WATCH: Industry experts give tips for businesses struggling in the pandemic

Industry bigwigs came together in Cisco’s live series entitled “Navigating the Shift” to talk about challenges MSMEs face during the pandemic. In attendance were Department of Trade and Industry and Bureau of MSME Development Director Jerry Clavesillas, Tokyo Tempura CEO and Association of Filipino Franchiser President Jorge Wieneke, PLDT Enterprise Vice President and Revenue Group Head Mitch Locsin, Startup Village president and co-founder Carlo Calimon, and Cisco Managing Director Karrie Ilagan.

The COVID-19 pandemic left SMEs struggling to stay afloat. As restrictions got stricter during the lockdown, many businesses went non-operational.

“During the first two months of our survey of the situation of our MSMEs, we were given the figure that about 35% of the MSMEs are in a true stop operation.. Only 51% are partially operating and then 14% are fully operating,” revealed Director Jerry Clavesillas.

Although the slowdown of economic activity severely impacted businesses, these experts say that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. As restrictions imposed by the IATF start to ease, MSMEs slowly go back to normal operations. According to Clavesillas, 47% of businesses are fully operational today, while 47% are partially operating. Only 6% are fully closed.

The panelists agree that digital transformation is a major factor in keeping MSMEs afloat during the pandemic. Strict lockdown guidelines forced many businesses – big or small – to offer their services online.

“What happened, especially with our members, they were forced to adapt. They were forced to adopt (this) online selling. I know for a fact that people are promoting online selling, digitalization, during pre-COVID. But we took (it) for granted.. I think the situation has forced us to have this change,” explained CEO Jorge Wieneke. “Dahil sa panahong ito, I think I can see, in my own opinion.. a real evolution of adopting digitalization in our lives.”

Digitalization also forced a lot of small businesses to change their model to sustain their cashflow.

“Startups also had to pivot when it comes to relevance,” said Carlo Calimon, President and Co-Founder of Startup Village. “Because of a changing and evolving customer base, they had to come up with something that’s more important, that’s more relevant. Going into the new year, businesses that will succeed focus not just on relevance and essentials but on making people happy.”

The sudden boom of digital commerce and, subsequently, online banking, has called for a need for both better security and infrastructure. As PLDT VP Mitch Locsin explains, it was a challenge for internet providers to install connections in individuals’ homes, especially during the lockdown. The demand for connectivity grew even more as e-learning started. In a single household, for example, they had to accommodate both the students’ learning needs, and the parent’s work-from-home requirements.

“It was a challenge for us, especially during the lockdowns, where we had to get the necessary approvals from the national government.. We were actually given the approval to go in, even to certain areas that was in complete lockdown,” says Locsin. “Luckily, we were actually very blessed that PLDT, from a network perspective, was really prepared.”

PLDT recently collaborated with Cisco to launch BEYOND FIBER, an internet connection package targeted towards MSMEs. The technology contains enterprise-grade technology, allowing businesses to better manage connectivity. It also gives owners access to cybersecurity and payment solutions.

“This is the first time in our lifetime where everyone in the world gets to experience the same thing and have common learnings so that we can also take the right collective action,” said Karrie Ilagan, Managing Director of Cisco Philippines. “Cisco has been looking at the common pain points of MSMEs around the world and in response we have launched programs specifically designed to help MSMEs not just to survive but to thrive in this situation.”lkcx

Cisco also launched Cisco Designed at the start of the pandemic. The suite provides IT solutions for common work-from-home problems. They also launched a financing program with 0% interest for their product, removing the upfront cost for acquiring essential software and hardware. This makes enterprise-grade technology more accessible to MSMEs.

“While many things have become a given today, our advice mainly is to first understand what kind of business processes have to go digital because you don’t necessarily have to do that all in one go. Second, it’s about security. It’s not just about transactions but even in how we communicate with our customers. Lastly, not everybody is a digital native. There is a need for greater investment to learn and to acquire digital skills. Part of the adaptation is that we need to change our mindset and to really learn technology so that MSMEs can continue to operate successfully,” said Ilagan.

Ultimately, the panelists agree that the ability to evolve and adapt is a key factor in surviving the pandemic.

Watch the 1st episode of Cisco’s Navigating the Shift entitled “Prepping for the Future: Strategies for Pinoy Businesses” here:

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