Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Communications and Information

Going all out to help more SMEs go digital

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said the new scheme will give SMEs step-by-step advice at each stage of their digital journey.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said the new scheme will give SMEs step-by-step advice at each stage of their digital journey.

Govt will provide customised aid under new scheme to help firms stay in business amid disruptive tech: Yaacob

The Government is committed to getting its hands dirty to help more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) transform digitally to stay in business amid disruptive technological innovations.

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 approving tech products to participating in joint pilots. This will be available under a new scheme dubbed SMEs Go Digital Programme, targeted at the 200,000 SMEs here.

During the debate on his ministry's budget yesterday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said: "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 this April 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 purchases, capped at $300,000 per SME. It will replace the seven-year-old iSprint scheme, which provided similar subsidies and basic tech advice, benefiting some 8,000 SMEs.

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

In response to Dr Yaacob's announcement, nominated MP Thomas Chua, who is president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, voiced concern about the prospect of disparate technologies being implemented by different firms.


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Specifically, supply chains that connect buyers and sellers must be inter-operable. "Applying a standardised system for the industry is like 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 IMDA will adopt a sectorial approach to ensure systems talk to one another and to accelerate the pace of transformation, especially for the deployment of more sophisticated systems.

Specifically, IMDA will partner influential companies to pilot sector-specific solutions that have the potential to scale up. 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 the Tampines Merchant Association on this.

Recognising that SMEs' digital needs vary widely across and within sectors, Dr Yaacob said his ministry is open to feedback to fine-tune the SMEs Go Digital scheme.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Going all out to help more SMEs go digital'. Print Edition | Subscribe