Saying that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Singapore’s economy is an understatement. As they make up 99 percent of all enterprises, it is fairer to say that they are also the flesh and blood of Singapore’s economy.
However, SMEs today stand at the precipice of a new industrial age – one that is leveraging technology in ways we could not have imagined before. This is not only in relation to the great strides made in the development of once-niche technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain; the ever-expanding reach of the internet to people across the globe – and the mobile platforms that online content is being consumed through – has transformed the demands of today’s consumers.
And with evolving demands, all businesses need to adapt. Technology has given birth to new sales and distribution channels, but the cost and implementation of the right technologies remain a significant barrier to businesses bereft of the resources of large corporations. In a business environment that is being increasingly saturated with competition on the domestic and international fronts, SMEs now need to digitalize; not only to survive in the new economy but also to leverage the new opportunities and thrive in it.
How can SMEs go digital?
While future-proofing is necessary for businesses looking to operate sustainably in today’s economy, going digital is not simply a process of latching onto whatever solutions that are present in the market. Like any new opportunities or investments, businesses need to understand what approach they wish to take that will be aligned to their strategy, followed by which technologies are right for their business model and staff.
For instance, a brick-and-mortar retailer may want to expand their customer base. The most immediate way might be to build a website to sell directly to consumers or sign up to an e-commerce platform. Each approach serves different objectives. Once the channel is decided, the retailer needs to consider how the new channel will impact inventory and delivery, and if the existing sales and marketing team can handle the requirements involved in promoting an online channel versus a brick-and-mortar one.
The retailer can also consider improving their sales efficiency by investing in technology that is able to meet the new demands of the fast-paced digital economy, to capture and share data effectively, and to plug into other third-party tools easily, and to scale it up as the business grows. These should be on top of the ability to help the business manage processes such as procurement, inventory and customer relationship management seamlessly.
Technology is ultimately an enabler for SMEs. Going digital is about seeing the big picture, choosing the right strategy and approach, and investing money and resources in the right technology. Right strategy and commitment in implementation are the keys to success in digitalization.
National SME Digitalisation Initiatives in ASEAN
- SMEs Go Digital – to provide more structured support for SMEs to harness digital technologies that enhance their capabilities in areas such as cybersecurity, data protection, and data analytics.
- Enhanced International Scheme and Tech Access Initiative – help SMEs to internationalise, innovate and scale their digitalisation projects.
- Digital Free Trade Zone – facilitates cross- border trade through e-commerce and market access for SMEs to reach global customers with greater ease.
- Tax reliefs and grant allocation to incentivise manufacturers to adopt new technologies.
- Transformation to Industry 4.0 offering tax incentives for ICT equipment and software.
- Domestic Investment Strategic Fund offers matching grants to enhance smart manufacturing facilities worth RM245m (US$59m).
- The Ministry of Cooperative and SME Start-up Incubator Programme promotes local entrepreneurs through the provision of additional business opportunities.
- 1,000 Start-ups Movement – aiming to create 200 new start-ups across 10 cities annually leading to 1,000 start-ups by the end of 2020, with an expected total valuation around US$10b.
- Boosting Entrepreneurship for SME 4.0 – This SME one-stop service includes an electronic SME registration and tracking system and an SME e-commerce catalog to promote public procurement.
- Investments in ICT – a policy to establish venture capital funds to develop new technologies among SMEs.