Parliament: IMDA to help more SMEs go digital

The $80 million scheme over four years from April 2017 will defray up to 70 per cent of the cost of technology purchase, capped now at $300,000 per SME.
The $80 million scheme over four years from April 2017 will defray up to 70 per cent of the cost of technology purchase, capped now at $300,000 per SME. PHOTO: BUSINESS TIMES

SINGAPORE - The Government is committed to helping more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) transform digitally to stay in business amid tech disruption.

The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), the government agency leading the charge, will play sector "chief information officer" to SMEs, providing customised help from funding and consultancy to pre-qualifying tech products and participating in joint pilots. This will be available under a new scheme dubbed SMEs Go Digital Programme.

Said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in Parliament: "It will help raise SMEs' overall level of digital readiness by giving them step-by-step advice on the technologies to use at each stage of their digital journey."

The kitty is $80 million over four years from April (2017) under this scheme, first announced two weeks ago by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

SMEs Go Digital aims to defray up to 70 per cent of the cost of technology purchase, capped now at $300,000 per SME. It will replace a seven-year-old iSprint scheme, which provides similar subsidies and basic tech advice. Some 8,000 SMEs have benefitted from iSprint.

SMEs Go Digital aims to be more comprehensive than iSprint by also helping SMEs with more advanced needs such as cybersecurity, data analytics and artificial intelligence through a new SME Digital Tech Hub that will be set up by September (2017).

 
 
 

Nominated MP Mr Thomas Chua, who is also president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, had voiced concerns about disparate technology implementations. He pointed out that for digitisation and worker training to be effective, supply chains that connect buyers and sellers must be interoperable.

"Applying a standardised system for the industry is likened to learning a common language to facilitate communication... If not, the transfer of large masses of data could cause system errors," said Mr Chua.

To this, Dr Yaacob said that IMDA will adopt a sectorial approach to ensure systems talk to one another and to accelerate the pace of transformation.

Specifically, IMDA will partner influential companies to pilot sector-specific solutions that have the potential to scale instead of support disparate pilot projects by SMEs. It will start with sectors such as retail, food services, logistics and cleaning.

For instance, IMDA has partnered retail store Robinsons to integrate some 200 SME suppliers on a common e-procurement platform for better sales planning and inventory management. IMDA has also partnered StarHub to target some 1,000 SMEs in the food and beverage business, offering them a comprehensive automation package including broadband services, and retail analytics, digital ordering and payment systems. StarHub is working with Tampines Merchant Association for this.

Replying to Mr Saktiandi Supaat's (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) question on how the employability of tech personnel can be improved, Dr Yaacob pointed to the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA).

Launched last April (2016), it has since trained 10,000 professionals in new tech skills to prepare them for the digital economy. There are some 15 companies - including data analytics software company SAS Institute, cybersecurity consultancy firm Deloitte and Touche Enterprise Risk Services and telco Singtel - under TeSA's company-led training programme.

"Going forward, we will continually expand TeSA's range of training partners and courses," said Dr Yaacob, adding that the company-led training programmes continue to have high placement rates.