Low code solutions help SMEs digitalise

Photo by Christopher Gower

Maximum Solutions Corporation (MS Corp) is an IT/Manpower Solutions company based in Manila, Philippines. Established in 2001, it has grown from its humble beginnings as a 2-person company to a complete outsourcing business with a team of over 200 professionals.

Like many other long established businesses, MS Corp had operations and infrastructure largely based on offline systems, such as paper and spreadsheets. It was the pandemic, which necessitated remote work, that spurred them into digital transformation. In this, they were assisted by Kintone, who provided concrete solutions and addressed their concerns.

SMEhorizon speaks with Paolo Alcantara, Sales and Account Manager at MS Corp and Yoshihisa Aono, CEO of Cybozu, the parent company of Kintone, on what digitalisation means for SMEs and how low code solutions can address their pain points effectively.

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Paolo Alcantara, Sales and Account Manager at MS Corp

“Old school” processes becoming obsolete

Alcantara describes his company’s operations pre-pandemic as “old school”. “We basically printed out using excel spreadsheets and handed them out physically to our managers and the accounting team,” he recalls.  “When we processed an order, it got transferred in the office and had a set schedule.”

Aono observes that this is characteristic of many SMEs, who have relied on spreadsheets and analogue records for their accounting and project management since well before the pandemic.

However with the onset of the pandemic, businesses have not been given a choice. “Remote work and other constraints stemming from the pandemic have introduced a whole slew of efficiency challenges and management costs for organisations without digital solutions,” says Aono.

“An example is the inability to ask a colleague for information in person. Most companies having resorted to using email, wasting time waiting for their colleagues to send authorisations and other critical information.”

Alcantara agrees. “With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for staff to work remotely presented a real challenge as most of our operations were done on paper and local spreadsheets.

“This was never really an issue for us prior to the pandemic but the lack of digitization became a huge challenge once we had to work remotely due to the constraints imposed by lockdowns.

“We were sending emails to our manager, and then the manager to our accounting. It is doable if it was only one person but if it was more than one person, our emails got full and there was lots of sending this and sending that which was the primary pain.

“Additionally, we couldn’t go back because there were multiple persons involved, it was hard to change the order, there was no placing of comments and no time stamps.

“We realised that our workflow management was clunky, and the need to go digital was very evident,” he says.

Yoshihisa Aono, CEO, Cybozu

New solutions to ease the transition

Explaining the barriers that SMEs have faced in digitalisation, Aono says that one of the biggest obstacles is the idea that business software solutions are too costly or require a lot of IT resources to maintain.

“Another barrier is attributed to SMEs being afraid of how disruptive a new software solution may be, especially since many off-the-shelf options have a steep learning curve.”

However, current technology addresses these concerns, as well as those over privacy and security. One example Aono describes are low-code solutions where “information sharing becomes the default mode of communication.”

“Users can protect sensitive information by setting permission barriers, but the general idea is for everyone to have the information they require to get their work done efficiently, without having to wait for someone to send an email.

“Eliminating data silos and information bottlenecks is a huge part of democratising workflow management.

Kintone worked with MS Corp to build customised apps, while ensuring a safe and seamless transition. Alcantara shares that these solutions and guidance helped them quickly replace our inefficient paper and spreadsheet-based workflow with a digital database and workflow apps.

All in all, says Alcantara, the features removed delays in the company workflow, allowing them to free up the time from mundane tasks and improve the efficiency of our company’s operations.

Insights from the journey

Aono points out that much of the hesitancy displayed by APAC SMEs stems from a lack of awareness and understanding, leading to many of them believing that digitisation is “just about having your data and information stored within the cloud.

“But digitisation is so much more than that – it’s not just about having a digital tool. Digitisation seeks to eliminate redundant manual tasks, organise data more efficiently, and provide a more effective manner of sharing information and planning workflow management.”

“Many organisations also believe that to digitise their businesses, they require the latest and most expensive technologies, which is simply not true. Digitisation is less about what your tech can do in theory, and more about how you use it in practice. You don’t need to pay a fortune for complicated tools that don’t give you any tangible return on investment.

“Instead, customisation and usability are your best bet when digitising your business. Having the right tools to reliably and quickly do exactly what you need them to do is what SMEs should be focusing on when choosing a software platform.”

Alcantara echoes these sentiments, explaining that the main stressing feature for SMEs when they are looking to digitise is the worry that these solutions will not be cost-efficient. However, he continues, “to survive in our hyper-competitive modern economy, SMEs will need to step out of their old analogue ways and catch up digitally.”

From his experience with Kintone at MS Corp, he concludes that digital transformation can actually be achieved “very quickly at a cost-efficient rate, with customisable tools within the software to suit the varying needs for varying departments.”  

Moving forward, Alcantara is keen to discover more ways to utilise the platforms they develop to create more value for their business. Aono concurs, highlighting that as the demands of the market change, the uniquely  customizable nature of no-code/low-code solutions ensures that they not only address current needs, but can also scale to help solve any new challenges SMEs might face in the future.