More help for SMEs to go digital


New tech hub will offer specialised advice; Industry Digital Plans give step-by-step aid. By Lee Xin En

Small and medium-sized enterprises are getting an over $80 million nudge to go digital with a new SMEs Go Digital Programme.

The initiative includes the building of an SME Technology Hub set up by the Info-communications Media Development Authority. It will complement the existing network of SME Centres, where firms can get free business advice and access information on government schemes.

While companies can approach advisers at these centres for off-the-shelf technology solutions, firms that require more specialised advice will be able to do so at the new tech hub.

Also announced yesterday were sectoral Industry Digital Plans, which will give SMEs step-by-step advice on the technologies to use at each stage of their growth.

The plans will start with targeted sectors: retail, food services, wholesale trade and logistics, among others. These were chosen as they are "sectors where digital technology can significantly improve productivity", said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his speech yesterday.

  • >$80m

  • Help for smaller companies to go digital

Mr John Cheng, director of sugar manufacturer Cheng Yew Heng Candy Factory, said the new SME technology hub "definitely fills a gap" in the ecosystem, as it provides a one-stop shop for SMEs wanting to get help in going digital.

He hopes the help at the tech hub can go beyond "traditional" solutions such as digitising accounting systems - to include help in more advanced areas such as social media marketing and data analytics.

Experts said the programme would be helpful in ensuring that more companies build digital capabilities, but that the measures did not go quite far enough.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee said the creation of the SME Tech Hub and connecting it with the network of SME Centres are meaningful.

"Structurally, they have got it right because the SME Centre is an outreach platform that has reached out to thousands of SMEs, and is a good platform to hand- hold SMEs through digitisation. Connecting it to the tech hub helps to ensure you do not duplicate what has been done before," he said.

However, he said he expected "a bit more", as digitisation is significant in boosting the capabilities of SMEs.

The sum of over $80 million may not be enough, and the Government may need to consider expanding the programme, especially if take-up is good, he added.

Mr Lennon Lee, a tax leader for entrepreneurial and private clients at PwC Singapore, said the programme appears to be targeted at the SMEs that have not embarked on digitisation, as the targeted sectors named have been deemed as "not making sufficient progress in productivity growth".

He, too, felt that "given the size of the funding and the target industries", the programme will help companies to increase productivity, but that it would not be enough to be a game changer.

Mr David Ngoh, chief executive of RMA Group, an SME that helps firms with digitisation efforts, said the Government's initiative was laudable, but emphasised the need for a "hand-holding approach".

"A comprehensive hand-holding approach throughout the entire life cycle of the process would ensure that any money spent will be worth it, bearing in mind that we are dealing with SMEs that tend to lack the necessary resources and know-how in making sure that digitisation will help them," he said.

"I believe that the Government is well aware of this, which can be seen from the 'in-person' help at SME centres and the new tech hub."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'More help for SMEs to go digital'. http://www.straitstimes.com/business/more-help-for-smes-to-go-digital