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Indian SMEs’ need followership, not just thought leadership

The role of technology will be truly transformative for the development of the SME sector. AI and ML have deep applications in almost all industries.

During a Q&A interview with, Samir Sathe, Executive Vice President, Wadhwani Advantage at Wadhwani Foundation, discusses the current issues encountered by SMEs, why upskilling is necessary, and how technology and innovation plays an important part in this sector’s success.

Q. What are the major challenges that SMEs are facing currently?

SMEs are facing three challenges today.

  1. How can they inform their growth agenda better and quicker as they come out of the COVID crisis and regain the lost ground of almost 2 years?
  2. How can they upskill the management and feet-on-street talent?
  3. How can they make sure they are better prepared to withstand external shocks, should these hit them again?

As one notices, there is hope and there is anxiety of bad times, and most entrepreneurs are trying to balance these emotions as they prepare themselves for future.

Q. How ‘Trust’ as a factor plays a key role in the growth of SME’s in India?

I had outlined the trust deficit, and the need for developing trust deposits amongst individuals, firms, customers, partners, governments, countries etc in one of my earlier articles. Trust is a vital and essential ingredient in the recipe for success. Trust allows relationships and transactions to have authenticity, which is much needed, given the intense competition and resource crunch the world is facing today. It is also the human element that complements the technology, which is revolutionising relationships and transactions.

Q. The need for SME Skilling in the Indian context?

Today the skills-led needs in the SME sector are the highest ever. The need to adapt, reinvent oneself, not just businesses and enterprises has assumed unprecedented importance in businesses and societies. In India, we are 30-40 years behind the global best-in-class in some industries, and in some others, we are even ahead but face the issues of scale. Indians are smart intellectuals but poor executors, as history will clearly tell you. My view is that India needs followership, not just thought leadership. Unfortunately, we have plenty of followership in religion and spiritualism but we have a deficit of it in businesses.

Q. The role of technology for SME development? How AI and ML will help SMEs to scale their business?

The role of technology will be truly transformative for the development of the SME sector. AI and ML have deep applications in almost all industries, the use cases are limited only by our imagination. The accuracy of medical prognosis given rapid strides in radiology and some cancers is one such example in healthcare. It has a metamorphic impact on the industry. Similarly, the way we buy and use goods and services in all important segments of our wallet, e.g. food, health, entertainment, travel, etc., will change and all these segments are touched by AI and ML. As one demystifies and learns more, one becomes more progressive. Well, some fun is lost too.

Q. The role of innovation and its importance for SMEs?

All firms that practice innovation as a habit ultimately win, live longer and healthier. It is not the question of how much are you spending on new products and services or business models, but it starts with a mindset to invent, make things better and question the status quo. The firms that practice innovation, have a three times better chance of value creation than those that do not. It is not a question of whether anymore. It is a must.

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