Key digital technologies SMEs need to improve processes, profits

An engineer and entrepreneur has identified some of the leading digital technologies that small businesses can utilize to make their operations more efficient and productive.

Carlos Ang, who is the CEO of software developer Avigate Inc. and who runs a laundry franchise business called Suds Laundry and Dryclean, said small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) can benefit in a huge way if they can unlock the potential of digitalization to transform their processes.
Full digitalization can unlock up to P5 trillion in annual economic value by 2030, he continued.
“Kung mag-fully digitalize tayong SMEs, we can unlock P5 trillion of value. Paghati-hatian natin iyan. Ibig sabihin kada business mayroong makukuhang cost savings or increased productivity, increased bottom line,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Digitalization in business refers to enabling, improving, and/or transforming business operations by leveraging digital technologies, such as by going paperless in tracking packed goods, said Ang in a recent presentation for the Department of Trade and Industry.

Among these major transformative technologies are mobile internet, financial technology or fintech, cloud computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced robotics, and Internet of Things (IOT).

Of these, mobile internet and fintech (in the form of e-wallets and cashless payment) are by far the most widely known in the country, Ang added.

However, it is important that SMEs also know what other digital technologies to utilize to enhance their efficiency, productivity, and profitability.

These include cloud computing, or the delivery of IT resources over the internet, which is a useful technology for acquiring more powerful data storage and management tools as the business grows.

Ang said their business uses G Suite powered by Google for coordination among teams, Google’s mobile application development platform called Firebase, and Amazon Web Services.
Cloud computing represents safety because the server is not in the office but is “somewhere being shared in a cloud” and provides “high power within our reach,” said Ang.
Big data analytics is the process of analyzing large amounts of data and acting on them to improve procedures and performance. Big data is useful for businesses in many ways, not just in recommending products to online shoppers, for instance, but also in predicting people’s behavior under certain circumstances, such as correlating how people act when the weather is hot or cold, said the expert.

Data analysis can help you solve a problem by narrowing it down to the common issues or parameters so you can take a look at them first, Ang added.

AI is defined as the ability of software to exhibit human-like intelligence and learn from experience and assist in decision-making. As an example, chatbots can be taught that “hm” means “how much” so that later on they can answer price queries from buyers.

“You teach the machine and it keeps getting better until it can talk to a person as though it is also human,” said Ang, adding that this is something that is already being done by some big companies.

Advanced robotics, meanwhile, is the use of software robots to automate repetitive and lower-value work such as logging into applications and systems; moving files and folders; extracting, copying and inserting data; filling in forms; and completing routine analyses and reports.

Ang said these tasks need no longer be assigned to a worker, who can be taught to perform more complex work instead.

On the other hand, IOT involves a cluster of objects with embedded sensors and software that connects to each other and exchanges data. Ang said IOT has been particularly useful in solving their problems as they have also ventured more recently in industrial laundry service.

For instance, IOT was applied to organize and fast-track the chaotic and long process of manually counting and sorting some 25,000 pieces of laundry every day. The solution was to sew an RFID tag into each piece of laundry and place about 500 pieces in an RFID gantry, which can count all the linen or towels in just three seconds.

Ang said the new process allows them to generate the invoice faster and save days of reconciliation, reduce the headcount from five people doing the sorting and counting to less than one headcount per client, and save eight hours of work every day.

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