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India MSME Summit 2021] Lenovo India’s Ashish Sikka on crisis-proofing MSMEs in a pandemic-impacted market

Speaking at YourStory’s MSME Week 2021, Lenovo India’s Ashish Sikka said that digitally empowered SMEs had twice the revenue growth projections, compared to other SMEs.

According to India Brand Equity Foundation, an Indian government export promotion agency, there are approximately 6.3 crores of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the country, contributing about 30 percent to the country’s GDP through both domestic and global trade. The sector was witnessing steady growth in terms of the number of registered MSMEs, growing 18.5 percent YoY in 2020 from 2019

However, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, MSMEs have been among the worst affected. An Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, study attributes to various factors, including but not limited to the lockdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic that substantially disrupted the sector’s dependence on the cash economy, non-availability of workers, and disruptions across the supply chain – from the supply of raw materials to transport infrastructure. 

To put the spotlight on this unforeseen crisis, and how the sector can navigate back onto the growth track, YourStory organised a 10-day virtual event India MSME Summit 2021 to highlight important conversations through a series of incisive interviews, insightful panel discussions, and thought-provoking articles.

This year’s event, on the theme of ‘Roadmap for MSME Resilience and Recovery’, was attended by entrepreneurs, policymakers, technologists, investors, mentors, and business leaders.

Delivering the keynote address on how MSMEs should leverage tech to become crisis-proof, Ashish Sikka, Director of SMB and Channel at Lenovo India, highlighted the importance of digitally empowering the sector. 

“The MSME sector in India is the second-largest employment generator after agriculture and acts as a breeding ground for entrepreneurs and innovators. It is the backbone of the business ecosystem and in addition to contributing about 30 percent to the country's GDP,  also contributes 40 percent to exports. India’s MSME sector has still not adapted to its full potential. And that is one of the reasons why government policies are now even more convergent towards building a resilient ecosystem with better depth and breadth,” he said. 

Citing a study by Google and KPMG, Ashish said that digitally-empowered SMEs had about twice the revenue growth projections, as compared to other SMEs. 

“Digital transformation needs to start with a solid strategy in this rapidly changing world. It's important to understand the basics – whom you serve, what you provide, and what makes you different from your competitors. Research by the Boston Consulting Group has shown that SMEs adopting new technology have a 10-points higher job growth, and 11-points higher revenue growth than low-tech SMEs and small businesses,” said Ashish, adding that brick-and-mortar stores showed more heavy losses during the lockdown because of unsold inventory, negligible sales, and lack of in-person traffic due to the pandemic. 

He said that by integrating digital technologies into their daily operations, customer interactions, and sales models, they were able to give their customers, local communities and partners the best opportunity to not only survive but also thrive during these adverse times. 

While stressing the importance of ecommerce ability for social selling, Ashish said that with entire companies working from home, choosing the right devices was important.

“We launched PC Pal as a brand agnostic service to help students, office workers, and small businesses choose the right device. We revamped our demo programme from face-to-face to virtual, thereby enabling our customers to understand the product features better before taking a buying decision. It also brought down the cost of doing business while enabling a better sales and customer experience,” he said.

Work efficiently, listen to your customer

A global study conducted by Lenovo has shown that every year, 1.8 billion hours are wasted due to bad tech and 38 percent of employees blame tech issues for major distractions. 

“The good news is that 77 percent of SMEs surveyed value and prioritise employee experience.  The young workforce is demanding a flexible collaborative workplace with reliable, well-supported technology, which matches their own tech, both in style and performance, along with tackling remote working and dynamic expectations of the modern workforce,” said Ashish, while stressing the importance of building business agility and efficiency to retain competitive advantage. 

He said that businesses need to ensure they had solutions in place to enable seamless collaboration and engagement. “Businesses need the ability to deploy, manage, maintain, and secure devices and data. They should also be able to look at their business models across functions and see what needs to change to meet the evolving demands created by the pandemic.”  

Ashish also spoke about the need to examine investment or change through a long-term lens. It was this perspective that was making SMEs realise that investing in technologies was not an expense, but something that would help them thrive and future-proof their business.