4IR Digitalization Challenges for SME's

Digitization is 3IR: conversion of the analogue to the digital:

  • bank statements via an app/email, versus postal mail,
  • receiving a digital document versus a pencil copy,
  • patient records on computers versus in material folders.

Digitalization is 4IR: how the digital world impacts people:

  • video conferencing versus a physical location,
  • self-service checkouts instead of a human cashier,
  • shopping online rather than in a mall,
  • paying instore with an app in the mobile phone,
  • using apps in the mobile phone for countless purposes.

According to a recent extensive study done by Huawai in the Far East, the digitalization challenges faced by SME's are in:


Most smaller SME's are unable to afford the transformation journey, while the larger ones may be unsure of the return on their investment. Financial support is needed to help them mitigate the risk, and lower the barrier to transformation.

Employee Skills

Lack of skill sets and knowledge to drive the transformation of their businesses into a digital SME.


Technology is a frequently cited support need. Most SME's are not aware of the digitalization tools or how to leverage the tools to drive their business' transformation. While most have an Internet connection, the high price and low speed connection is a hurdle for their digitalization. The lack of reliable broadband access causes SME's to still stick with their manual processes.

Business Strategy

Difficulty in developing a digital business strategy with the latest technologies, but also the inability to afford digital technologies such as cloud, analytics or software to innovate and transform their business.

Regulatory Issues

SME's are unfamiliar with regulatory requirements, specifically on compliance, process guidance, licensing and permits.


While computerization allows SME’s to benefit from admin productivity, most do not leverage the Internet for industrial e-commerce. In order to secure the survival of the Tsunami of Technologival change, it is imperative that SME's invest in digital information technologies, beyond just computers and network, such as process improvement software.

So, how can SME’s then cross the digitalization chasm and uncover their full digital potential? 

A 3-pronged approach was proposed to resolve this:


Assist SME's to think like an innovative SME, by helping them build an innovative mindset, data culture, and digital skills:

  • Educate SME's on the needs/benefits of digitalization;
  • Change their mindset to think beyond computerization into digitalization of their business;
  • Help SME's to get started on their digitalization journey through developing a transformation strategy;
  • Support their change management process from a traditional one to becoming a digital SME;
  • Drive cultural change in their organization to become a data-centric organization.


Assist SME's on their digitalization journey, by helping them start their digitalization programs from getting on board, to sustaining the digitalization efforts, and commercializing their digital products and services:

  • Financial assistance to help SME's embark on their transformation;
  • Incentivize larger enterprises to partner with SME's in technology sharing;
  • Help SME's to comply with security and regulatory requirements.


Assist SME's by providing them with the necessary IT tools and technology platform to help them accelerate their digitalization efforts, and break into new levels of innovative products and services:

  • Increase broadband speed coverage and affordability;
  • Develop cloud-based innovation platforms to provide affordable access to technology.



Going virtual — a shift from only a brick & mortar office to running as much of your business as possible through digital mediums like Zoom, email, and the cloud — boasts a number of distinct benefits, including:

  • Lower overhead costs by 50-75 %. This results in significant savings over a long period of time.
  • Access to a broader talent pool. When running your business only out of a physical location, you're limited to hiring people who live locally or are willing to move to your area. When you go virtual, you gain access to a much broader talent pool.
  • More productivity. When people work from home, no commuting time is wasted. This makes them more productive and improves company-wide output.
  • Higher satisfaction. Those who work from home are generally speaking happier than those who are required to go into an office. These remote workers report better focus, less stress, and superior work-life balance.
  • Greater scalability. It's much easier for a mostly virtual business to scale. Instead of having to lease more office space a digital company just clicks a few buttons and expands its digital infrastructure right away to accommodate to the new situation.

Some requirements for making the shift to virtual:

Digitize Cumbersome Processes

The first step is to digitize all of those cumbersome processes that are holding you back/will hold you back once you go virtual. Signing documents is one paper process that comes to mind. If you're going virtual, you have to adopt an electronic signature platform to allow for secure and compliant contracts and approvals. Box E-Signature is a great option. Their native integration makes it easy to sign and store documents in the cloud.

Prioritize Communication

If your team is accustomed to working in the same physical office, there will be some growing pains when going virtual. Suddenly, you can't just walk down the hallway and call people into a meeting room. Sharing feedback and communicating directives requires a much more intentional approach.

Good communication practices will prevent misunderstandings, promote better workflows, and help your team feel valued and connected. For starters, avoid email for internal collaboration. Instead, use a chat application (like Slack) and/or a social intranet platform. You'll also need to create simple feedback loops that make it easy for people to give and receive constructive criticism on projects and deliverables.

Build a digital presence

Once going virtual, digital presence is essential. When people search your company name, they should find you easily, but also the content, visuals, and information they find needs to be consistent.

When building a digital presence, content is king. Everyone on your team should turn into mini content creators. Blog posts, social media posts, website content, videos, podcasts, emails — everything is on the table.

Pick a couple of areas to focus on and pursue them first. Once you gain traction, you can expand into other areas. Just remember that consistency is the key! Inconsistent branding will hurt your business and have diminishing effects.

Modernize your business

While cutting costs is certainly one big benefit, it's clearly not the only one. Whether it's productivity, security, or access to better talent, going virtual affords you a host of enticing perks. If you wait any longer, you'll get left behind. Now's the time to modernize.