Budget 2018 roundtable

Budget 2018 roundtable: SMEs need guiding hand to go digital

The need for digitalisation among businesses here is clear - and a pressing one. PHOTO: ST FILE

There are many resources set in place for businesses to get on board the digitalisation wave, but panellists believe that more can be done to show companies the way.

The Government announced a slew of Budget initiatives in a continued push for companies to go digital.

One is the Open Innovation Programme, a new virtual crowdsourcing platform that will match the digital requirements of businesses to solutions created by infocommunications and technology firms.

The need for digitalisation among businesses here is clear - and a pressing one, United Overseas Bank (UOB) economist Francis Tan said, pointing to how countries in the region such as China are moving ahead with technology so rapidly.

"It's not just because we're facing an older population that we need to hurry up and digitise. Even the younger population countries, they are digitising way faster than us," he said.

But even as government-led efforts to drive digitalisation are in place, firms may not be fully aware of the help that is available.

Citing findings from a recent UOB survey, Mr Tan said local SMEs had listed help for digitalisation as the second-most important item on their wishlists.

"So the resources are there, things are in place," he said, pointing to earlier announced initiatives such as the Infocomm Media Development Authority's SMEs Go Digital programme. "(The SMEs) just need to know how to do it."

Businesses, for their part, can do more to help one another get on the digital bandwagon.

Mr Melvin Yong, an MP and director at NTUC, noted that one of the best practices he has observed on the ground is how more advanced companies help other firms to innovate, especially the smaller ones, as well as those that are slower in adopting technology.

What is key, he said, is for the entire supply chain to come together in this digitalisation journey.

"If you digitise on your own, you will not reap the full benefit if your supply, the suppliers and the supply chain do not similarly automate and go digital," he said.

"So that is what I have observed would be a better approach - to encourage companies to help one another to uplift the entire ecosystem."

Firms should also do more to convince their workers of the need to upskill and go digital, added Mr Yong.

"A lot of things have to be done concurrently. You can digitise (operations), but if your workforce is not ready to do those jobs, you will have a mismatch of skill sets and then the machines have problems operating," he said.

Mr Yong noted that many workers tend to ask what it is that they need to train for, and why.

"There must be a new job for the workers, a higher-value job, and then (they) can earn better wages. I think once we have that ecosystem in place, we will be able to ride on the next wave."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline Budget 2018 roundtable: SMEs need guiding hand to go digital. Subscribe