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COMPETING IN A DIGITAL WORLD – SMES FIND THEIR FEET

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– Stefano, Founder , Eggcelerate

 

Digital transformation is different for small and medium-sized companies. Or is it? In this article, we take a look at the current state of digital in SMEs and look ahead to see what is in store.

 

“Changes in business operations, and in the way customers are served, driven by digital technologies.”

That is a compact definition of digital transformation. And the digital technologies in question? They range from IoT (internet of things, or connected devices like smart sensors), to Robotic Process Automation and AI, to cloud computing.

 

SME rate of digitisation

Whether your business employs ten people or 10,000, the ingredients for digital transformation are the same. So how are small and medium-sized companies faring? Are they even interested in digitisation? Research1 says they are, and UK SMEs are doing better than many of their European counterparts, with high scores for adoption rates of cloud computing, Big Data and AI. To put this statement into perspective, 58% of companies have adopted cloud computing, but only 27% use some sort of AI-based technology.

Still, only 40% of SMEs report that digitisation is a top priority. An important fact, as the European SME survey 20191  shows a correlation between prioritising digitisation and investment. Those companies that say getting digital is a top priority invest more than companies that give digitisation a lower priority. The companies that prioritise digital also expected to export more than companies who see digitisation as less critical.

 

Naturally, as SMEs are a very heterogeneous group, there are differences in the area of digitisation as well. Some sectors are further along than others. Roughly speaking, finance & accounting firms, manufacturing companies, and the logistics sector are a step or two ahead of firms in the construction business and the legal profession2.

 

The big gain

So, what is it that drives digital transformation? What do SMEs stand to gain?

The short answer is a competitive edge, or even just remaining competitive (enough). Digital transformation is not an option; it is a must. The 24/7 economy demands fast service and quick supplies, and that goes for B2B markets just as much as for B2C. Digitisation enables companies to satisfy such demands.

The predictive capability of AI can reduce downtimes, for example – it will know in advance when machinery is likely to break down and can schedule preventive maintenance accordingly. Another example is increased productivity through the use of RPA or software robots. With RPA, a company can automate routine jobs like checking invoices relatively quickly and cheaply, freeing up human capital for other tasks.

 

The digital future

To look ahead, we also need to take a look at some constraints SMEs face with regards to digital transformation. The main issues UK firms face in this respect are around cybersecurity and the lack of skilled workers. In other countries around Europe, insufficient IT infrastructures also ranks high on the list of concerns.

Dealing with cybersecurity risks and especially ransomware attacks, is a significant worry for companies, as they are costly, difficult to prevent and have the potential to damage their reputation. Financial constraints are also a leading problem firms face when trying to skill up. Salaries for highly skilled IT talent have risen to a level that is prohibitive for many. At the same time, it is also hard for SMEs to attract and retain people, as candidates consider them as less attractive in terms of opportunities for growth.

According to Hays2, most employers say the lack of skills of existing staff prevents them from taking full advantage of the opportunities digital technologies provide. They are turning to solutions to train their employees and outsourcing work.

Nonetheless, digital transformation also provides plenty of opportunities. Look at fintech. Not what you were expecting, perhaps, but the rise of fintech has undoubtedly been advantageous for SMEs. Where SMEs have traditionally been caught in the middle between large corporations and consumers, as far as banking services were concerned, fintech is now providing smaller companies with choices that were not available before. A survey by EY3 shows that, in the UK, 18% of SMEs have adopted fintech services. These services include banking, payments and financing.

SMEs have taken essential steps, but they have some way to go as well. What lies ahead seemed brighter in January 2020 than it is now, just a few months later. Still valid for any company setting out on the digital transformation path, though, is that investing in people – skills, communication and culture – is crucial. Although the survey done by Hays found that many employees feel that ‘going digital’ is not a bad thing, the human factor does seem to be a stumbling block for many SME’s. One possible solution is for organisations to cooperate in creating training programmes and offer employees a challenging, cross-company career path.

 

Sources

1 KFW Going digital – the challenges facing European SMEs | European SME survey 2019

https://www.kfw.de/PDF/Download-Center/Konzernthemen/Research/PDF-Dokumente-Studien-und-Materialien/PDF-Dateien-Paper-and-Proceedings-(EN)/European-SME-Survey-2019.pdf

2 Hayes What workers want

https://www.hays.co.uk/documents/34684/4771753/What+Workers+Want+2019.pdf/7d7c1264-6df5-c2cf-2c7c-581b9a5b01dd

3 EY Fintech is a world of choice for small and medium-sized enterprises

https://www.ey.com/en_gl/banking-capital-markets/how-fintechs-are-a-world-of-choice-for-small-and-medium-sized-enterprises

Technology

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT ENHANCING THE ORDER-TO-CASH PROCESS WITH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

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Mark Sheldon, Chief Technology Officer, Sidetrade

 

The global pandemic has meant companies everywhere have woken up to the fact that cash is king, leading to a renewed prioritisation of liquidity generation and cash conservation to survive.

One of the ways that companies have sought to secure cash flow is through improved Order-to-Cash (O2C) processes – helping enterprises minimise risks and maximise returns in their financial dealings.

 

But not all O2C processes are created equal. In fact, I see the current O2C market split into three segments:

  1. The first being the companies that employ manual siloed systems, who continue to work predominantly with Excel spreadsheets and even the postal system, and they continue to manually process customer data across a variety of siloed functions (sales, support, finance, etc.).
  2. The second segment, and where we start to see technology being leveraged, is a more digitised approach, whereby the basics of automation are employed, or digital collection media such as email is the norm. Firms taking advantage of these kinds of technologies can expect to benefit from improved efficiencies across the whole O2C process.
  3. The third and most mature segment however, and where the full benefits can be reaped, is when AI capabilities are built into the O2C process.

Mark Sheldon

In overlaying AI into this process, firms are able to leverage data and intelligent insights to supercharge their efficiencies even further. Teams can benefit from AI-powered recommendations that lead to optimum results, improved customer retention and overall streamlined O2C workflows. Customers can enjoy a much more sophisticated and effective end-to-end experience with their suppliers. And the business at large can benefit from significantly healthier cash flow, reduced bad debt and the enhanced ability to better forward plan.

But where to start when implementing AI technologies into your O2C process and what are the most important things you should be aware of?

 

Top tips for implementing AI-powered O2C systems

Firstly, it’s important to look past the hype of AI. It’s become a bit of a buzzword across all industries, and there are many vendors out there that label themselves as an AI provider, but simply don’t have the creds for it.

Fundamentally, without historical data, there is no AI. A company just starting out for example, might have the technical abilities to build an AI platform, but is highly unlikely to have the data sets required to feed it, and make it truly “intelligent”.

Secondly, it is critical to clarify the difference between robotic process automation (RPA) and AI. Many RPA vendors talk about AI and RPA interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing.

RPA is generally concerned with automating everyday processes – using software “bots” that you can set up to emulate a particular task; so it’s very much focused on automation of existing manual processes. Whilst there are some similarities in terms of efficiency benefits, it’s very different from what we do in AI. In AI, we use algorithms to intelligently recommend the best course of action, by taking the human thinking out of the system.

The risk with a purely RPA-based solution is that you end up automating ineffective or even damaging processes. For example, missing insight into where bottlenecks lie, or where siloed systems further amplify cash flow problems. So you could argue there is nothing truly intelligent about RPA.

Thirdly and finally, one of the biggest barriers that still exists today for anyone looking to employ AI in the O2C process, is the cultural challenges. Wherever we deploy AI, the number one challenge in terms of the rollout is the cultural belief and trust that AI is going to do a good job.

Fundamentally, AI-powered O2C software has been proven to improve key business metrics. With AI solutions, you can expect significantly reduced DSO, faster cash collection, and improved efficiencies by up to 50%.

What’s more, with AI, businesses can enjoy far more in-depth insights: understanding which suppliers aren’t paying fast enough, where to get cash into the business more efficiently, or identifying where the business opportunities for growth lie. All of this is powerful ammunition for CFOs looking to implement a cash-to-cash culture across the entire business, and a valuable aid in demonstrating the significant impact that AI in the O2C process can have across the business.

 

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Business

DIGITAL TICKETING: THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FACING PTOS AND PTAS.

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By

Arnaud Depaigne, Product Manager, Smart mobility at Fime.

 

Transport ticketing has rapidly evolved in the digital age. As recently as the 1990s, closed loop systems based around paper tickets or tokens were the norm. This resulted in a poor user experience. Lines to purchase tickets were often long, and turnstile throughput was inefficient. Today, passengers can use a smartcard or even their phone as their ticket, utilizing contactless and Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality to tap-and-go.

This proliferation of digital ticketing has only been further accelerated over the last 18 months. The pandemic has presented Public Transport Operators (PTOs) and Public Transport Authorities (PTAs) with an urgent need for hygienic contactless solutions. As passenger numbers slowly begin to return, the ecosystem is presented with a unique opportunity to advance urban mobility and move towards a Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) model. However, with this also comes a series of challenges.

 

Reacting to changing user behavior

Arnaud Depaigne

Today’s consumer world is digital, global and on demand. Passengers want seamless integrated solutions that allow them to plan and pay for their transit using only the device in their pocket. Furthermore, the urban mobility ecosystem is seeing a rising demand for interoperable MaaS solutions that provide end-to-end transportation on a single ticket. Mobile ticketing must deliver on these expectations as well as being user friendly, reliable and secure.

In part, this is being achieved by changing the focal point of urban mobility from the station to the passenger themselves. This consumer-centric approach allows PTOs and PTAs to reconfigure their sales and distribution channels to meet the growing demand for digital solutions.

Mobility providers can achieve this by integrating Host Card Emulation (HCE) and NFC technologies into their ticketing solutions. More technologically literate passengers will already be familiar with digital wallets and contactless payments. This mitigates concerns about achieving widespread user adoption and means that any digital urban mobility solution could be rolled out at speed. Another benefit to this is that it significantly cuts costs for providers. As passengers no longer require mode-specific travel cards, everything is instead accessible on one device. Providers can therefore cut their expenditure on manufacturing the cards themselves. They can also scale back the on-the-ground resources allocated to support issuance.

 

Context is key

When rolling out a solution, providers must be mindful that each individual passenger has different needs. Cities have unique transit networks of varying sizes that require different approaches. Furthermore, any solution must be accessible to all demographics, from digital natives to those who are less technologically adept. They must also remain aware that not every passenger will have a bank account. Solutions must not exclude people. They must offer customers a range of options to make their payment.

Account-based ticketing (ABT) manages the consumer’s funds in the back-office account, making the payment automatically. This gives users flexibility to move between several fare media to make payments depending on what is most convenient at the time – be it by smartcard, mobile device or wearable. To this end, ABT solutions simplify maintenance logistics, improve security while also ultimately reducing the cost of urban mobility.

By moving from a stored value card system to an account-based approach, PTOs and PTAs can achieve “the holy grail of ABT” as it has been described by Visa. This system opens the door for future adjacent services by achieving interoperability between different fare media.

 

The importance of open standards

Open standards can offer a pathway to truly realizing seamless transport ticketing. With open standards, PTOs and PTAs remain in control of their ticketing network as the supply chain remains open to multiple solution providers. Providers can therefore avoid vendor lock-in and the issues that can present. Furthermore, an open standards approach means that PTOs and PTAs can evolve organically with the technology as it is rolled out. This allows them to remain agile and prepared for future challenges and developments.

 

The need for expertise

PTOs and PTAs will need to continue evolving with future technological developments. By remaining aware of the challenges that may lie ahead, they can put themselves in the best possible position to capitalize on opportunities. Infrastructure migration does not necessarily require huge investments, and with the right support, the transition can be made as smooth as possible.

Fime’s global expertise can help demystify and simplify ABT deployment. With over 20+ years of experience ensuring the efficient and successful implementation of card and mobile transaction services. Fime is well-equipped and experienced in supporting the transport market in delivering the next generation of transit ticketing solutions in a complex market.

 

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