Leveraging technology to support the MSME sector through COVID-19 and beyond
TSTT Corporate Communications
The smaller size of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) makes them uniquely vulnerable to economic downturns, natural and manmade disasters and other changes in their market conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for the many MSMEs because of its wide-ranging impact, affecting all sectors of an economy. Technology has emerged as a critical tool for the survival of these businesses, from their choice of communications service provider to decisions to transition their businesses to online, implement work from home policies and the use of various apps and tools to help expand their digital presence. By leveraging technology, many local MSMEs were able to manage the negative effects of COVID-19, and even grow their business.
Ian Galt, General Manager Enterprise Services at TSTT, noted that one of the Company’s priorities was to ensure that their customers, including the vulnerable MSMEs and businesses forced to navigate new and unpredictable terrain, stayed connected and supported during the pandemic. “At TSTT, we see ourselves not only as a technology provider and partner but an extension of our customers’ businesses. A few months ago, our CEO, Dr. Walcott, referred to broadband connectivity as the new currency and this pandemic certainly reminded the world of how essential connectivity is to business and commerce. We recognize that our customers are relying on our services to ensure they can sustain their business during these critical times and we remain committed to providing the support they need, when they need it the most.”
Galt noted MSMEs are drivers of growth in several economies and providing them with the technology support they needed was nothing short of essential. “At the height of the pandemic, there was a significant increase in demand for bandwidth and cloud services. Apart from new requests for connectivity and providing secure connections, we also offered institutional assistance for companies to implement work–from-home strategies, including video and audio conference bridge solutions and business communications services.”
One such company is the Export Import Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (EXIMBANK) which provides support to local businesses to begin exporting or to increase their exports and foreign exchange earnings. They supply credit and trade finance and assist with foreign exchange allocations, especially for other MSMEs. Chief Executive Officer, Navin Dookeran shared that technology played a key role in how they were able to manage the COVID transition.
Before COVID-19, EXIMBANK was largely paper-based. However, they were already implementing a more technological focus using Microsoft Teams and Sharepoint. When Trinidad and Tobago moved to stay-at-home measures, EXIMBANK was highlighted as an essential service since they needed to get foreign exchange to international suppliers to facilitate the import of essential supplies into the country as quickly as possible. “This meant that our volumes and our productivity needed to increase significantly. We were able to create digital workflows, where everything was dealt with through Sharepoint. All the transaction files became electronic. All our staff was working from home within a couple of days, with computers securely set up through our firewall. Not only did we have zero business interruption as a result of that transition but we are now handling significantly higher volumes than before, with very good client satisfaction metrics.” said Dookeran. He added, “The backbone of our infrastructure is our primary telecommunications provider, TSTT. I must state that their reliable service enabled us to transform the way we actually do our business.”
In addition to leveraging technology to transform operations, Dookeran encourages business owners to focus on the opportunities that lie ahead, “The toughest times are likely behind you, when everything was closed, and your income was completely halted – that time, hopefully, will not return and now it’s time to look forward. My major piece of advice for MSMEs is don’t just focus on getting back to how things were. If you do that, you’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities that many other companies are taking advantage of. Set your benchmark higher, with a growth agenda, and see how you can recover or recapture market share abroad, or if you were just a local entrepreneur, set your sights on starting to export. There are a lot of organisations like the EXIMBANK or ExporTT that can help. When you bounce back, you bounce higher.”
Term Finance Holding Limited, 2019 winner of the bmobile Business Technology Award, is a completely web-based organization that has provided over 25,000 loans and other credit solutions to individuals and MSMEs across the Caribbean. Customers interact exclusively with Term Finance’s e-portal and digital-only lending team, from application all the way through to disbursement and collections. Oliver Sabga, Chief Executive Officer, noted that Term Finance operates in a mature market with really big and experienced competitors. Technology is at the core of their competitive advantage and provided immediate business continuity through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a web-based business, we were able to seamlessly continue serving our customers through COVID-19. Our lending team members were set up at home with the same hardware and software they used in the office. We were able to continue lending through COVID-19, including offering COVID-19 Relief Loans to persons whose incomes were negatively impacted.” Sabga shared that MeisterTask, an online, mobile friendly task management tool for teams, really helped transform their company and he would recommend it to other MSMEs. He advises other entrepreneurs to stay the course. “Entrepreneurship is not a side job. You may struggle to meet your financial targets sometimes but through 100% commitment, focus, discipline and financial prudence the reward will come and it will be beautiful.”