Advancing digitalisation through challenging times

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra

Asiawide Franchise Consultants is a Singapore-based franchise management consulting firm founded in 1989 (previously under a different name). While they are one of Asia’s most established and experienced franchise consulting firms, they too were not spared the impact of the pandemic on their business. Working with Paloe the company has managed to further advance its digitalisation efforts, ensuring resilience during the crisis, and motivating further changes in the road ahead.

SMEhorizon spoke with Albert Kong, CEO and Managing Director of Asiawide Franchise Consultants and Sam Lee, CEO and Co-founder of Paloe on the challenges faced by businesses during the pandemic, how digitalisation can – and has – helped businesses weather the current climate, and other trends that have emerged over the past two years.

Pre-COVID plans

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Asiawide Franchise’s digitalisation plans began before the current pandemic. Kong shared that it was clear to their company that they had to utilise technology to make themselves “more professional, more productive and more scalable.”

“To enhance our services,” he continued, ”we were already in the midst of planning for a digital franchise management tool, and discussed with several vendors of which Paloe was one.”

The company, together with Paloe, is currently in partnership to launch their proprietary franchise management system, Asiawide Digital Advantage (ADA), which will help franchisors and franchisees better manage and streamline their work processes.

Challenges during the pandemic

As their operations involve international, as well as domestic clients, Asiawide Franchise found themselves affected by travel restrictions and the general downturn in the business environment. Lee observed that companies felt the impact of the pandemic in varying degrees, with travel and events being some of the hardest hit.

“The focus for these companies will be to pivot and look at alternative options,” he explained. “With pandemic restrictions causing most events to cancel, Asiawide Franchise had to respond quickly and look into the possibility of hybrid events.”

These restrictions led to cash flow problems in the company. Kong shared that their revenue stream was “severely affected because both domestic and international clients and prospects decided to wait and not proceed with many of our consulting projects.

“Cash flow, which is the lifeblood of any business, is the biggest challenge right now.”

Looking forward

While the current situation is a daunting task, Asiawide Franchise has managed to advance its digitalisation journey in discussion with Paloe. In particular, Kong expressed appreciation for the time and effort put in by Paloe and its leaders to jointly develop their franchise management software, ADA. “Their expertise and experience in digitalisation has been pivotal in guiding us during this process, and ensuring business continuity during the lockdown,” he said.

“The ‘dividends’ that we can derive from this management software will be felt when normalcy returns.”

Although the system is not formally launched, Kong was optimistic. “We have received initial interest from many whom we have soft-introduced ADA to,” he said. “Internally, our employees have adapted well to the digital transition, while our clients have been very receptive to our online consultations.”

Buoyed by this success, Kong explained that the company’s next steps were to further enhance their digital capability to ensure better client experiences. These included areas like improving sales and tasks tracking, financial performance, operations, and feedback.

Receptiveness in times of challenge

With the pandemic greatly accelerating the move into digital space, the receptiveness that Asiawide Franchise displays is not unusual. As Lee explained, “With digitalisation becoming the norm in today’s business climate, most business owners are more willing to do so.

“In fact, 3 in 4 Singapore SMEs have adopted at least one digital solution in the last year,” he added.

These changes are likely to give greater resilience to SMEs more generally. Although May and June 2021 have been a period of uncertainty for businesses in Singapore with the retightening of restrictions and the looming possibility of another circuit breaker, these digital tools can help businesses weather uncertainty – if they are applied.

Commenting on these developments, Lee recalled that the sudden retightening of COVID-18 measures was “quite sudden for the F&B and lifestyle sectors.”

“I was at a café in Tanjong Pagar when the announcement was made,” he continued, “and saw that they were caught off-guard. This reflects the general situation for most of these businesses. Recovery efforts will likely face continued slowdowns as instability caused by the pandemic will dampen business and consumer confidence.”

As such, he reminded us, “It is especially important for startups and SMEs to be ready to respond and innovate, as they do not have the monetary reserves nor the resources afforded by MNCs to tide through these difficult times.

“They have to be nimble in their operations, be strategic in planning for the long-term, and be willing to embrace the new normal of an increasingly digital world.”