More Singapore SMEs tapping government grants, initiatives to digitalise amid Covid-19 outbreak

Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran (left) at White Restaurant's Suntec City outlet on June 19, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly stepping up their digitalisation efforts this year, making use of government grants and initiatives to do so, said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran on Friday (June 19).

The number of SMEs in the food and beverage and retail sectors which have received support from the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) has doubled to more than 3,500 from last year.

The PSG provides subsidies of up to 80 per cent for SMEs that adopt digital solutions pre-approved by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

More than 10,000 businesses have also joined the nationwide e-invoicing network, up from 1,000 in March.

Adopting e-invoicing is one of the conditions for companies to be eligible for a payout of up to $10,000 under the Digital Resilience Bonus, which was announced last month.

Mr Iswaran said the number of SMEs tapping government initiatives represented a "big pick-up", which the Government is keen to sustain.

"The focus through the Digital Resilience Bonus has been on F&B and retail because many of these businesses are local, and these sectors tend to be where we have a high concentration of SMEs," he added.

"I think they have also taken the brunt of (the impact) during the circuit breaker period in some ways because they rely so much on people moving in and out of their premises."

Mr Iswaran was speaking at White Restaurant's Suntec City outlet on Friday, the first day of phase two of Singapore's exit from the circuit breaker period, when food and beverage businesses were allowed to reopen for dining in.

White Restaurant, known for its signature white bee hoon dish, has adopted a range of digital solutions this year.

These include working with tech company and online food delivery platform Oddle to implement an integrated software platform to handle the taking of orders, delivery and marketing.

White Restaurant general manager Sam Lim said having such a platform has helped the company's five outlets process takeaway and delivery orders much more quickly than before.

Instead of restaurant staff taking orders by phone, orders are now routed from White Restaurant's website directly to a central system.

"Previously, during busy periods, we would have a lot of lost orders because our cashiers were already on the phone and couldn't take more orders," Mr Lim said.

"One call also takes up to five minutes but now with the system, we can take 10 orders within that same period of time."

Prioritising orders which are more urgent has also become easier to do as the system automatically organises incoming orders by delivery time.

White Restaurant did not offer an online delivery option until this year. In February, the company's management realised that a Covid-19 storm could be about to hit the F&B industry, and decided to ramp up its digitalisation efforts with Oddle.

"Sales during the circuit breaker were about 70 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels, and half of these were from Oddle delivery sales," Mr Lim said.

"The delivery sales from Oddle literally helped us survive Covid-19. So we feel very lucky and blessed that we decided to get started (on digitalisation) early."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.