Asian SMBs recognise need to innovate, but struggle to know how

Small and midsize businesses in the region point to innovation as a key barrier to a quick post-pandemic recovery, with just 39% armed with an employee or team dedicated to driving such efforts in their organisation.

Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in Asia recognise the need to innovate so they can more quickly recover once the current economic crisis eases. They are, however, perplexed on how they should go about doing so, with just 39% armed with an employee or team dedicated to driving such efforts in their organisation. 

In fact, SMBs in markets such as Singapore, Australia, South Korea, and Vietnam, knowing how to innovate was cited as one of the top three barriers to their quick recovery, according to HP Inc's Survival to Revival survey. The study polled 1,600 SMBs across eight Asian markets between May and June this year, with 200 respondents from each market that also included India, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand. 

Limited by their resources and typically smaller workforce, SMBs might struggle to build a culture of innovation, HP said in the report released Thursday. 

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Some 42% turned to customer surveys to determine changes they needed to implement, while 36% opted to copy what their competitors did.  

Interestingly, more SMBs in developing markets such as Indonesia and Thailand had dedicated resources in innovation, at 59% and 51%, respectively. In comparison, just 24% of their peers in Japan operated with a team or employee tasked with such efforts. 

And rather than turn to tech vendors for help in this aspect, 31% approached financial institutions for advice on how to innovate effectively. Just 19% indicated a likelihood of getting help from tech companies. In addition, 60% viewed government support to be insufficient or were unclear on what support was available to them.  

Not surprisingly, though, respondents across the region pointed to recruitment as a top barrier to their ability to recover quickly post-pandemic, with 22% noting the difficulty in hiring technical skills and 22% found it tough to find recruits with suitable attitude. 

Some 44% cited the lack of digital-first mindset and skillsets as a hindrance to business growth. 

According to HP, a company's growth tended to align with how it valued digital adoption in driving its success. Amongst SMBs that saw robust business growth in the past year, 56% perceived digital as a foundation for success. Only 14% saw this to be of low importance. 

Locally, 60% of Indonesian SMBs that valued digital adoption enjoyed business growth that was above the regional average, as did 58% in India as well as Vietnam, 55% in Thailand, and 48% in Australia. 

Across the region, 60% saw digital transformation as critical, pointing to innovation in work processes, flexible work options, and customised products and services as potential components in their strategy.

HP's managing director for Greater Asia, Ng Tian Chong, said: "SMBs are the lifeblood of every economy in Asia but the pandemic has hit SMBs hard. As the engines of growth for Asia economies, it is critical for them to move past survival to revive their businesses."

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