Communication and collaboration platforms seek to increase operational efficiency within the workplace. Source: Shutterstock

Want to improve your SME’s efficiency? There are apps for that

IF YOU RUN a business – any business – on top of growing your bottom line and increasing profit margins, one key business objective will surely be to ensure operations are running smoothly and efficiently.

But for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) who have fewer hands on deck, this can prove a tricky task. A prominent issue of the SME workplace relates to loss of productivity time.

A study by Harvard Business Review found that employees today spend almost 80 percent of their time on “collaborative activities”.

This includes spending time on supportive tasks such as sending emails, making phone calls, and sharing files. The problem with this is these laborious and long-winded yet crucial tasks leave employees with limited time to work on higher-level, more meaningful jobs.

According to Chris Wang, head of global business development for the Alibaba-owned DingTalk, “operational efficiency” is a core strength of a successful company.

DingTalk Chief Technology Officer Hugo Zhu and Wang. Source: Techwireasia

But how can SMEs streamline such tasks? Luckily for businesses, there is a wide range of communication and collaboration tools available, like DingTalk for example, which seeks to increase operational efficiency within the workplace.

The popular enterprise chat app launched in 2015 is currently used by more than five million Chinese organizations. It was only available in Mandarin until last week, when it launched an English version in Malaysia, the first market outside of China to get the platform.

Wang, who ran a live demonstration of the app in Kuala Lumpur this week, said DingTalk was built with the SME in mind.

“When we first started DingTalk, we had an idea in our mind of what is it that today’s businesses – especially SMEs – need to help grow their business, increase work efficiency, and increase their competitiveness in the global market,” he said.

According to Wang, SMEs will struggle to compete with larger organizations if they continue to adopt a “traditional corporate culture”, using paper-based methods when running their business.

This is why collaboration and communication platforms have become business must-haves in the digital age, offering solutions that will facilitate a smooth-running, efficient business.

Streamlining communication

Digital communication platforms such as Slack, DingTalk and Workplace by Facebook provide employees with a simple and immediate platform in which to communicate with colleagues and external companies.

Whether it’s sending a quick question to a colleague, holding a video conference call with multiple participants, or getting in contact with the CEO of your company; digital platforms integrate many forms of communication into one easy-to-use area.

According to Wang, the DingTalk platform allows you to quickly and simply communicate with a colleague by allowing you to “find anyone, in any department, as well as even finding their work status, for instance, whether they are on leave or on a business trip.”

As well as this, the platform’s “Ding” feature ensures that messages of high importance are seen right away by giving the sender the option to deliver the message to multiple platforms.

“Our Ding feature allows you to send very critical, urgent information either within the application, via SMS or even with a voice call,” Wang said.

Automating mundane tasks

In any office, there will be abundance of low-level tasks that take up a large portion of time, but that nevertheless cannot be avoided. This may range from booking absences, filling out HR forms, to completing procurement checklists.

DingTalk’s “Office Automation” features allow businesses to manage these day-to-day tasks more efficiently, diminishing the more traditional, paper-based methods which take far longer to complete.

For instance, the tool has the ability to generate employee attendance reports, saving human resources an average of four days a month.

Another particularity useful tool for SMEs is the platform’s “business travel management feature”.

This tool enables businesses to connect with other apps, for instance, Digi Business or Uber. This development means executives who need to travel frequently for business no longer have to go through the time-consuming process of retaining and submitting receipts in order to be reimbursed for travel expenses.

Instead, businesses can simply link their payment details with the travel apps, automatically paying for the employee’s trip.

According to Wang, “giving SMEs access to these kinds of services is very critical in driving their efficiency and lowering cost.”

Internal and external collaboration

Efficient collaboration both within your organization as well as outside is fundamental in the facilitation of achieving business objectives.

For instance, through external collaboration, businesses can build valuable relationships with consumers, increase revenue, decrease time spent on research and marketing costs, improve customer service, and much more.

With internal collaboration, the company can be improved at its very core. It connects employees to others, advocates a culture where knowledge is shared, and can reduce decision-cycle times.

With digital collaborative platforms such as DingTalk, SMEs are provided with a tool for which to collaborate with others in a fast and efficient way.

Wang said it is crucial for SMEs to embrace new technologies in order to achieve business growth.

“Most emerging SMEs are still working in a traditional fashion and their efficiency is quite low,” he said.

Increased security

More traditional methods of communication and collaboration can pose significant security risks.  For instance, emails are often targeting by phishing schemes and malware attacks, and research has shown that SMEs are the most vulnerable of all.

For businesses, it is crucial that any documents or information exchanged is protected. Many communication and collaboration platforms ensure that a high level of security is used in order to protect your files.

DingTalk is one of the first Chinese apps to have obtained the ISO/IEC 27001:2013 standard, a globally recognized data security benchmark, with its data encrypted to provide high-level communications security.

“We take enterprise information security as our first priority. We provide data encryption to all the data transferred and used within your company,” Wang said.

“We also have a third-party protection plan which allows you to obtain third-party encryption services.”