Ramadan, or the Muslim fasting month, is usually a busy time for journalists as invites begin to pour in for Buka Puasa or breaking fasts feasts in the evenings. Over the years, companies not only organized these dinners just for feasting purposes, but also as an incentive to get journalists to cover events.
As an eager rookie reporter back then, I usually made it a point to go for these events; after all, where else can you get a free dinner? Over the years and as the novelty wore out, I've become much more selective in choosing the events I go to--both because of time constraint and for the sake of my waistline.
But, I did choose to go for one event hosted recently by the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), where the government infocomm technology (ICT) custodian revealed the results of the recently concluded Great ICT Sale (GIS), a business-to-business (B2B) matching showcase, held from Jul. 20 to Aug. 20.
Although sales at the month-long showcase held in three Malaysian cities amounted to 106,000 ringgit (US$28,477), the MDeC labeled the GIS a success. Speaking to reporters, Badlisham Ghazali, CEO of MDeC, stressed that the GIS should not be only judged based on sales figures alone but on how it has helped Malaysia toward becoming a productivity-led economy.
He added that the ultimate goal for the GIS was to help our small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) contribute to the country's economy on a national basis, and to encourage SMEs to utilize ICT as a key differentiator to add value, create better products and reach global markets.
Another MDeC official, Saifol Bahri, noted that while the onsite sales only amounted to a small fraction of the projected potential, the number of high potential sales leads could reach over 7 million ringgit (US$2 million). Bahri attributed this to the fact that not all sales could be completed onsite, as being a B2B showcase, quite a lot of follow up would be needed to bring deals into fruition.
The organization of the GIS was indeed a good starting point for the MDeC as it created a platform that enabled SMEs to showcase their products and services to buyers, whom they may not have been able to reach otherwise. Through such a platform, local SMEs were not only able to showcase their innovations and reach intended markets, but the platform instilled in them confidence that they can build upon for future showcases.
Another plus point is that the GIS was supported through an e-commerce portal, MyBizPoint, courtesy of Malaysian telecom carrier Telekom Malaysia. Through this e-marketplace, SMEs were able to conduct e-commerce through its fully functional integrated backend payment system.
Although online sale activity was not as significant as the MDeC had hoped, this first step was an important psychological barrier for SMEs to break because, to date, SMEs have been very adverse to e-commerce for cost reasons. By setting up such a portal, SMEs were able to experience the value e-commerce can bring to them without having to invest in expensive infrastructure to support such activities.
Having said this, there are still some issues that need to be ironed out.
For starters, it still remains to be seen over the test of time how many deals will actually be inked and what actual billings they will translate to. After all, the top and bottom line are still the yardsticks by which successful businesses are measured.
While the GIS may have been a good starting point in encouraging the country's SMEs to utilize ICT, as a catalyst to help them bring their products and services to the market, the truth is that, usually, there is a lot of excitement generated initially when a government organization, such as the MDeC, organizes an event like the GIS.
As the dust begins to settle on the GIS, it's not uncommon to observe that these initial "high potential deals" are not properly followed through and that they remain only that--potential that has gone nowhere.
Thus, in order for these recently concluded B2B showcase to truly be labeled a success, the MDeC and SMEs need to follow up thoroughly and painstakingly on those potential sales leads.
The MDeC would need to track how these SMEs are doing and ensure there is proper follow-through on these high potential deals. It would also be good if, say, after three months, the MDeC reveals how much of these high potential leads have really been translated into actual closed deals.
This will make the whole process of helping these SMEs transparent to the public and lessons learnt from past shortcomings, if any, can be fed back to the MDeC and processes improved for future implementation.
SMEs on their part would need to ensure they provide proper customer service, technical support and quality of service to their customers besides having to work on translating their proof of concepts and demonstrations into actual deals. This will help them gear up to compete in a global stage and not just in a local market.
For its part to spread such effort and in a bid to extend the benefits of such an event to other SMEs within Malaysia, the MDeC has announced that it will be organizing its second GIS next year incorporating the participation of SMEs in East Malaysia.
But, at the end of the day, a showcase such as the GIS will only remain a showcase and a one-shot wonder for these SMEs if there's no proper follow-through. SMEs will need to ensure they move beyond a one-shot success in the first GIS showcase, and strive to be consistent in their effort to leverage ICT as an enabler to help them grow their markets.
Only then will they truly be able to utilize ICT to help them move up the value chain.