Digital Economy Forum II 2023 Day 2: Digital Transformation For MSMEs & Cybersecurity


On the second day of the Digital Economy Forum II 2023, key presenters offered insights on MSMEs digital transformation, cybersecurity, social protection and digital interoperability, AI, and the challenges and opportunities of digital policy development.

B2B Cambodia spoke with Mrs. Marie Hoffman, Senior Technical Advisor of the ICONE Program at the German for International Development Agency (GIZ), and Mr. Warren Daly, Senior Information Technology Business Consultant.

Challenges & Opportunities Faced By MSMEs in Cambodia

Mrs. Marie Hoffman presented on the work of GIZ’s ICON program in Cambodia’s northwestern provinces, including challenges and opportunities faced by micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) particularly in Siem Reap, Battambang, and Banteay Meanchey provinces.

Mrs. Hoffman mentioned during her presentation that limited cash flow is one of the barriers to the digital transformation of SMEs in Cambodia. “A lot of the time, their (SMEs) cash flows are quite low, meaning that their investments in digital transformation do not exist as much,” she confirmed.

According to Mrs. Hoffman, the primary challenge in digital transformation is the lack of skills; digital skills of employees, managers, CEOs, and business owners. She emphasised that building a strong foundation of digital skills is crucial for the successful adoption of digital technologies in the region.

Through the GIZ’s ICON Program, Mrs. Hoffman said the project looks at competitiveness, how it can help improve MSMEs’ productivity efficiency, and their capacity to innovate. “Part of innovation, of course, is the digitalisation of using innovative digital solutions, which is paramount to the development and scalability of enterprises and the growth of enterprises,” she said. 

What Are The Successful Experiences Of GIZ’s ICON Program?

Mrs. Hoffman stressed the importance of collaboration among stakeholders, including policymakers, to address the needs of enterprises in both urban and provincial areas. 

“It takes a village,” she said. “It is about building bridges with different stakeholders, identifying the needs and pain points of the enterprises in the capital city and the provinces, and having ways to communicate that to policymakers so that the policies that are actually implemented address the needs of the enterprises,” she added. 

Mrs. Hoffman commended the Cambodian government’s initiatives and its engagement with organisations like the Cambodia Academy of Digital Technology (CADT) and donors such as GIZ.

Cybersecurity Threats In Cambodia

Another critical aspect discussed during the Digital Economy Forum II was the issue of cybersecurity.

Mr. Warren Daly, a Senior Information Technology Business Consultant, delivered a presentation on the practical approach to cybersecurity for MSMEs, highlighting the need for optimism, he identified several challenges that MSMEs can address relatively easily.

Speaking with B2B Cambodia, he said he wanted to remain optimistic about this and suggested training and awareness on cybersecurity which is a big issue. He noted that cybersecurity issues are not only IT problems so staff training is certainly the number one solution. 

Daly added that there are many positive advantages to using Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as in healthcare, and it can also be used to identify trends that can help society.

In terms of security, Daly confirmed that AI tools can be developed in the future to help us protect ourselves better, saying, “We need AI to combat AI.” 

Looking Into The Future – Opportunities and Challenges 

During the panel discussion, key topics included potential cybersecurity threats, the impact of AI on innovation for MSMEs, and government policies related to digitalisation.

Dr. Bradley Jensen Murg, the provost at Paragon University, highlighted the need to assess the feasibility of certain government ambitions and emphasised that while there is a strong belief in Industry Revolution 4.0  and digitalisation as the future, some governments may have overly optimistic expectations. 

“Some governments also see this as a panacea for everything, we’re going to skip industrialisation altogether. we’re going to move directly into a fully service-oriented economy; but when you look at a country like Cambodia, we’re still 70% rural; that’s not going to happen; that’s not realistic, he said.

Gareth Davies, Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, said that in Thailand, the pace of technological advancement surpassed that of the government’s plans leading to a struggle to keep up with innovation. While the government promotes and seeks investment, the slow decision-making process hampers progress.

Mr. Christopher McCarthy, CEO of MangoTango Asia, delved into the dilemma faced by policymakers when making decisions. He said that policymakers often face the fear of making wrong decisions, while others are driven to make decisions quickly. However, it is recognised that having no regulation is sometimes better than having poor regulations.

“I do think everyone sees that vision of a future and wants to get there. But the question is, how, and how do you advise or engage with the government to make sure they’re going down the right path?” he said. 

Daly highlighted the importance of skills and infrastructure, and that there is a need to address the existing gaps in digital skills and innovation. He posed some questions which offered food for thought – “We’re still missing skills and we also have to think about the infrastructure that we have in place. Is it there? Is it ready so we can make those policies? But is Cambodia ready in other ways in terms of digital skills and innovation?”

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