Skip to Main Content
Skip to main content
Stories Asia

SMBs in Asia embrace modernization to stay ahead in the New World of Work

Li San Ng, Senior Partner Marketing Manager, Microsoft Asia Pacific, shares the journey of 3 businesses in Asia Pacific as they reinvent productivity in their workplaces to better empower their employees & stay ahead of competition.

Li San NgSmall medium businesses (SMBs) form the backbone of Asia Pacific’s economy. According to the Asian Development Bank, from 2007 to 2012, SMBs comprised 98 percent of all enterprises in the Asia-Pacific, employed 66 percent of the national labor force, and accounted for 30 percent of total export value. Their contribution to the economy cannot be discounted, yet they face tremendous challenges to remain relevant in today’s business environment.

In addition, workplace dynamics are being altered with the emergence of the millennial workforce that grew up with Internet, and a growing group of workers seeking more flexible work arrangements.  The proliferation of mobile devices and cloud technologies are changing the way people collaborate and communicate.

It is thus no surprise that according to the Microsoft Asia New World of Work Study conducted in 2015, close to three quarters (74%) of SMB workers are spending at least a day in a 5 day work-week working outside of the office. The survey also showed that 1 in every 2 devices used in the workplace today are employee-owned, and this trend has been augmented by increased mobile and network connectivity, as well as low cost devices available in market today.

However, SMBs do not have the luxury of scale, or the resources to address all these challenges. In fact, in many SMBs today, business owners and employees tend to wear many hats. A business owner is also likely the IT manager, and has to be responsible in making sure that emails and other technology services are working fine to ensure a smooth, day-to-day operation of the business.

It is crucial that SMBs are able to unlock the potential of New World of Work to stay relevant in today’s marketplace and talents. The concept hinges on three key attributes – People, Place and Technology, and enables organizations to gain new business insights, realize greater operational efficiency, communicate and collaborate in real time, all while reducing impact on the environment by driving a paperless workforce.

Back in late 2015, we conducted a New World of Work Makeover Contest where we sought to find SMBs that were in need to modernize their business. We received numerous entries, many of these articulated common challenges faced by SMBs today – which we sought to address to make a difference with our technology.

Over the course of six months, along with the support of Lenovo, Jabra and our partners, we worked with the following 3 SMBs to modernize their operations with new mobile and cloud technologies. These SMBs faced a myriad of challenges – across people, processes and technology, and the opportunity has helped set in motion a course to support their ambitions. They have come a long way since we’ve first met to understand their business challenges, and I’m happy to share their progress today:

Cheong Kee Sdn Bhd

“What we need to do is move with times and bring the business and company online.”

For a third-generation family business with over 70 years of history, Cheong Kee Sdn Bhd is at an interesting juncture of their operations. A majority of this food flavouring retailer’s employees are senior citizens – with Executive Director Chew Sin Chong in his 70s, and a number of his longest serving staff in their 80s and 90s. Age is definitely catching up, and Mr Chew and Non-Executive Director YL Chew saw this as an opportunity to transform its operation to remain relevant for today’s economy, especially in bringing their business online, where e-commerce is increasingly crucial for import/export businesses today.

Prior to this, Mr Chew and many of his employees had never experienced emails in their lives. Business revenues and data were kept through paper ledgers, and phone numbers were recorded in address books. Calculators and abacus were their main tools of calculation.

Both gentlemen are now in the process of migrating their paper records into spreadsheets on Office 365, and conducting businesses via virtual calls through Skype for Business. YL Chew also highlights that the use of Office 365 and Skype for Business has improved communication among staff, whereby the younger staff are spending time to teach the older workers about these new technologies; while the senior staff are sharing their background understanding of the business to the younger members of the team to capture digitally.

For Mr Chew, the experience has been eye-opening. “I am starting to learn about all these new technologies with new laptops and headsets…and I hope with these changes, Cheong Kee will become a better operation for our customers.”

Wallem Philippines Shipping

“In five years’ time, I do hope that employees need not be introduced to the concept of virtual workspaces anymore.”

As one of the leading ship agents in the Philippines, Wallem Philippines Shipping needed to embark on a modernization journey to eradicate manual and paper processes across its teams, especially in an industry where time is of value to customers. It meant that the organization needed to ditch ageing systems, paper-based records as well as manual sales and tracking processes in order to be aligned to the pace of business.

The impetus for change came about during the APEC Summit held in Manila last year, where major roads were closed and resulted in Wallem’s employees not being able to be in the office to close and complete deals on time. For Management Information System Manager Noreen Magsumbol, it signified a need for the company to have the right tools to empower its employees to be able to collaborate from anywhere, and rely less on physically being in the office to get work done.

The improvements brought about by Office 365 have not been lost within the team. “The deployment of Office 365 has truly enabled us to be mobile, and for me, nothing beats mobility. In fact, it is the DNA of productivity, especially in our line of work,” shared Edu del Agua, Human Resources Manager.

With the deployment of Office 365 and SharePoint, Magsumbol also hopes to develop a knowledge management system to enable her teams to better analyze customers’ needs and preferences and provide better services. For now, it is about standardizing data entry and reducing manual processes to deliver the best services for its customers in order to stay on top of the fast-paced shipping business.

PT Duta Kalingga Pratama

Our expectation for the company in the next five years is that we significantly grow our market share in Indonesia.”

Senior Technical Advisor, Efril Busyra, has witnessed the evolution of customers over the last 20 years that he has been in the company. The customer has evolved from one that is looking for a band-aid fix, to one that is keen on a partner that can help make sense of their operations through integration of their purchases.

For Mr. Busyra, that is where PT Duta Kalingga Pratama, an Automation Identification Data Capture technologies company, needs to be in the new economy in order to achieve their goal of growing market share in a niche industry.

The company’s motto, “We Can, We Care”, outlines the simple yet ambitious goal for the company to place its customers first. As such, the company has started to encourage flexi-work policies so that it provides flexibility for its team to work directly with their customers no matter where they are.

And that’s where the cloud-based collaboration technology comes in. With the deployment of Office 365, employees are now better equipped to conduct calls and meetings from anywhere, across any device – and this has definitely enhanced collaboration and improved customer engagement. Azure has also helped in increasing productivity for the internal IT team. “With files now hosted on Azure, backup processes are now conducted automatically. This means that my team can now work faster and more effectively,” added Mr Efril.

Rusli, Marketing and Strategic Manager underscores the importance of this modernization journey with Microsoft: “Our expectation with the implementation of these new technologies is that Microsoft can help us achieve our goals in the near future, faster.”

To learn more about Microsoft’s SMB solutions or speak to a specialist to find out how we can help, visit: