Telcos, lenders to spur SME digital adoption

People looking at their mobile phones at Suntec City.
People looking at their mobile phones at Suntec City. PHOTO: ST FILE

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may soon get digital business solutions alongside their Internet packages and could find out more about those solutions from their trusted financiers.

Seven telcos and lenders have pledged to help SMEs take up digital technology, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday announced.

The move is part of the Government's SMEs Go Digital scheme, launched in April to provide smaller businesses with off-the-shelf digital technology tools, advising and funding.

"SMEs Go Digital's first step was to give SMEs the right equipment to go out and compete, and now the second step is to make sure that you have someone to walk with you along that journey," Dr Yaacob said in his opening address at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry's annual conferences for SMEs and infocomm commerce.

Nearly 200 businesses have implemented some of the programme's 56 pre-approved digital solutions, as at the end of last month. Technologies include biometric authentication, mobile menu ordering and workflow management systems.

The minister said the Infocomm Media Development Authority will work with larger firms to foster digital collaboration between bigger businesses and their SME vendors and suppliers, which could "uplift entire sectors" with an improved business ecosystem. That might involve, for instance, electronic order management and inventory platforms that allow for the secure and efficient exchange of documents like invoices.

"SMEs are in the best position to adopt new technologies as they are agile and adaptable, combining a high risk appetite with a culture of experimentation," said Dr Yaacob. "It is SMEs, rather than (multinational corporations), which can make decisions and adopt digital solutions relatively quickly and painlessly."

Besides local telcos M1, Singtel and StarHub, the other partners inking memoranda of intent are Hong Leong Finance and local banks DBS, OCBC and UOB.

M1 chief corporate sales and solutions officer Willis Sim noted that the telco can offer digital services in areas like fleet management and retail analytics, while OCBC's head of global commercial banking, Mr Linus Goh, said his bank was committed to giving SMEs digital solutions in cash management, trade finance and working capital management.

Meanwhile, UOB managing director and head of Singapore business banking Mervyn Koh said that, under the new partnership, UOB aims to reach 2,000 SMEs in industry-specific workshops over two years.

Fishmonger Angeline Ong, 29, whose market stall has tapped digital point-of-sale technology since 2015, told The Straits Times that she hopes the technological shift will help her save on manpower costs in a retail segment with tight margins.

"We signed up with UOB because we wanted to have our direct bank feed into our accounting system," Ms Ong said. "I'm quite optimistic that more of the traditional businesses (in the wet market) will start to pick up (digital technology)... Things like that make customers' lives easier."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Telcos, lenders to spur SME digital adoption'. Print Edition | Subscribe