SMBs and the ICT challenge

IT WOULD not be a stretch to say that the coffeeshop is a regular meeting point for many Malaysians. Enjoying a cup of teh tarik or kopi-o with good company could quite rightly be described as the great Malaysian pastime. And conversation topics in these settings are typically broad and varied, ranging from staples like family, old friends and work life to current affairs and sometimes, even politics.
Striking a familiar chord too are the bright ideas that are often sparked off by a casual chat at the coffeeshop. How often have we read or heard success stories of entrepreneurs who got their first break through a chance meeting with an old acquaintance or realised their best business ideas over a cup of coffee? Indeed, while many of us have similar aspirations to be the towkay of our own business, it is certainly not as easy as it sounds, as many businessmen could attest to. Setting up a business involves lots of planning and preparation, and running one entails navigating through potential pitfalls, risks and challenges, not to mention the immense hard work that is required no matter how small it is.
Be that as it may, it is heartening to note that there is fire in the belly of the many Malaysians who are striking out on their own and trying to blaze a path to success.
Today, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are the lifeblood of economies across the globe, and this is equally true for our country. While large companies, especially those that are listed on Bursa Malaysia, are regularly in the limelight, SMBs play an important role in generating economic growth and providing employment.
Vital role
According to the latest government statistics, Malaysian SMBs make up 99% of all registered businesses, account for 56% of total employment in Malaysia and contribute 32% to the Gross Domestic Product.
From these statistics, it is clear how crucial and instrumental SMBs are to the economy, and how their growth and development can potentially provide a considerable boost to the country.
A key development that is evident among SMBs is the increasing use of information and communications technology (ICT) to drive greater efficiency, boost productivity and expand market access.
This includes an expanded use of Internet applications beyond just e-mail and websites to provide information. More and more, we are seeing small businesses utilising web applications to reach out to more customers and increase business volumes.
The use of ICT and the Internet has levelled the playing field, providing opportunities for SMBs to transact in the digital economy, something that was unheard of in the recent past. Even very small entrepreneurs have benefited tremendously. One success story that you might have heard is that of a pau seller in Selangor who used the Internet to market her delicacies. She now receives orders of about 3,000 to 4,000 pieces a day.
Be vigilant
But with great success comes a great responsibility to ensure that disruptions to your ICT and Internet-enabled business are mitigated and minimised so as not to jeopardise operations and inconvenience customers.
It is essential that installed systems are secured against external and internal threat sources, information is properly protected and stored, and more importantly, available as and when needed.
Some might think that SMBs, especially small businesses, need not worry too much about protecting information, but time and again, we have seen how such sentiments have proven to be famous last words indeed.
A business is never too small to start thinking about the ICT components that are critical in ensuring its operations run smoothly and customers are served, day in day out.
In addition to that, the risk that a potential service disruption poses towards the survival of SMBs is huge, compared to larger companies which are more able to absorb the impact from a similar incident.
In my next column, I will share my views on some of the pressing challenges faced by ICT and Internet-enabled SMBs and actions that they can take to mitigate these risks to secure and manage their information.
Eric Hoh is vice-president for Asia South region at Symantec Corporation which manufactures computer security software.
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