A recent SE Asian study has uncovered a big percentage of business leaders who are resistant to existential change.

In a recent poll of 4,500 South-east Asian business leaders focused on the extent of COVID-19’s impact on businesses across the region, 40% of respondents were still adopting a “wait and see” approach in response to the pandemic.

A majority of regional business leaders (63%) surveyed had already seen changes in customers’ purchasing behavior and motivations since the start of 2020, although 21% of businesses are unsure or lack insight on changes in their customer’s needs. Amidst this shift, organizations are still moving conservatively with their digital transformation efforts, with many adopting a protective stance with the mindset that disruption from COVID-19 will pass in due course.

According the Rachel Barger, President & Managing Director, SAP South East Asia, the company behind the survey: “For countries and companies that are complacent with a ‘wait and see’ attitude, they would be left behind—and may even become irrelevant. As businesses recalibrate their strategies for the long-term, it is crucial to shift away from an expectation to revert to normalcy as before. In a new reality, intelligent enterprises can ‘do more with less’, deliver best-in-class customer experience, build resilient supply chains, while inventing new business models and revenue streams.”

Implications of COVID-19 on SE Asia

Although businesses have pivoted their operations towards e-commerce and online selling, smaller businesses still fretted over implementation costs of digital platforms and juggling operations to meet the sudden influx of demand. Around 20% of businesses saw a need to adapt their customer experience strategies to meet evolving expectations and needs of customers across platforms, according to the study.

Supply chain and operations are also other aspects that businesses were keeping a close watch on, with 22% of businesses expecting significant change in the future. Alongside changing customer consumption patterns, supply chains have shifted in the wake of safe-distancing measures of lockdowns, leading to a stop-go pattern in business-to-business operations.

As businesses make sense of the new post-pandemic economic reality, worries and uncertainty over the long-term prospects of growth and survivability have emerged as the foremost concern. Over 80% of regional businesses leaders surveyed expected significant/massive impact to change their business model or operations, with just 1% expecting “business-as-usual” in the long run.

With business-as-usual no longer an option, regional business leaders were adjusting organizational priorities with a focus on business transformation (21%), enhancing customer engagement (15%), making business processes more efficient (14%), ensuring business continuity (12%), and supply chain resilience and redefinition (9%).

Leveraging downturns as opportunities

According to the Boston Consulting Group, high-performing companies that successfully tackled crises and major economic downturns demonstrated a similar pattern to emerge as winners during and after past recessions. These businesses managed to improve their top-line and bottom-line positions by adopting a proactive approach, using the downturn as an opportunity to drive large-scale transformation like digitalization.

While the pre-COVID-19 drivers of technology revolved around cost reduction and productivity to make well-run businesses run better, the neo-normal objectives of the coming post-COVID-19 era will include more mandates, including:

  • Achieving resiliency to steer through challenging times with agility
  • Delivering profitability with transparency across both the top and bottom line, supporting business growth and increased productivity
  • Boosting sustainability by reducing carbon footprint, minimizing waste and transitioning to the circular economy

To support business continuity through these challenging times, SAP has opened up access to selected technology solutions, providing free access to SAP Ariba Discovery, the world’s largest business network, until December 31, 2020, so that any buyer can post their immediate sourcing needs and any supplier can respond to show they can deliver.

Free access to Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse has also helped organizations understand how their employees are doing, and what support they need as they adapt to new work environments.

Additionally, businesses can also access the SAP Value Lifecycle Manager, an industry benchmark tool that supports businesses to measure, monitor and optimize value across their enterprise. To help businesses go digital and transform into intelligent enterprises, the SAP Experience Center Singapore provides an innovative space for businesses to deep dive into the latest technologies like AI, Big Data and data intelligence on the cloud to develop solutions tailored to the organization’s unique challenges.

Along with governmental digitalization incentives throughout SE Asia, businesses with the ‘wait and see’ mindset should have fewer reasons not to move towards being Intelligent Enterprises to greatly reduce the impact of this crisis and remain relevant. AI, Machine Learning, Robotics Process Automation and other data intelligence platforms will be key to co-creating the regional impetus to ride the digitalization wave and contribute to global recovery and rejuvenation.