SMEs in wholesale trade get help for digital transformation

Transport supervisor Thavabala Krishnan showing the mobile app that he uses to automate the filing of delivery documents at Sats BRF Food. The app can reduce the time he spends on paperwork by 95 per cent.
Transport supervisor Thavabala Krishnan showing the mobile app that he uses to automate the filing of delivery documents at Sats BRF Food. The app can reduce the time he spends on paperwork by 95 per cent.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Dr Koh Poh Koon (centre) at the MOU signing for Singapore's first seafood B2B e-marketplace. With him were (from left) Mr Goh Thiam Chwee, vice-president of Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association; Mr Allen Chan, deputy CEO of vCargo Cloud; Mr
Dr Koh Poh Koon (centre) at the MOU signing for Singapore's first seafood B2B e-marketplace. With him were (from left) Mr Goh Thiam Chwee, vice-president of Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association; Mr Allen Chan, deputy CEO of vCargo Cloud; Mr Daniel Pe, chairman of Punggol Fish Merchants Association; and Mrs Belinda Lee, vice-chairman of the Seafood Industries Association Singapore.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

New step-by-step guide charts tech solutions that can benefit 33,000 firms in areas like F&B

Help is on the way for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) facing the perennial issue of not knowing how to kick-start their digital transformation.

The initiative is in the form of a new industry digital plan that targets around 33,000 SMEs in the wholesale trade sector. The sector includes firms that deal in the import and export of food and beverage, electronics and machinery.

The plan was outlined by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon yesterday during a visit to food distributor Sats BRF Food.

It consists of a step-by-step guide for SMEs, charting the type of digital solutions that firms can pick up in order to thrive in a global industry that has seen the rise of digital marketplaces for business-to-business (B2B) transactions and blockchain technology in trade processes.

Digital solutions are recommended based on the particular firm's growth. Examples range from sales and inventory management software to help streamline operations, to using artificial intelligence to predict sales trends and automate sourcing and purchasing.

SMEs can also tap the Infocomm Media Development Authority's SME Digital Tech Hub and Enterprise Singapore's SME Centres to assess how ready they are for digital transformation.

These facilities can deliver a comprehensive business diagnosis and advise on digital solutions, said both agencies in a joint statement.

"Just imagine going to your general practitioner to have your first diagnosis. Once you know where your problem lies, you know what you want to do, then this is when you look for available solutions," said Dr Koh, a colorectal surgeon.

The wholesale trade industry accounts for about 16 per cent of Singapore's economy and hires around 320,000 people. It has also been identified as one of the growth sectors that can absorb displaced workers from other industries hit by technological disruption.

Besides helping businesses transform, Dr Koh said training workers is more critical.

That imperative was behind the launch two weeks ago of a framework for the wholesale trade industry that mapped out the skills workers need, said Dr Koh, who is also the deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

Sats BRF Food deputy general manager Andre Menezes said the most significant challenge to his firm's digitalisation process over the past year was to overcome staff anxiety surrounding technology.

Transport supervisor Thavabala Krishnan, 57, who now uses a phone app to automate the filing of delivery documents at the firm, said he had some trepidation at first. But his fears have dissipated, as he realised the app can reduce the time he spends on paperwork by 95 per cent.

Likewise, the fish trade can also do with cutting down on these laborious paper processes that still dominate the traditional industry, said Punggol Fish Merchants Association chairman Daniel Pe.

His association, together with the Seafood Industries Association Singapore, Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association and technology platform solution provider vCargo Cloud, inked a memorandum of understanding to establish the first seafood B2B e-marketplace in Singapore. The platform is slated to be out by March next year.

"The main challenge right now is convincing the older generation to accept digitalisation. This trade has been around for more than 60 years and the first generation of fish merchants are in their 60s or 70s, and we face resistance," said Mr Pe, who was speaking on the sidelines of Dr Koh's visit.

"It is about convincing them... to come on board."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'SMEs in wholesale trade get help for digital transformation'. Print Edition | Subscribe