Pandemic highlights inefficiencies of Aussie SMEs

More than half of Australian businesses believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the fact that their business processes are inefficient, forcing them to change the way they operate.

The Oxford Economics survey, sponsored by SAP Concur, found that 51 per cent of Australian Finance and IT decision-makers said the pandemic had highlighted business inefficiencies, 57 per cent have significantly changed they way they operate their business and 50 per cent have accelerated the digital transformation of their enetrprise.

“SMEs bore the brunt of impacts from COVID-19, with many needing to completely realign their business models just to survive,” Fabian Calle, managing director small and medium business at SAP Concur Australia and New Zealand, said. “Now that many SMEs have weathered the storm, they are looking to increase efficiencies and digitise processes to drive growth, reduce costs, and improve productivity.”

The study identified the biggest challenges facing Australian businesses as a lack of visibility into their spending, a lack agility within their organisation, problems changing their business culture, difficulty in digitising manual processes and lack of engagement among employees.

“Increasing efficiency and productivity becomes more challenging when visibility into spending is blurred,” Calle said. “Unfortunately, only around one in three Australian businesses are effective in spend management across processing, approving, and reimbursing travel and expenses and capturing and paying supplier invoices.”

Despite survey respondents realising that participants recognising that automation would improve cost savings and efficiency, just six per cent of businesses had fully automated expense management, and only seven per cent invoice management. Not one of the businesses involved in the survey had fully automated cashflow management, although 17 per cent had made “substantial progress” in digitally transforming their operations.

SMEs are focusing on investing in cloud, mobile, and AI technologies, and are building data analytics capabilities to improve insights into their financial situation and reporting capability.

“Companies such as SAP Concur are working with SMEs across Australia and New Zealand to help them recover from COVID-19 impacts and move back to a growth focus by driving efficiencies and cost savings through automation,” Calle said.

“As Australian businesses return to a new normal, they are in some ways better positioned than their counterparts in other countries. However, to be successful they must find new ways to futureproof their business while maintaining everyday operations and driving greater levels of customer engagement.

“To do this, they must build a more collaborative business culture while increasing the effectiveness of day-to-day tasks,” Calle added. “Digitisation and automation could help SMEs accomplish this, so that their costs, resources, and time aren’t wasted in back-end processes. This will free up SMEs to focus more on new ways to engage employees and enhance the customer experience.

“Ultimately, automation will prove to be the difference between those businesses that succeed and SMEs that will continue to face cost and efficiency challenges in the digital business and consumer world,” he concluded.