Experts – in other words, specialists who know how to best leverage social media channels to ensure their brands reach the most relevant and engaged audiences – will become critical hires for small businesses in the coming 12 months. These specialists will be multi-faceted experts, with an aptitude in creating visual and written content, and the technical ability to crunch data and analyze patterns to derive valuable nuggets of information – all of which can be translated into actions that drive revenue, growth or traffic.