A survey conducted by United Overseas Bank (UOB) in November 2019 illustrates that SMEs in Singapore are focusing on boosting productivity as they grapple with macro-economic and socio-political uncertainties this year. The UOB survey included 615 local SMEs with a revenue of less than S$100 million. Nearly half of the SMEs surveyed have a positive outlook for their business in 2020, while nearly a third are not so optimistic about it.
While cost reduction and new streams of revenue generation are top business priorities, more than half of the SMEs polled, mentioned increasing productivity as their top priority. Technology adoption has often been linked to an increase in productivity. SMEs in Singapore appear to be on the right track as currently 65% use digital solutions, mostly geared towards accounting, HR and customer relationship management. Digitalisation involves a widespread adoption of cloud and automation solutions. If we look at the key drivers of cloud adoption across all global organisations (Figure 2), we find that optimisation and productivity are key incentives.
Interestingly, the UOB survey also finds that more than half of SMEs in Singapore have sustainability goals. Resource optimisation and energy efficiency will also see higher adoption of technology in the future.
Government Initiatives Empowering SMEs
Government agencies and industry bodies have always been proactive in empowering SMEs with technological knowledge. There are various programs and initiatives to promote digitalisation, which have made Singapore SMEs competitive at a global level.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) is helping Singapore SMEs to scale and improve their digital capabilities, expand their network and go global through collaboration with multinational companies (MNCs). The SMEs Go Digital program launched in 2017, has seen an estimated 4,000 SMEs adopting pre-approved digital solutions.
Several organisations in Singapore – such as A*Star and Enterprise Singapore – have targeted programs for the SME community. One of the key challenges for SMEs that impacts their ability to invest in technology is a lack of internal IT skills. Initiatives such as the Technology Adoption Programme (TAP) recognise this and bring in multiple industry and technology stakeholders to translate new technologies into Ready-to-Go (RTG) solutions, aimed at SMEs.
Apart from technology, access to financing is a key factor that determines the success of an SME and remains a key focus of Singapore’s banking and financial sector. The digital wholesale licenses are also aimed at SME financing, especially targeting those that are unable to procure funds from traditional sources.
Technologies Enabling Digitalisation in Singapore SMEs
As mentioned earlier, cloud is the key enabler of digitalisation, giving organisations the ability to access solutions anywhere and anytime. Ecosystm research shows that 80% of SMEs in Singapore use an IaaS solution, while more than 75% use a SaaS solution.
There are programs that boost cloud adoption in Singapore SMEs as well. As an example, SMECEN, developed by the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (ASME), and supported by Enterprise Singapore, Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) is a SaaS solution with accounting, HR and compliance modules – integration with other business tools is on the cards.
Digitalisation will eventually involve investments in Automation and AI. For Singapore, AI is a key technology as it continues to focus on IoT, smart buildings, smart electricity, autonomous electric vehicles and other smart city solutions. The Government is working to open up access to data and AI tools so everyone can experiment. It especially wants to encourage SMEs to adopt AI and work on government use cases.
Singapore SMEs are ramping up their AI investments, especially in IoT sensor analytics (27%), machine learning (21%) and robotic process automation (16%), according to the Ecosystm AI study. Their key short-term drivers are insights into the competition and enhanced internal process monitoring. However, in the longer term, they are looking at cost reduction and better profit margins.
According to an OCBC survey in 2018, which polled 200 such companies, two-thirds of SMEs in Singapore are likely to go cashless by 2023. It is estimated that over 75% of Fintech transactions in Singapore are digital payments and it receives over a quarter of Fintech funding. Government initiatives such as FAST and SGQR, have opened up digital payment options for consumer use as well as for SMEs.
However, the UOB survey notes some concerns that SMEs have over digital payments adoption, including customer/supplier acceptance and security. This is an encouraging sign, which indicates that SMEs are not just adopting technology because of the hype – but are evaluating the pros and cons of tech adoption before embarking on a digitalisation project.
By creating a free account on the Ecosystm platform SMEs can benchmark their tech priorities and investments against their country, industry and global peers.
Open Source has always played a big role in Cloud and as we move into 2020, its role will only grow bigger. Infrastructure and Platform Clouds may not have been dominated by Open Source in the past, but all major Cloud players such as AWS, Microsoft, and IBM have been focusing on Open Source recently.
In 2020, major cloud providers will switch to Open Source to create a development environment that can achieve more than they would be able to develop fully in-house.
Open Source will Drive the Adoption of Serverless Computing
Serverless computing is a cloud model where the Cloud provider runs and manages the server and the allocation of machine resources. Beyond just the individual servers, many vendors are now offering to totally replace the data centre with a virtual version that runs in the Cloud.
It has the potential to become a widely used solution for mid-range businesses. A dynamically scaled and priced data centre could offer them a much more flexible IT environment where they do not have to worry about capacity planning and scaling – even when compared to a more traditional Cloud environment.
Cloud and IoT Will Drive Edge Computing
Edge computing has been widely touted as a necessary component of a viable 5G setup, as it offers a more cost-effective and lower-latency set up than more traditional infrastructure. Also, with IoT being a major part of the business case behind 5G, the number of connected devices and endpoints is set to explode in the coming years, potentially overloading an infrastructure based fully on data centres for processing the data
Although some are touting Edge computing as the ultimate replacement of Cloud, we believe it will be complementary rather than a competing technology – at least in the foreseeable future and certainly as far as 2020 is concerned. Edge computing will allow Cloud providers to better cater to companies that need low latency, quick access to data and data processing. On the mobile side, it will allow them to push workloads to the handset, reducing the backend workload and potentially enhancing data privacy.
‘Cloud Creep’ Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better
What we have previously referred to as “shadow IT” is rapidly spreading – and worsening – as organisations move to the Cloud and many organisations are now suffering from what is referred to as “cloud creep”. There are several implications of cloud creep – the most significant ones being security issue and cost.
As the use of stand-alone Cloud services grows, the risk of sensitive data being used, stored and shared in non-compliant ways increases. As for cost, while LoB sourcing of Cloud services may save the strain on the IT department’s budget as the money may come from a different “bucket”, it makes it very difficult to get a true picture of the organisations total IT spend and it may mean that consolidation benefits from well-managed sourcing and usage cannot be achieved. A third and increasingly important factor is energy footprint and savings. A fall-out from cloud creep is increased “server sprawl” whereby virtual machines (VMs) and applications remain under-utilised, leading to poor productivity and proficiency.
Alliances and Partnerships Will be Formed as the Battle for the Top Heats Up
The global Cloud market has been consolidating around 5 players: AWS, Microsoft, Alibaba, Google and IBM. Nothing really suggests that this trend will change in 2020.
But even for the current top 5 players, their ability to compete will increasingly come down to their ability to expand their service capabilities beyond their current offerings. Ecosystm expects these players to further enhance their focus on expanding their services, management and integration capabilities through global and in-country partnerships. One particular area might be partnerships – focusing on Cloud migration between Clouds and from Cloud to on-premises.
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The countries announced a proposal to boost Europe’s cloud computing sector in the form of a homegrown, and government-backed, data infrastructure project to establish a safe and sovereign European data infrastructure.
Last month, France recruited tech companies Dassault Systemes – a French software company and OVH – a privately held French cloud computing company to provide plans to break the dominance of U.S. cloud companies.
To serve as an alternative to American and Chinese cloud providers and enable innovative business models, Germany and France have collaborated on developing the core concepts of the European cloud network, called Gaia-X, before trying to get other European countries to join early next year. As a part of Gaia-X, the cloud participants will be required to certify their customers’ information security – e.g. where it is stored and how it is processed. Germany has formed a broad alliance of associations and companies, including Siemens, SAP, Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Telekom for the European cloud project. Claus Mortensen, Principal Advisor at Ecosystm said, “the project is focusing on security at its core and the idea of certifying customers could further help ensure data security and data privacy.”
Mortensen continued, “so far, cloud uptake in Europe has trailed other regions – especially North America and a number of countries in Asia. Whether or not these projects will succeed depends on several factors: the political will behind the project, whether the process becomes overly complicated and lengthy and whether the different companies involved can cooperate when needed.”
Mortensen added, “there is nothing wrong with countries in the EU building cloud infrastructure and issuing tenders for private companies to build this infrastructure – as long as the tenders have followed EU rules and they provide non-discriminatory access to this infrastructure. In the end, it will come down to how the infrastructure is managed and who owns it.”
French and German government officials are set to meet this month, where other interested companies will be invited to provide their inputs. The aim is to create a governance structure for the initiative before the end of the year.
Another goal of pushing homegrown cloud platforms is to support European companies in their development of AI and algorithms and to help them protect against the marketplace which is becoming the domain of a few big vendors.
“The existing cloud giants have technical know-how and readiness, so competing with them will not be easy unless the project can differentiate in ways other than the typical selling points such as price, scalability, granularity, etc. The political backers of this project may be relying on the ‘Made in Europe’ case, but I doubt that will be enough to persuade the bulk of future potential customers” said Mortensen. “More choice is always good for customers and if an objective of this project is to increase cloud uptake in Europe, this would certainly help.”
In the course of my facilitation, I realised that the key focus of the discussions was on how organisations today handle their biggest asset – data – and manage all the moving parts in large and diverse settings and in very traditional enterprises that are transitioning into data-driven “New Age” businesses.
The Impossible Tech Triangle
Data has never been so prolific or strategic as it is today. Multiple sources of data generation and technologically savvy customers have seen a data explosion. Simultaneously, personalised services and data insights have seen a drive toward using the data for increased intelligence in most industries. The biggest risk organisations face and what CSOs and business leaders spend sleepless nights on, is significant disruption due to compromise. Moreover, the complexity of the technology platforms means that no organisation is 100% certain that they have it right and that they are managing the risk effectively.
Does this give rise to a similar situation as in Marketing and Advertising where the triangle of price, quality and speed appear to be unattainable by many organisations?
Key takeaways from the sessions
#1 Drivers & Challenges of Cloud adoption
The fact that discussions around agility and innovation can happen with the intensity it does today, is because organisations have embraced Cloud infrastructure and application development platforms and SaaS solutions.Every organisation’s Cloud journey is unique, driven by its discrete set of requirements. Organisations choosing cloud may not have the resources to build in-house systems – or may choose to migrate to the cloud for various reasons such as cost, productivity, cross-border collaboration or for compliance.
When embarking on a Cloud journey it is important to have a clear roadmap that involves instilling a Cloud-First culture and training the IT organisation in the right skills for the environment. Concerns around costs, security, and data ownership are still synonymous with Cloud, therefore, organisations can distill the workload from a cost angle before jumping on Cloud. It is important for organisations to appreciate when a Cloud option will not work out from a cost angle and to have the right cost considerations in place, because organisations that do a straight resource swapover on Cloud are likely to end up paying more.
Data ownership and data residency can also be challenging, especially from a compliance standpoint. For some, the biggest challenge is to know the status of their data residency. The challenges are not just around legacy systems but also in terms of defining a data strategy that can deliver the desired outcomes and managing risk effectively without ruining the opportunities and rewards that data utilisation can bring. Cloud transformation projects bring in data from multiple and disparate sources. A clear data strategy should manage the data through its entire lifecycle and consider aspects such as how the data is captured, stored, shared, and governed.
#2 Perception on Public Cloud Security
While security remains a key concern when it comes to Cloud adoption, Cloud is often regarded as a more secure option than on-premise. Cloud providers have dedicated security focus, constantly upgrade their security capabilities in response to newer threats and evolve their partner ecosystem. There is also better traceability with Cloud as every virtual activity can be tracked, monitored, and is loggable.
However, the Cloud is as secure as an organisation makes it. The Cloud infrastructure may be secure, but the responsibility of securing applications lies with the organisation. The perception that there is no need to supplement public Cloud security features can have disastrous outcomes. It is important to supplement the Cloud provider’s security with event-driven security measures within an organisation’s applications and cloud infrastructure. As developers increasingly leverage APIs, this need to focus on security, along with functionality and agility should be emphasised on. Organisations should be aware that security is a shared responsibility between the Cloud provider and the organisation.
#3 Viewing Security as a Business Risk – not IT Risk
The Executive Management and the Board may be involved in the Security strategy and GRC policies of an organisation. But a consistent challenge Security teams face is convincing the Board and Senior Management on the need for ongoing focus and investments on cybersecurity measures. Often, these investments are isolated from the organisation’s KPIs and are harder to quantify. But Security breaches do have financial and reputational impact on organisations. Mature organisations are beginning to view Security as a business risk requirement and not a matter of IT risk alone. One of the reasons why Senior Management and Boards do not understand the full potential of data breaches is because CISOs do not translate the implications in business terms. It is their responsibility to find ways to procure senior management buy-in, so that Security becomes part of the Strategy and the costs associated gets written into the cost of doing business.
Training sessions that educate the stakeholders on the basics of the risks associated with using knowledge systems can help. Simulation of actual cybersecurity events and scenario testing can bring home the operational issues around recovery, assessment and containment and it is important to involve senior stakeholders in these exercises. However, eventually the role of the CSO will evolve. It will become a business role and traverse Security across the entire organisation – physical as well as cybersecurity. This is when organisations will truly recognise investment in Security as a business requirement.
#4 Moving away from Compliance-driven Security Practices
Several organisations look at Security as part of their compliance exercise, and compliance is built into their organisational risk management programmes. Often, security practices are portrayed as a product differentiator and used as a marketing tool. An organisation’s Security strategy should be more robust than that and should not only be focused on ticking the right compliance boxes.
A focus on compliance often means that Security teams continually create policies and call out non-compliance rather than proactively contribute to a secure environment. Applications teams do not always have the right skills to manage Security. The focus of the Security team should not be on telling Applications teams what they are doing wrong and writing copious policies, procedures and standards, expecting others to execute on the recommendations. There should be a focus on automated policy-driven remediation that does not restrict the Applications team per se but focuses on unsafe practices, when they are detected. Their role is to work on the implementation and set up Security practices to help the Applications team do what they do best.
#5 Formulating the Right Incident Response Policy
In the Ecosystm Cybersecurity study, 73% of global organisations think that a data breach is inevitable – so organisations largely believe that “it is not about if, but when”. About 50% of global organisations have a cyber insurance policy or are evaluating one. This trend will only rise. Policy-driven incident response measures are an absolute requirement in all enterprises today. However, to a large extent even their incident response policies are compliance driven. 65% of the organisations appear to be satisfied with their current breach handling processes. It is important to keep evolving the process in the face of new threats.
Organisations should also be aware of the need for people management during an incident. Policies might be clear and adhered to, but it is substantially harder to train the stakeholders involved on how they will handle the breach emotionally. It extends to how an organisation manages their welfare both during an incident and long after the incident response has been closed off.
Over the two sessions, we explored how to achieve the ‘unattainable triangle’ of Cloud, Agility and Security. What I found interesting – yet unsurprising – is that discussions were heavily focussed on the role of Security. On the one hand, there is the challenge of the current threat landscape. On the other hand, Security teams are required to deliver a Cloud and an agile development strategy in tandem. This disconnect ultimately highlights the need for Security and data management to be embedded and managed from the very start, and not as an afterthought.
I was recently invited to an AWS Connect, Zendesk and Voice Foundry event in Sydney and it was great to hear from Carsalesabout how they re-invented CX. Prior to making the leap to deploying the solution from AWS Connect and Zendesk, they had been running their contact centre for years using a traditional contact centre platform. Some of the issues they have faced over the years included the following:
Difficult and costly to customise
Expensive support costs
Expensive and difficult integrations
Difficult to extract reporting
Downtime for upgrades
Difficult to use
These issues are common challenges posed by traditional contact centre platforms. High costs of maintenance and expensive integration costs are some of the challenges I hear of when speaking to end-users. The contact centre and CX industry are at an inflection point where organisations are evaluating how best to drive great CX and at the same time considering how to work with vendors that can help drive innovation in CX. Carsales eventually shortlisted 4 players before making the decision on which cloud provider to work with. They ended up working with Zendesk and AWS Connect.
Carsales recognised the need for a CX solution that could use the data they already have on their customers in Zendesk and Salesforce CRM systems to create a unique experience for each interaction. It was important for them to have a solution that would simplify data warehousing and analytics to make it easier to get a full view of the customer. By integrating the CRM application to AWS Connect as the CX orchestration engine. to bring the contact centre and CRM applications together helped Carsales deliver a personalised CX for their customers.
WHY AWS Connect?
These have come off the points mentioned by Carsales as to why they selected AWS Connect:
Cloud-Based (accessible anywhere)
No downtime for upgrades
Access to Data (Lambda and APIs) via ZenDesk and Salesforce
Support from implementation partner Voice Foundry
Access to great technology such as Speech to Text (Polly), Speech Recognition (Lex) and Analytics (Transcribe and Comprehend)
Scalable and customisable call flows
In the global Ecosystm Cloud study, as depicted by the chart below, about 53% of organisations state that increased work processes and efficiency are a key benefit of the cloud. Nearly half the organisations rate flexibility and scalability and improved service levels and agility as the main benefits of a cloud deployment.
What Carsales found about the AWS Connect solution, is how changes can be made easily. Most configurations can be made by the contact centre staff and there is no need to go to IT. Their primary aim was to deliver a personalised CX by accessing data from other internal systems (CRM, proprietary databases, etc) and the solution addressed this need.
The advice that Carsales gives to others implementing a Cloud Contact Centre are:
Ensure that you have invested in the network to support voice over IP.
Make sure that your headsets are compatible to ensure full functionality.
Engage with a partner rather than implementing the platform on your own. Although you can implement AWS Connect solution on your own, it can be difficult. Voice Foundry was a great implementation partner.
The Importance of Data-Driven CX
The market is witnessing a shift where organisations are looking for new and more agile platforms for CX. The challenges, as highlighted by Carsales – such as existing solutions being difficult and costly to customise – are some of the common challenges we are hearing from organisations about the limitations of traditional telephony and contact centre solutions. Whilst the traditional vendors still have a majority share of the market, that is changing. Some of the new cloud contact centre vendors are offering new and dynamic ways of driving a better experience for the users of the technology – from agents to those that manage the contact centre solution. The ability to add agents when needed has become easier (without intervention from IT) and cloud provides better security due to the multiple back-ups and redundancies it offers. The ability to reduce maintenance and customise applications with new agile methodologies and APIs are driving a new era in the contact centre market. The single most important area is deep analytics. The ability to have deep analytics to understand the customer better as a starting point before a call, during a call and after the call is critical. Artificial intelligence can be used to better understand customer sentiment and detect trends in customer data.
The shift from traditional contact centres to cloud contact centres is happening and no longer just with mid-market companies. Large organisations are making the shift to the cloud as the benefits are apparent. Implementing a data-driven culture is key to driving a personalised CX. The tight integration between CRM databases and the applications in the contact centre is becoming more important than ever.
Today, many businesses use Tableau (over 86,000), including a lot of Salesforce customers. They have chosen Tableau because it is easy to deploy and use, and like Salesforce own applications, it targets the ultimate decision maker – the business user – and sometimes even the consumer. Recent research into the BI systems integrators in Asia Pacific shows that Tableau is one of the leading analytics platforms for the partner community in the region – the big SIs have many people focused on Tableau. But that dominance is being challenged by a re-energised Microsoft, whose Power BI is also witnessing strong growth – and who is typically the price leader in the market.
For Salesforce customers, there is some overlap between products – their own Einstein Analytics tools do much of what Tableau can do – although Tableau helps customers see insights from data stored both on the cloud and inside their own data centres. It also moves Salesforce closer to the Customer 360 vision – the ability to get a view of customers across the Commerce, Marketing and Service Clouds. Salesforce customers not using Tableau today will get a better user experience by using Tableau as the visualisation platform.
History has shown that it is hard to make such acquisitions successful. Tableau was a huge success because it was independent. The same was for Business Objects and Cognos before their acquisitions. History has shown that when the large BI and analytics vendors are acquired, others move into that space. While Salesforce has announced they will run Tableau as a separate business, it will no longer be independent. Partners will need to be maintained and provided a growth path – and partners are the cornerstone of Tableau’s success. Some of these partners might have strong ties to other software or cloud platforms too such as SAP, Oracle, AWS or Google. Customers of Tableau might feel sales pressure to move to a Salesforce environment – and will likely see Salesforce integration happen at a deeper level than on other platforms.
Tableau’s independence will disappear. However keeping Tableau as a separate business may not be the long term goal for Salesforce – it might be to offer the best application and analytics solution in the market – to make the entire suite more attractive to more potential buyers and users. It may be to take Salesforce beyond the current users in their customers to many other users who may not need the full application but need the analytics and visualisations that the data can provide. If this is the case, then the company is onto a winner with the Tableau acquisition.
The long term goal is not analytics reports delivered to employees. It is not visualisation. It is automation. It is applications doing smart, AI-driven analysis, and deciding for employees. It is about taking the human out of the process. In a factory you don’t need a report to tell you a machine is down – you need to book a repair person automatically – or a service technician to visit before the machine has even broken down. And you don’t need a visualised report to show that a machine is beyond its life expectancy. You need the machine replaced before it fails catastrophically.
Too often, we are putting humans in processes where they are not required. We are making visualisations more attractive and easier to consume when, in reality, we just needed the task automated. While we employ humans, there will be a need to make decisions more effectively, and we will still require tools like Tableau. But don’t let the pretty pictures distract you from the main prize – intelligentautomation.
If you would like to speak to Tim Sheedy or another analyst at Ecosystm about what the acquisition Tableau by Salesforce might mean to your business or industry, please feel free to schedule an inquiry call on the profile page.
For example, Florida Virtual School is a full-time online school providing virtual K-12 education to students all over the world. It is a recognised eLearning school and provides custom solutions to meet students’ requirements. This model is being replicated globally especially in remote areas where an actual school premise may not be feasible or is too expensive.
Research & Experimentation
The remote handling of projects and experiments is enabling education institutions to overcome the challenge of carrying them out in a controlled and safe environment. ChemCollective, a project of the National Science Digital Library in the US, enables students to interact with a flexible learning environment in which students can access online chemistry labs to apply formulas, perform experiments and learn in realistic and engaging ways, like working scientists.
Open Education Resources
Cloud is enabling the development of open source content for schools and colleges. The challenge with the existing books and lectures is that they get dated. Cloud is enabling a wealth of content through open repositories and legal protocols to allow a community to collaborate and update the information. Open educational resources (OERs) are developed and can be modified by the creators and administrators. The community can contribute to maps, slides, worksheets, podcasts, syllabi or even textbooks. The copyright is associated via legal tools such as Creative Commons licenses, so others can freely access, reuse, translate, and modify them.
As textbooks and course material can now be updated in real-time and offered through a cloud-based subscription model, this now opens up new streams of revenue for publishers. However, this then raises the conversation that textbook prices are increasing while students have no option to purchase second-hand books or sell books once they are done with them.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) platforms both provide content to students in areas of personal interest and additional sources of revenue to renowned global institutions. A quick look at Coursera’s website shows online courses from reputed institutions such as MIT and Johns Hopkins University. There are still providers such as the Khan Academy that do not actively monetise the material they provide, but increasingly institutions look at MOOC to generate more revenues, by offering remote learning options to individuals, as well as by collaborating with local universities to make their courses available to overseas students – a previously untapped market.
Cloud computing is transforming the classroom and learning experiences the way educators, curriculum leads, and specialists recommend. The technology has a huge role to play in enabling transformation in Education – for national education systems, for educational institutions, and ultimately for the students.
How else do you think Cloud can transform the education industry? Let us know in your comments below.