September 28, 2021

From Survival to Success: How Local Businesses Can Adapt and Thrive in the New Normal

Opinion Piece attributed to Jess Ng, Country Head, Singapore and Brunei, Fortinet

The world is collectively recovering, evolving and learning from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While industries like travel and tourism had to slow down, sectors that support the now-digital infrastructures of daily conveniences, such as food delivery and online shopping, had to scale up very quickly. Noticeably, agile businesses were able to respond to this rapid change by leveraging digital technologies to ensure continuity in operations. 

Banks and financial services institutions in Southeast Asia, for instance, added contactless digital payments or e-wallets to respond to the need for cashless online transactions. The frequency of e-wallet payments in the region rose to 25 percent post-COVID-19 from an average of 18 percent before the pandemic, which is a massive shift from one payment method to another. With the boost from COVID-19 and long-term changes in consumers’ habits, the gross transaction value (GTV) for digital payment is estimated to reach US$1.2 trillion in 2025.

Through collaborative partnerships between banks, governments and vendors, digital payments have allowed contactless online payments for goods, services and even utilities. Some countries have even leveraged contactless digital payments to deliver stimulus packages to citizens. In Singapore, the national real-time peer-to-peer payment platform, PayNow was utilized by the government to facilitate fast and contactless distribution of funds. In addition, banking institutions are also exploring other options to make the customer journey more seamless. To promote digital payments at shops, the Singapore Quick Response Code (SGQR) was rolled out for merchants to display just one QR code for all payment providers, which helps make transactions to be more efficient and less confusing. 

Retailers are also preparing for a hybrid future and pursuing an omnichannel presence where consumers have options to visit a physical or a virtual store. While touchless shopping technologies existed in the past, the pandemic has also driven higher adoption of similar technologies.

With the myriad changes that have impacted the enterprise landscape, a few critical trends stand out from the rest: 

  • Products, services and business processes have changed to adapt to today’s digital consumer. Enterprise technology, as a result, has been tasked with scaling proportionally and supplying the flexibility needed to support these overhauls. 
  • Various customer relationship management (CRM), marketing software, and supply chain systems, which were previously separate, now need to work together to allow for frictionless processes across the organisation. To thrive in complex, competitive environments enterprises had to introduce a whole new host of processes and technologies to move to agile business processes. The advantage is that they can spin up applications and deliver services on the fly, compete faster and scale smarter. The challenge, however, is that expertise is scarce and the skills gap is growing. 
  • Untangling an organisation from its complex legacy systems can be an expensive, complex and risk-heavy process. During this climate, organisations have seen increasing challenges in cash flow, and are slower to approve investments in critical transformations. At the same time, consumers need secure and seamless experiences for products and services and pursuing large transformation projects may impact critical business processes. Teams are also working over far-flung geographic locations, staying connected to the company network through unsecured devices. As a result, security teams are now at the forefront of budgeting focus with the rising frequency of information breaches and constantly changing regulatory compliance and security policies.

Consequences of Rushed Digitalisation

The enterprise attack surface has expanded, growing past physical and traditional bounds into a virtual plane with endless unsecured endpoints, Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and other digital enablers. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the situation, targeting organisations across various sectors. 

According to data from the s, average ransomware payouts have grown to more than US$178,000 per event by the end of the second quarter of 2020 from less than US$10,000 in the third quarter of 2018. 

Amidst these rising threats, IT security teams have experienced shrinking IT budgets over the past year due to the pandemic. This has put a strain on the overloaded attack perimeter, which has been continually experiencing heightened cybersecurity risks as enterprises transition to digital infrastructures.

The accelerated digitalisation during the pandemic has brought cybersecurity implications. When the pandemic initially hit, many businesses did not have the time to develop and implement new systems or even conduct prior gaps analyses of existing technology.  They were forced to entirely digitalise almost overnight, which resulted in inadequate technology fixes for ever-evolving business problems. 

Even though cybersecurity attacks have continued to evolve in both complexity and scale over the past decade and seeing cyber threats spike during the pandemic, enterprises have continued to adopt single-pronged approaches to security. Clearly, this is not sufficient to implement a truly robust, integrated and enforceable security strategy across the organization.

As organizations reimagine their supply chains, spin up more digital experiences and brace themselves against the realities of hybrid workforces, threat actors will continue to focus on all the new vulnerabilities being exposed. In response, security leaders are leveraging approaches, such as zero-trust frameworks, to provide secure remote authentication to an expanded surface area. However, no single product or solution can replace the effectiveness of an enterprise-wide commitment to holistic security, and it is the responsibility of the entire organization to ensure that every business unit is on the same page when it comes to privacy and data security.

To boost resilience and thrive in the changing business environment, businesses especially small-medium businesses (SMB) need a security strategy that enables them to not just survive through the pandemic but emerging stronger through strong cybersecurity protection measures and best practices.