More businesses taking digital plunge

Pandemic prompts 20 per cent year-on-year increase in firms starting digital transformation


Singapore's businesses are making a major push towards digitalisation this year, prompted by the coronavirus crisis.

More than 3,500 businesses started transformation projects from January to April, supported by Enterprise Singapore (ESG), the agency said.

This figure is nearly 20 per cent higher than in the same period last year.

About 600 retailers have also signed up to join online platforms such as Amazon, Lazada, Shopee and Qoo10, helped by an e-commerce booster package that was launched on April 2.

The package supports small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) retailers who have little to no e-commerce experience.

It helps them to join online platforms, strengthens their digital marketing capabilities and supports them if they need more manpower to kick-start their transformation and marketing efforts.

About 10,000 food and beverage (F&B) establishments have also taken up the Food Delivery Booster Package, which was launched on April 4 to support them in their moves to offer delivery through online platforms or third-party logistics partners, and to build longer-term capabilities such as creating a virtual brand.

This has contributed to more than 3,200 new listings across Deliveroo, Foodpanda and GrabFood.

Food services and accommodation contributed 2.1 per cent to Singapore's nominal gross domestic product last year, according to the Department of Statistics (SingStat).

Mr Ted Tan, ESG deputy chief executive, said: "We recognise that these are difficult times for all as they need to manage overheads and still retain their workers. Food and retail companies are among those that are most directly affected by the Covid-19 situation."

An overwhelming majority also expect the business situation to be less favourable as a result of the circuit breaker measures.

More than 80 per cent of firms in F&B and retail expect their revenue to decrease from April to this month, compared with the period from January to March, Mr Tan said.

SMEs made up about 99 per cent of Singapore's 273,100 enterprises last year, according to SingStat.

SMEs are defined as enterprises that have operating receipts of not more than $100 million or employ not more than 200 workers.

"The need to minimise movement and the safe distancing measures put in place have compelled some SMEs to accelerate the adoption of digital solutions, be it to optimise their processes, diversify their sales channels, or make it more efficient and safe to work remotely.

"More than ever, digitalisation has become a must-have capability for businesses," Mr Tan said.

ESG has also observed that companies that had embarked on their transformation earlier now find themselves better placed to manage the current situation.

In addition to the booster packages, one scheme that can help businesses transform is the Productivity Solutions Grant, which helps micro and small enterprises adopt easy-to-use digital and productivity solutions.

Recently, the grant was expanded to include several pre-approved digital solutions, such as virtual meetings and queue management, to enable businesses to work from home or provide services virtually.

Another scheme, the Enterprise Development Grant, also supports more substantial and customised capability upgrading, business transformation and internationalisation efforts.

Associate Professor Lawrence Loh of the National University of Singapore Business School said these schemes can entice companies to transform because they have nothing to lose by trying, with the support given.

He added that digitalisation is also vital for the new post-coronavirus world.

"The new normal will be a blended business environment, with many new things online augmenting those traditionally offline," he said.

"For retail and F&B businesses, it will mean a reconfiguration of their shopfronts and shop layouts.

"The display and dining areas will be rationalised to serve off-site deliveries, which may be even more significant than on-site patrons."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2020, with the headline More businesses taking digital plunge. Subscribe