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SMEs - Digital Technology can Level the Playing Field
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SMEs - Digital Technology can Level the Playing Field
Date: 04-05-2017

cleaning chemicals middle east

In the first blog post in this series, we presented the six main benefits of working with SMEs, explaining why they should be an important part of your supply chain.

Big is not always best. Smaller businesses can often present unique advantages over larger competitors. One of the most important of these is a more agile and flexible approach to customer service, the main focus of our second post.
In the third and final post in the series, we examine the critical role that digital technology can play in SME competitiveness. Used effectively, technology can help level the playing field with larger competitors. The key term here is ‘effective use’. The majority of SMEs in the Middle East still have a long way to go before they are leveraging the full potential of emerging technologies.

Digital revolution and digital disruption

Information and communications technologies have had a profound impact on the world of business for at least three decades. There is a general consensus, however, that ‘we ain’t seen nothing yet’ – that the changes witnessed over the last 30 years have been the warm up act for what is coming.

We have entered a new, more revolutionary phase in the development of digital technology; a period characterised by turbulent digital change and digital disruption. Over the next few years, the convergence of a range of disruptive technologies will reshape Middle East industries and markets faster than at any time in history. 

These disruptive technologies include ubiquitous broadband and mobile connectivity, social media, enterprise social, the cloud, big data and predictive analytics, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, automation, additive manufacturing (3D printing), wearables, autonomous vehicles, the Blockchain, combined with the rapid emergence of a new generation of constantly connected customers and constantly connected employees (Gen C).

On their own, each of these technologies would be disruptive enough. The fact that they are converging at the same time creates the conditions for a perfect storm.

The commercial cleaning industry in the Middle East will not be immune from the threat of being disrupted. We are already seeing the early signs of a tidal wave of digital change sweeping the industry with the growing use of technology innovation in contract cleaning; increasingly sophisticated and specialised computers, machines, robots and algorithms used to perform routine, repetitive cleaning tasks; autonomous floor cleaning robots in shopping malls, airports and industrial premises; the growth of online ordering and e-commerce in the cleaning supply chain; the wide ranging impact of the Internet of Things (IoT); drones and cognitive computing in facilities management; smart offices and smart cities; 3D printed office blocks; robot chefs; robot managed hotels; and so on.

Being based in Dubai, we are very fortunate to have a government who ‘gets IT’. Creating a world-class digital nation is a top priority for the Dubai government. An agreed digital vision and strategy is in place, supported by agreed targets and KPIs in areas such as smart buildings, additive manufacturing, autonomous transport, paperless government, the Blockchain and others. 

This will only help to accelerate the pace of digital change taking place in the region. 

Are SMEs ready to adapt?

The five key pillars of digital success

The question is no longer whether your business will be affected by digital disruption. The only pertinent questions to ask now are how severe will the impact be and the timescale over which this will occur.

There is no room for complacency. 

While some industries may take longer to be disrupted, rapid and continual digital innovation has become the new normal. There is an inevitable movement of all industries toward a ‘digital vortex’ in which business models, offerings and value chains are digitized to the maximum extent possible.

Developing an appropriate response to the digital challenges outlined above should now be considered a top priority for your business. The choice, quite simply, is to ‘adapt or die’.

There will be ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in an era of disruptive digital change. ‘Winners’ will be businesses that leverage the full potential of digital technology for driving transformation advantage in the five key areas listed below. 

A useful starting point for SMEs is to undertake a ‘Digital Gap Analysis’ – an internal audit of the digital progress your business has made benchmarked against the rapid pace of digital change taking place. The resulting ‘gap analysis’ – the gap between where you are currently and where you should be provides a very strong basis for future strategy development in this area.

Your internal audit should cover the Five Key Pillars of Digital Success as follows:
Engage and connect: How well are you currently using digital technology to engage and connect with customers? How good is the digital customer experience with your company, especially at Key Moments of Truth? How well are you currently using digital technology for sales, marketing, PR and customer relationship management? What improvements could be made in these areas?
Digital operating advantage: Are you fully embedding technology at the core of your business, building a Digital Operating Advantage difficult for others to copy? How well are you currently using digital technology to streamline internal systems and processes, maximising efficiency and reducing costs, building a more agile, fast-moving, data driven organisation? What improvements could be made?
Actionable insight: What progress have you made in deriving actionable insight from the wealth of operational data being generated by your organisation, including predictive maintenance from Internet of Things (IoT)? To what extent do your employees have access to modern, visual-based, self-service Business Intelligence Software? Insight is the missing link between data and deriving business value from that data.
Collaborate and share knowledge: In a fast moving environment characterised by turbulent digital change and digital disruption, leveraging the full potential of emerging technologies for supporting collaboration and knowledge sharing, internally and externally with business partners, is critical. What progress have you made in these areas? What improvements could be made supported by the use of emerging technologies?
Transformation: What opportunities exist for leveraging technology to transform the way you engage and interact with customers, the way you operate internally and, where appropriate, your underlying business model?
With strong evidence emerging that ‘leading digital’ companies outperform others, it is critical that SMEs make rapid progress in these areas. 
In building technology advantage, SMEs have two main advantages over larger competitors. First, they are much less constrained by expensive legacy IT systems. Secondly, with the growth and emergence of cloud computing, especially SaaS (Software as a Service), powerful but very cost effective software solutions are now well within the budget of most SMEs.
At Arpal Gulf, we are constantly monitoring the digital landscape, looking for opportunities to ‘never give our customers a reason for going elsewhere’, supported by the innovative use of new technologies. Please see our previous post in this series for examples of the digital initiatives we have launched.
Contact details:    
Tel: 800 4005 (Toll Free within UAE) | +971-4-880 3220    
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