With the accelerated pace of digitalisation brought on by COVID-19, the Singapore government has implemented various support packages exist to support SMEs in their digital journey.
On the part of businesses themselves, technology experts have highlighted the importance of developing resilience and putting in place robust business continuity plans in order to fully utilise this support and ensure survival.
Other important considerations in an increasingly digital business environment include data management, engaging with cloud technology, ensuring cyber-security, and maintaining effective communications with employees working remotely.
Data management for better insights
According to Rachel Ler, Area Vice President, ASEAN, Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan, Commvault, “data has become an integral part of the global economy. Today, it is a strategic asset for businesses and organizations, and this will further gain in importance as we progress with the digitalization of everything. Data governance and security are going to be key in Singapore’s journey towards building a thriving digital economy.”
In such an environment, she continues, businesses will need to have a strategic view and full control over their data as they journey into the digital era. “Companies that fail to prioritise data privacy and protection for their business assets — including customer data — risk falling into financial mire and suffer from severe damage to not just bottom-line profits, but brand reputation too,” she warns.
At the same time, apart from a focus on cyber-security, businesses will need to have in place “a system that can best harness all the data residing in all the different devices, centrally to the organization.”
“With data increasingly stored everywhere on different servers and the cloud, there will also be a need for companies to manage this correctly and efficiently to ensure that their data can be analysed and converted into powerful insights,” she continues.
Cloud technology serving SME needs
Francis Thangasamy, Vice President, Product Management, Asia Pacific, CenturyLink, has suggested cloud-based technology as particularly attractive to SMEs for its flexibility and cost savings. Echoing his sentiments, Ho Chye Soon, Singapore Country Manager, Nutanix, says that “cloud-based business technology allows for on-demand usage and unmatched flexibility and scalability.
“They are cost effective as SME users will not need to be concerned with maintenance and servicing. The key is to aim for the freedom to run any application at any scale. This way, SME leaders can focus on growing their businesses and not worry about whether they have the IT to support it,” he continues.
Ho also notes that many of the technologies targeted at SMEs today are cloud-based. “Accessing and implementing them can be as easy as using your web browser or installing an app,” he says.
In choosing a suitable cloud solution, Ho encourages SMEs to look into their requirements, short-term and long-term, and then investigate the available offers in the market. “There are many free trials and offers available for SMEs and they can test out business tools before making the investment. “There are also support packages and promotions to assist SMEs in getting online quickly and efficiently as they navigate unpredictable and tumultuous fluctuations,” he adds, citing the Digital Resilence Bonus as an example.
One company that that leveraged cloud services is Lazada, whose core eCommerce business is powered by AliCloud. Having upgraded its technology stacks to be incorporated with Alibaba technology infrastructure, Lazada is supported in many areas including logistics, payment and AI-supported search functions.
“We partner with Alipay to keep upgrading our digital payment services, and leverage big data and AI technologies to enhance logistics efficiency with lower cost,” says : James Chang, CEO of Lazada Singapore.
As the moves towards digitalisation and remote working were swift given the rapid onset of the pandemic, solutions were often implemented without security first in mind. Cheah Wai Kit, Director, Product Management (Security), Asia Pacific, CenturyLink, reminds business that “This is risky for businesses as these applications with security flaws or vulnerabilities expose them to cyber-security risks and data breaches. Businesses risk losing sensitive information like customer data and credit card details.”
At the same time, he explains how the nature of work itself is a factor, saying that “for many businesses, the current work from home and telecommuting situation means much of the mission-critical work is now being done on computers sitting in a home environment, accessing corporate networks remotely. This means a larger surface area for threat actors to carry out cyber-attacks.”
Besides investing in technologies to address any current gaps, he also emphasises the need to develop cyber-security awareness across an organisation, suggesting the following approaches:
“Employees need to be constantly reminded not to share their personal and corporate information openly and be cautious of phishing emails, unverified websites, or other avenues which might introduce malicious software to their endpoint,” he says.
“Attackers are known to take advantage of human weaknesses, especially now when people have been cooped up and isolated at home for extended periods of time and are hungry for news and information and connecting virtually with others.”
Strengthen security controls
“Enabling employees to connect to the corporate network via VPN extends the reach of secured corporate assets and workloads to remote employees. But VPNs are not bulletproof, it is equally critical to have a strong authentication mechanism in place, strong passwords, and preferably at least 2-Factor Authentication (2FA) to access a VPN connection,” he advises
“Similar to Singapore’s ‘Circuit Breaker’ measures, critical assets should be segmented out and isolated so that only those with the appropriate privileges should be allowed access,” he adds.
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Lastly, he advises that leadership should understand the repercussions of data breaches and losses to enable effective planning and defence strategies.
“Methods such as embedding cyber-security into business continuity plans and increasing investment in security awareness training for employees, lay a more stable foundation for protecting an organisation’s assets.”
Communicating effectively with remote employees
In this environment, many businesses need to find ways to keep effective channels of communication open with their employees. This will help with more than encouraging secure work practices. As Pierre Samson, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, reminds, “the ability to provide teams and customers with the means and tools to better communicate, collaborate and share, directly impacts customer experiences and service levels.”
“SMEs need to be equipped with dedicated collaboration, communications, and networking solutions to maintain a digitally connected experience for customers, employees, and partners,” he continues. He also advises using purpose-built enterprise-grade equipment unified communication and collaboration platforms,” as these have better reliability and security given the larger surface area for cyber-attacks now present.
“SMEs should also seek out solutions that come with security features like native privacy and GDPR compliance built in,” he adds.
Thus, while the raft of measures from the Fortitude budget are welcome, SMEs have to ensure that they plan for resilience and continuity in order to fully benefit from them. At the same time, by building robust and secure infrastructure, businesses can emerge stronger in the new normal.