Lasting close to two months, Singapore’s extended ‘circuit breaker’ has had serious implications for businesses across all sectors. During this time, a majority of businesses were required to halt or scale down on operations, leaving business owners grappling with unprecedented amounts of lost revenue on top of still-rolling costs such as headcount and rent.
Having to quickly adhere to social distancing measures has also contributed to the rapid uptake in digital adoption among businesses in Singapore. With over S$500 million of the Fortitude Budget announced in May allocated to supporting the digital transformation of businesses amid the pandemic, the need to adapt or be left behind is beyond question.
With the reopening of Singapore’s economy in the transition to Phase Two and resumption of more business and social activities, businesses need to carefully consider the way forward in this uncertain climate. New consumer behaviours and remote working arrangements are here to stay, presenting an opportune moment for businesses to re-examine existing business models and explore ways to streamline and reinvent operations. Be it upgrading hardware and software to lower operation costs, or investing in productivity and efficiency boosting tools, businesses should seize this opportunity to evaluate digital transformation processes – even integrating new habits adopted during the pandemic – in order to stay ahead of the curve as the economy makes headway into recovery.
Integrating Hygiene and Business Processes
As businesses enter the new normal, ensuring a safe and successful transition back into the workforce for employees is a crucial first step for business continuity. Having integrated hygiene and business processes in place will be key in safeguarding the well-being and security of employees and customers.
To streamline measures like temperature screening before entry, which can be time-consuming and manpower-intensive, businesses can install contactless facial recognition systems with thermal scanning capabilities to help monitor workplace health conditions. Many of such devices also feature attendance and door access functions. Along with its contactless nature, these devices can be effectively used to strengthen hygiene practices for the long term. This could achieve seven times as much savings as compared to the cost of hiring a part time worker for the same job over a year.
Many of these automated systems also store the temperature and access data in real time on cloud-based platforms. This reduces manual processes of collecting data for contact tracing, and increases the number of happy patrons who would have otherwise been stuck in a queue. With this data, businesses would also be able to pre-empt viruses spreading within the organisation, manage the office’s security tracking, and even use this for attendance taking.
Enabling Always-On Connectivity
The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a 20 percent year-on-year increase in Singapore’s businesses making a push towards digital transformation. From retailers to food and beverage (F&B) establishments, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have started to optimise processes and diversify sales channels over the recent months. Many of these SMEs have started evolving their business by adopting digital solutions to provide end-to-end, contactless services.
With businesses progressively upgrading digital capabilities, ensuring always-on internet connectivity becomes more integral to business continuity and managing cash flow than before, especially if more than 70% of the business functions can only be executed online. This is particularly pertinent for eCommerce businesses who also use Point-of-Sale (POS) services, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms, and have loyalty programmes. Based on our findings, the average business with an annual revenue exceeding S$500K is likely to incur revenue losses of S$1,200 or more every time they have a network connectivity issue.
As more and more businesses start hosting their processes and data remotely or in the cloud, it becomes imperative to reinforce fibre-based connections with mobile technology, which can also be deployed extremely swiftly.
Going Wireless and Getting Data Insights
With the gradual reopening of the economy, it is timely for retailers and F&B establishments that offer WiFi within their premises to enhance or update WiFi systems with a cloud-managed WiFi service.
From Apple’s Airplay and Android’s Chromecast to the latest WiFi 6, most businesses have stopped using LAN cables in their compounds because of the ease of connecting to wireless projectors, the convenience of remote meetings, and the availability of budget laptops that enable all of this. Businesses have also started outsourcing the management of WiFi networks to Internet Service Providers for ease of accountability as broadband and wireless connectivity go hand in hand.
Apart from seamless connectivity, F&B and FMCG businesses can leverage the data provided from the management of these WiFi networks to enhance the consumer experience. Collected through a captive portal, this data allows businesses to reach out to returning customers who have used their networks to offer promotions, or to improve internal management of manpower and operation hours by using data about peak periods and total dwelling time per customer, for example.
With fewer streams of patrons in stores, at least for the near future, there lies a prime opportunity during this time for businesses to revamp, re-organise, and finally, return more prepared than ever.
Digitising and Transforming with Data
Beyond harnessing data with new technology and devices, how can businesses truly transform into a data-driven organisation?
This is often the biggest headache for business owners, but can be attained through a four-step process: Convert, Collect, Converge and Correlate.
In the first stage, convert your processes by using digital rather than paper formats. You can start with simple electronic forms, or embrace technologies like Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and digital imaging systems. These tools have gotten extremely powerful over time; OCR can now identify Chinese characters and more illegible handwriting, and modern imaging systems paired with artificial intelligence platforms have been known to assist the police in identifying Persons of Interest.
Next, extract and house your data in a depository. This would typically entail storing information locally in a physical harddisk, or in a more secure location via Network Access Storage or Cloud Storage.
However, having access to a repository of data and personal information places businesses at a greater risk of malicious data breaches and exposure of sensitive information. It is thus equally important for businesses to have robust data security strategies in place, to protect sensitive data and information as they embark on their digital transformation journey. This could include performing data auditing, educating employees on the importance of data protection and implementing a data breach response plan.
Converge your collected data and business processes across different functions into a unified platform. This allows you to start monetising your data in the next stage.
Finally, you want to be able to see the correlation between your data streams and your business, and take action based on the data you see. One of the best ways to do so is with Business Intelligence (BI) dashboards, which you can configure to see how, for example, whether the introduction of your new Point-of-Sale system had any impact on foot traffic or the time customers spent in your stores, which ultimately affect revenue.
At the end of the day, end-to-end digital transformation can easily take between six to 18 months of execution, so in order to figure out which aspects of the business should be digitised, businesses need to consider which parts to start converting, and start doing so in bite sizes. These can be independent stages, connected later down the line. Regardless of the aspect businesses choose to start with, the final goal remains to be able to use the data collected in order to achieve an increase in efficiency, revenue or productivity, reduce operating costs, or all of the above.
Every crisis presents its set of challenges and opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic has jolted businesses to embrace and harness digital transformation at an accelerated pace, but how businesses respond now will set the course for its success going forward. As the economy reopens, businesses that take active steps to empower their digital transformation journey will be well-equipped and positioned to operate in unpredictable conditions, to emerge triumphant today and in the post-pandemic future.