How Businesses in Developing Countries Can Innovate

Success Stories

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For many advanced countries, it’s all systems go for their digital transformation. Singapore has its Smart Nation initiatives ready, while Malaysia is expecting the emergence of big data, IoT, and enterprise mobility in the next one to three years.

But this hasn’t been the same case for many developing countries in Southeast Asia. With budget pressures and a dearth of skilled workforce, developing countries have looked at digitisation as an afterthought, rather than as a strategic focus.

Pushing digital transformation forward

Despite all these, businesses in developing countries aren’t lacking in enthusiasm to give their digital transformation a big push. With the openness of Asian consumers to new technologies and the high social penetration rate in the region, it looks like the region will likely hit its momentum soon and be on par with the more developed countries around the world.

To help companies, specifically small and midsized enterprises, balance their innovation needs with their present resources, here are some strategies that can get them started on their transformation journey:

1. Learn from digital frontrunners.
In an entry for The World Bank’s Information and Communications for Development (IC4D) blog, Nagy K. Hanna writes, “Developing countries have the opportunity to learn from the experience of frontrunner countries while designing policies that meet their own needs and fit the local context.”

To innovate therefore, businesses in developing countries must take inspiration from digital pacesetters and find a way to implement them using what they have.

This isn’t simply looking at the hottest digital technologies used in other regions; it means understanding a whole enterprise approach that has led certain companies to be where they are today. What steps, for instance, have they taken to create a balance between their legacy requirements and a functional IT infrastructure? What are their strategies to consistently realign people’s values with their overall corporate strategy?

Once developing countries learn from digital frontrunners, then it becomes easier to innovate at their own pace and within the context of their current resources and capabilities.

learn from digital frontrunners
Build partnership with digital frontrunners.

2. Take advantage of public-private partnerships. Businesses in developing countries often have to deal with inadequate IT infrastructure and outdated government policies. One of the best ways for them to deal with these challenges is to partner with a private company or organisation that has the resources to help them get the right digital tools.

Take a look for instance at the recently forged partnership between SAP and a number of social enterprises in Indonesia. Through this partnership, local organisations have been given opportunities to enhance their cross-industry knowhow and access business models that could help them drive sustainable progress in their communities.

It is through such collaborative efforts that innovation can best thrive, and businesses must always be ready to grab opportunities of this kind to leverage on the strengths of other organisations and adapt to the evolving demands of the market.

3. Go for grassroots innovation. Take advantage of affordable computing, open source software, and local talent to address the issues that are specific to your company.

Many businesses in developing countries have made use of free web-based collaboration tools such as Trello, Slack, Google’s G Suite, and the like to manage projects and track the performance of their employees. These tools have also been especially useful for workers in developing countries who serve clients in other countries.

Going for grassroots innovation means knowing what resources are freely available in the market and building on local knowledge to drive new value change and deliver low-cost innovation to consumers.


To innovate, businesses in developing countries must take inspiration from digital pacesetters and find a way to implement them using what they have.

Building a culture of collaboration

As Southeast Asia harnesses its potential to become a true global innovation leader, developing countries must likewise seek avenues to nurture partnerships and create networks that will increase their digital readiness.

Collaboration is the new framework for businesses’ survival, and companies must be ready to engage now or be pushed out way too early in this digital game.

The digital economy is fast changing. Keep up by strengthening your business’s digital core with SAP HANA.

You may also check out our Digital Transformation Assessment Tool to gauge your company’s innovation readiness.


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